The Dawn: May 25, 2016

Punjab Notes: Of courage and cowardice — Part II

Mushtaq Soofi 

It’s month of Jeth (mid-May to mid-June). They used to say that if Sandal Bar (area between the Ravi and the Chenab) had rains, it would turn into a natural park. The Bar is rain-soaked. ‘Dela’ and ‘Pilu’ (wild fruits of red colour) shimmer like a beautiful woman all dressed in red. Nature has spread a green carpet over the surface of the earth. It’s grass all over. One can’t find one’s ways out of green labyrinth. It’s late in the night. Camels’ grunting is wafted through the air. Jakthiar says: “Have you heard the camels’ grunt?”

“Yes. These are Latif Fatiana’s camels, our target. Prepare yourself.” Asalatt Glotar says: “What preparation you are talking about? We are already prepared to die. But I must ask you something. A tribesman fights for his tribe but we all are from different tribes. A friend fights for his friend but all of us are not friends either. Some of us are friends’ friends. A person having same religion fights to defend his co-religionists but one among us is Hindu. We have to forcibly drive a horde of cattle from the river Ravi and reach Rajoa. There is no place on the way where we can draw breath. Now I ask a question. What traits do you possess? What do you do if a fight breaks out?”

Ganga replies: “There is no better detective than me. Raiders may be ten miles away; viewing the geographic location I can tell you which direction they would come from”.

Aasi says: “I am a gifted guide. If we are in a jungle in a dark night with overcast sky I will never let my party lose its way. A measuring rod can go wrong but not me”.


“Well,” says Jakthiar, “If an encounter takes place, I ensure victory for my side like a sailor who rows the sinking boat safely to the other side of the river”.

Asalatt speaks up: “Well, let me tell you, I am as good as dead. “Why?” “This Ganga is a detective. He will not fight. This Hamid Aasi knows all the ways in the world but he will simply run away from the battle. Outcome of our fight depends on Jakthiar but he is guilty of hubris. He has arrogated to himself the divine power.” Jakthiar asks Asalatt: “Well, what do you do in a raging battle? I am neither a detective nor the one who knows the ways, nor gifted with divine power. If my party is put to rout and my co-fighter is besieged, I stop retreating and come back to his rescue. I never abandon my friends”.

They came close to the herd while having this conversation. Jakthiar called the herders: “Fight us if you are the stakeholders. Otherwise, inform the owners. I am Jakthiar Haral. Tell them I take away the camels as compensation for my buffalos forcibly taken by Fatiana”.

The herders ran to inform their folks. Hamid Aasi leads the herd. One rider is at the back and the other two cover the flanks. The camels are mercilessly thrashed. They run at a terrible speed with their necks stretched. Hamid Aasi guides: “Move to the right, now move to the left”. In the meanwhile, they hear a cock crow. It’s almost dawn. “Hamid, which place is this?”

“I can’t make out.”

“Haven’t you heard a cock crowing? It’s Yameen Tappa’s shrine and beyond it one can see the trees of Rajoa. The camels have cut this long distance short.”

“Let us have a smoke at the shrine. Leave the camels to graze for a while. The poor creatures are starved.” Ganga after tying his horse leaves it loose to graze and climbs up the top of a tall tree.

“Attendants, please prepare the hookah,” says Jakthiar.

“We have very poor quality tobacco,” they reply.

“Take tobacco from me. It’s strong. It will not go dead till tomorrow.” Sun is about to rise. “Let us go.” When out, they see Ganga’s horse has its belly full. They too let loose their horses to munch on grass. All three along with Ganga sit and wait. In the meanwhile, 20 horsemen from the Ravi stopped at the shrine and thought that their opponents had already reached Rajoa. They decided to turn back after having a smoke at the shrine. They asked the attendants to refresh the hookah. “Jakthiar Haral gifted us tobacco. It’s so strong.”

“Who else was with him?”

“Asalatt Glotar and Hamid Aasi.” They thought they found their prey. They rushed out in hot pursuit.

Ganga sat atop a tree. He couldn’t detect their movement from the height. They came galloping through a passage below unspotted. When Ganga sighted them, he cried, “Here come the raiders”. He jumped from the tree, cut the rope of his horse and fled in the direction of Rajoa. Hamid Aasi, leaving his horse, ran into a grove of wild bushes. The remaining two men swiftly got into saddles and whipping their steeds raced away. The riders from the Ravi pursued them and beleaguered Jakthiar called out Asalatt. “Didn’t you say you don’t abandon your friends? I have been surrounded.” That stopped Asalatt in his tracks. He turned back like a wounded tiger and pierced one of the riders with his spear. They rode some distance and Jakthiar was again surrounded. He called out Asalatt again who turned back and killed another rider with his spear, rescuing Jakthiar. After a while Jakthiar yet again was surrounded and he called for help. Asalatt turned back and shouted: “Damn you, this is third time”. Jakthiar replies: “My steed’s legs are as good as dead. It can’t help me get out of here”.

“Then say that I should do something about the horse”. Asalatt kills a man riding the best horse who tumbles to the ground. He takes the horse by the reins with his left hand. Jakthiar is on his right. He is in the middle. He grips Jakthiar by his upper arm, lifts him across his horse and dumps him in the saddle on his right. As he helps Jakthiar onto the other horse with a forceful jerk, his right foot slips out of stirrup and he comes rolling to the ground. Arrows rain on him. He shields himself with his hands and shouts: ‘O’ you lords from the Ravi, get down and fight me”. He screams at Jakthiar: “You claim you can row a sinking boat to the safety of the shore. I am going under. Help me to be in the saddle. They will not be able to touch us”. Jakthiar doesn’t turn. The last arrow strikes Asalatt’s head and arrowhead smashes his skull. As he slumps down to the ground, he mutters: “Jakthiar, you have dishonoured the pledge of friendship. It was unbecoming of a friend”.

Asalatt was killed. Jakthiar came home. He assembled his men and said: “Take his dead body to his place. I can’t accompany it. It was I who had a score to settle with the enemy; it was I who called him for help. He thrice turned back to rescue me. I couldn’t dare to turn back when he cried for help”. It was early in the day when he got Asalatt killed. Jakthiar went to a Hindu Bania’s shop and said: ‘Give me two kilograms of sweets”. Then he called the children and said: ‘Here are the sweets. I run and you please boo me. I don’t deserve to live”. Children would chase after him with loud boos. He would run crying: “Jakthiar, you have dishonoured the pledge of friendship”. He died of shame holed up in his home six days later. —

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