The Pathan

On August 27, 2012 by admin

A.K. Hangal, from Karachi Central Jail

He was unusually thin and frail for a Pathan. Perhaps he mistook me for a fellow Pathan because of my attire and he stopped near my cell to speak to me. I was in solitary confinement then because of some ‘crime’ committed by me according to jail rules.

“What have you been charged with?”

“Murder,” he replied.

“Whose murder?”

“Have you heard about the murders in Preedy Street, inside a gurdwara?”

Preedy Street was a neighbouring locality, near my home at Karachi. Was he the man who had…? I composed myself.

“Yes, yes, I know about the murders. So?” I asked.

“I committed those.”

It was shocking indeed to come to face to face with the man responsible for those murders in my locality. Yet I was aware of the other side of the whole situation. He must have been hired by the unscrupulous businessmen who wanted to occupy the shops who wanted to occupy the streets, after making the owners flee in panic during the tense communal atmosphere prevailing at that time. I wanted to make him see his position clearly.

“If that is the case, then I think you should not be in jail.”

“What do you mean?” he responded incredulously.

“First they incite you to murder people of the community,” I went on, “for the sake of their business, while they themselves sit and drink with members of the same community in their gymkhanas and clubs. You are a victim of their plot. But don’t worry, you will be released soon.”

“What makes you say that? I have killed innocent people. I will definitely be punished.”

“This is politics, my dear man. You are a tool in a bigger game.”

“But I have not understood you.” He looked genuinely puzzled.

I went on to explain to him in simple language the politics of the Congress, the League, the British and the Princely rulers.

He had never heard these things before.  But he seemed to understand and it made an impression on him. He became curious about my identity. “Who are you?” he asked. “What’s your name?”

“A K Hangal. I am a prisoner too, but a political prisoner.”

“What is your full name?”

“A K Hangal,” I repeated.

“What is A K? What does it mean?”

I was being evasive. “I don’t know what it means. My parents kept it that way.” To reveal my Hindu identity, I thought, would not be wise.

“You won’t mind if I tell you?” But then I said it anyway.

“Well, the fact is, I am a Hindu.”

“A Hindu? I don’t believe it.”

“I am a Hindu. My full name is Avtar Kishen Hangal.”

“But I have never met a Hindu like you.”

“I am a Hindu, but I am also a Communist.”

“What is a Commu-neest?”

“Have you seen processions of workers, with red flags, shouting slogans, demanding higher wages? They are Communists, and I am one of them. The Party we belong to is the Communist Party of Pakistan.”

“Oo…”, he exclaimed in his Pathani way, “now I get it.”

I gave him the address of the Party and trade union office in Karachi and asked him to go there after his release. They should explain more to him, I told him.

As he finished talking, the dreaded warder appeared in the passage, and we parted.

This happened on the second day of our imprisonment, when we were beaten by the same warder, and kept in solitary confinement.

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