As the title indicates this novel is about the migration of a
people (Sikhs), who in the wake of Partition preferred to go to
Jalalabad and Kabul from Luarhgi in the NWFP to migrating to
India. How did they come to grips with life there and how
ultimately they had to migrate, in utter frustration, to India
after the rise of the Taliban, is the theme of this novel. A
joint family of frontier Sikhs, called Khatrans, is safely led
across the Afghan border by Malik Annat Khan, a powerful Pathan
chief, since he has very cordial relations with the family and
does not want any communal killings by the Muslim League
followers in his fiefdom. The family’s elder, Manak Singh, has
his sister-in-law Pritam Kaur married to Kartar Singh, a
powerful Sikh businessman of Jalalabad. So the entire family of
four brothers and two cousins along with their wives and
children land at the house of Kartar Singh, affectionately
called Bhajaan. He is a man of generous disposition and is known
for his extremely impressive appearance in the entire town.
The new arrivals
soon rent a separate place and start doing their own business.
After having surmounted the initial hurdles, they strike roots
in the new soil, though a kind of insecurity persists. Two
interesting incidents are indicative of it.
One pertains to a
Sikh boy Balwant Singh and his bride Pasho, whom a Pathan boy
Aslam carries off by force to his home in the distant hills.
Balwant had been maltreating his wife. The Pathan boy is very
handsome and virile and is passionately in love with her. The
entire Pathan family likes Pasho and treats her very kindly.
When a group of Sikhs led by Bhajaan goes to the hills to
retrieve her with the help of some local middlemen, the girl
refuses to oblige them. She prefers the Pathan way of life to
living with a dud.
relates to Sakina, the beautiful wife of Hamid Parvez, an
Afghan. Hamid usually remains away from the house for days
together. Sakina is a little nymphomaniac and she tries to
entice Sikh boys whenever they pass by her door. This she does
on purpose so that she is not exposed in her own community. Two
Sikh boys Jasbir and Dharam fall victim to her advances. When in
the evening they go back to their homes through a narrow lane in
Kabul, where Sakina lives, they are lured by her coquettish
gestures and salacious smiles. They take the woman turn by turn
for a few days, when they are caught and severely thrashed by
the Afghans before being handed over to the police. Death is the
punishment for such acts. Sakina also turns against them,
imputing them of sexual molestation.
The Sikh community
both in Jalalabad and Kabul is perturbed. They decide to save
the boys whatever the means. So they bribe the Kazi who is to
try them. But the Kazi digests the fat bribe and yet sentences
them to death by hanging. The Sikhs feel crestfallen. If both
the parties had been Afghans there would have been a different
verdict. Though the Sikhs are financially well off in
Afghanistan, yet they have to live a life of second-rate
citizens. The Afghans dominate both physically and politically
without any regard for the rule of law. The Sikhs remain a
community of manipulative survivors.
Then in the
nineties of the last century, the Taliban sweep the country and
Islamic fundamentalism becomes the dominant state ideology. It
becomes too hot for the Sikhs to sustain through the dogmatic
environment. Ultimately, as a submissive minority, they are
forced to migrate to India and those who stay behind lead a life
of servile non-entities. After half a century, the terror and
fear psychosis of the partition days revisit them.
Sehgal has first-hand knowledge of the life patterns and
cultural mores of the people in that region. The characters are
made to speak their local dialect (Hindco) and at places Pashto
and Persian. This adds to the verisimilitude of the narrative.