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Drama Historical Fiction

12:49 a.m.

13th October, 1947

Karachi, Pakistan


The streets were deserted. The riots due to the India-Pakistan Partition had taken their toll on the citizens. No one dared to come out for fear of being caught and beaten or burnt to death by a crazed, fanatical mob.

That is, no one, but my husband, my son and I. We were hurrying along to the train station; there was a train leaving to Jodhpur, India, in fifteen minutes. We would have gone earlier, but fear of the riots stopped us.

On the morning of the 12th, a kindly neighbor had informed us that we should beware while leaving. There was a protest starting at one o’clock in the morning the next day, one that would awaken the whole city of Karachi. No corner would be left untouched, or rather, unscathed.

But so far, nothing had yet happened.

We reached the station at one o’clock on the dot. It was quite empty, save for some people sleeping in one corner of the station on woollen cloths.

We reached the platform where our train would arrive. At least we hoped it would arrive. There was no telling what could happen. It could be delayed, I thought, or worse, cancelled. I shook my head and banished these dark scenarios from my mind. It was no good thinking about them; I had to stay strong.

I spotted a booth in at one end of the platform. It was a small, wooden building with a hole cut out on one side, above which were the words, ‘Delcious Chaat.’ I winced at the spelling, but it would serve as a decent safe house, in case the ‘protest’ actually happened. If it did, it would definitely reach the station.

The hole was boarded up by a thin wooden sheet which my husband broke with one of the suitcases. He reached inside and fumbled a little, then unlocked the booth. I went inside with our son.

“Where’s the train?” whispered my son, staring at me. I looked down into his big, innocent eyes, scared and confused, and stroked his hair.

“It’s coming soon. Don’t worry. It’s coming soon.” I hugged him, so that he couldn’t see my tears. For our sake, I hope so.

I reached into one of the suitcases and pulled out a wooden toy car. I handed it to my son, and said, “Go on. Play with it.”

He nodded, but just kept holding it.

I joined my husband outside.

“The train should have come by now.” he said, quietly.

“I know.”

“Do you want me to go check outside?”

I considered this for a minute. “Don’t go too far. The protest would have started.”

He nodded and left. My son tugged at my sleeve. “Where’s he going?”

“He’ll come back soon. Don’t worry.” I said, evasively.

Waiting was agony. The two minutes he was outside felt like two hours. I breathed a sigh of relief as his thin, familiar frame emerged onto the platform again.

“It’s bad.” he said, grimly, before I could ask anything. “The protest has started. A very small group with oil was going past. Luckily, they didn’t stop.”

I stood still for a full minute, then walked over to one of the benches and sat down. I could feel my heart hammering against my rib cage, as though it wanted to break free and run away from this hellhole. I couldn’t blame it.

I heard footsteps and stood up sharply. But only a single figure poked its head around one of the pillars supporting the roof. Seeing only us, the rest of the body soon followed.

It was a man, nearer seventy years of age than sixty, holding a small suitcase. He was not overly tall, and the top of his face was covered by thick glasses. He had a long beard and wore the traditional Islamic skull-cap. I don’t know what, but something in his demeanor, his gait, his friendly smile as he approached put me more at ease than I had ever been in the past two days.

The same couldn’t be said for my husband. He let out an audible sound of disgust.

“Karthik!” I hissed.

The man’s smile hadn’t faded, even though he clearly had heard my husband. He was leaning casually against the pillar closest to us. I got up and walked over.

“You’ll have to forgive my husband for his appalling lack of secularism.”

The man nodded and smiled wider. “Don’t worry so much. It’s expected in these harsh times.”

“I thought I’d apologize all the same.”

My husband strode up to us and caught me by the arm. “What are you doing?!”

“Keep your voice down. And what the hell does it look like I’m doing?” I retorted.

He looked at my son, who was still in the booth, staring vacantly at the ceiling. He dragged me aside and said, “He’s a Muslim!”

“So what? When are you going to learn that not all of them start riots and burn houses down? Vikram Nayyar, who used to live across the street from us, he also took part. Does that make him a Muslim? This man here isn’t joining this protest, right? And don’t forget, I’m apologizing on your behalf!”

My husband was stunned at this outburst. I wrenched my arm free and went back to the man. “I’m so sorry about that. My husband is just a bit on edge lately.”

“Aren’t we all?”

An awkward silence followed this statement. I noticed he had a thick scar on his neck, curling just a bit upwards at the end. He was reading from the Quran.

“Are you going to Jodhpur?” I asked him, desperate for something to break the ice.

“No, Ajmer. The train comes after the Jodhpur one.”

“No one’s coming with you?”

“No,” He shook his head. “My family’s back in Ajmer. I came here to visit my sister.”

“Aren’t they going back to Ajmer too?”

“Ha! Try telling that to them. They wouldn’t leave Karachi even if you paid them to.” he laughed.

My son ran to me. “Amma, can you keep this back? Also, I’m feeling hungry. Is there anything to eat?” he said, handing me the toy car.

I picked him up and carried him to the luggage, which I had kept behind the little former chaat shop. I unzipped a small bag and pulled out a glass jar, filled to the brim with home-made pickle, knowing that he relished eating it plain. “Eat this for now. I’ll give something else on the train.”

I sat down on the bench, and soon the man sat too.

“Is that your son?”

“Yes. His name is Rahul.”

The man nodded. “I have a granddaughter at home, about the same age as your son. Such a bright girl she is! She plays the veena so beautifully, and sings too.”

I smiled.

“I used to play that veena when I was younger, and when she was around five, she would not leave it. She was too small to properly play it, but she used to catch hold of one string and play that again and again. That’s when I knew; she would grow up to be a musician. Ah, but look at me! Ranting again. It’s happening more and more often since I've turned sixty. Please, I apologize.”

“No, not at all. There’s nothing to apologize.”

He continued reading his Quran. I glanced at my husband and frowned; he was lighting a cigarette. “Karthik! What have I told you about smoking near the boy?”

He glared at me, but sullenly walked to the other end of the platform. My eyes wandered for a while, taking in all the smaller details of the tracks and platform, till they settled on the man’s scar.

“Might I ask, how did you get the scar?”

“Which one? This one?” he pointed at his neck. I nodded.

“Ah,” he smiled, “This was back in 1905. At that time, I was a hot, young firebrand. My mind was flooded with the thoughts of revolution and other anti-British sentiments. I was studying to become a lawyer then, when all of a sudden one day, someone comes into our room and says there’s a protest in our college grounds against the partition of Bengal.”

I vividly remembered my mother saying that West Bengal and East Bengal (present-day Bangladesh) had been united until a few years before my birth.

“Of course I joined the protest,” the man continued, “but it was swiftly broken up, and I was arrested. They beat me up in prison. A whip made this mark.”

I gasped. He said it so matter-of-factly, like it was no big deal to get arrested or whipped. On seeing my horrified expression, he laughed. “I’m very proud of it. That’s why I don’t bother to cover it up when I go out.”

We lapsed into silence again.

I heard screams from outside the station, far away. Cries were raised, either for or against Partition. There was no hope now, I thought bitterly, the country would remain divided into India and Pakistan.

“Do you think it will ever stop?”

“Hm?” He looked up from his book. He kept it aside, waiting for me to continue. Somehow, this one simple action made me feel guilty. The poor man was waiting for a train, trying to read his book in peace, and here I was, interrupting him every time he so much as picked the book up.

“Do you think it will ever stop?” I asked, softer this time. “All this madness. The riots, the protests. When do you think people will finally be able to accept our differences and settle down, without hurting each other?”

“I don’t think people will ever be able to understand and accept differences without hurting each other,” he replied, “but I sure hope the pain will reduce. These protests will end soon, but if not this one, another will start.”

Was that resentment I detected in his voice? I kept quiet after that, thinking about what he had said, turning it over in my brain again and again.

I was jerked from this reverie by the arrival of my husband. He had a disgusting ash stain on his lips. “The protests are getting closer. A large group is coming, maybe half an hour away at best.”

My stomach dropped. I closed my eyes. My heart went into overdrive again, just like when we first entered the station. Was this the end for us? My husband and myself, I didn’t think much about; my first thought were for my son. He was still so young, so much to live for. And the old man. Would he never be able to see his granddaughter again?

I found myself praying involuntarily. “Oh, God… please, if not us, save Rahul at least. Please…”

As if on cue, a train horn was sounded. I opened my eyes, hardly daring to believe it. But it was true. A small light was fast approaching from the inky blackness of the night, from our right.

I ran to the suitcases and heaved them up. My husband grabbed some from me. I took Rahul’s hand and we stood in single file, at the edge of the platform. The train got closer and closer, till the engine roared past, sending a plume of smoke from the side into our faces. I caught the letters ‘NWR’ splashed across the side of the engine in white. I took a step back, taking Rahul with me, marveling at its speed and power.

The train slowed to a halt. I took Rahul and a suitcase inside and sat him in an empty coach. It wasn’t too hard to find. I went back outside to help my husband with the remaining three bags and saw the man, still sitting and smiling at us. I pushed the smaller bag quickly onto the train and jogged over to him.

“It was nice meeting you.” he said.

“You too,” I answered. “I hope you meet your granddaughter.”

“Take care of your son. He’s a fine boy.”

I laughed. “Yes.”

He shook my hand warmly. “Go now. Your train is leaving soon.”

“Goodbye, Uncle.”

“Goodbye.”

I hurried back into the train and sat down next to Rahul. My husband shot me a dark look, but at that time, I didn’t care. I looked out of the window. The man was reading his Quran, peacefully this time.

In just a few minutes, the train blew its horn again. It began to move, slowly at first, then faster and faster, till the Karachi railway station, with the man inside it, was just a speck in the distance.

July 08, 2020 09:13

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75 comments

Pj Casyao
09:41 Jul 11, 2020

Hi, Nandan. Love your story, by the way. The characters are nuanced. Especially the portrayal of husband-wife relationship. Very realistic.

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Nandan Prasad
10:36 Jul 11, 2020

Thank you! Like if you enjoyed!

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Eric Deitch
18:39 Jul 08, 2020

Hello Nandan, If that is a true story I feel bad you had to go through the pain but glad you are ok. I lived in Qatar for 8 years and travelled all the Gulf countries and throughout the Middle East and Africa and know how rough it can be. My suggestion is that you get the Grammerly extension for Goggle Chrome (don't know what platform you use, but it's free). It helps with spelling and grammar errors; of which there are many in this story. It, however, doesn't detract from the message so it's alright. Fale Árabe? Kayf halik? I hope you ar...

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Nandan Prasad
01:54 Jul 09, 2020

Thanks for your feedback. And it's not my personal story, but lots of people did go through this during that time. And I'll definitely check out the grammatical mistakes. Thanks so much, again!

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Roland Aucoin
11:25 Jul 16, 2020

Portrayal vivid. Can feel the mix of emotions. nicely done. misspellings do make the reading a bit bumpy (spellcheck!). good work.

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Nandan Prasad
11:41 Jul 16, 2020

Thanks, I tried to correct the typos but it was too late. Will look out for them next time. Thanks again!

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Roland Aucoin
13:26 Jul 18, 2020

I believe that you have to wait until a submission is approved to go back and edit. :)

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Jesna Anna S.
15:25 Jul 14, 2020

Good story! Took me back to the earlier time! Keep writing!

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Nandan Prasad
15:31 Jul 14, 2020

Thanks so much!

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Roland Aucoin
09:58 Jul 14, 2020

Well done, Nandan. Your story feels so real, the emotions so vivid. It is also sad, that the truth in this story still lives in so many countries of our world.

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Nandan Prasad
10:21 Jul 14, 2020

Thanks so much, Roland! Yes, even though we have so many world peace organisations, many countries are still being torn by civil wars and partitions and whatnot 😔

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Aqsa Malik
13:28 Jul 13, 2020

Hey, I finally got around to reading your works haha :D Firstly, I loved the fact that this was a historical story-with my parents being from Pakistan, I've always been intrigued on the rift between them and India, and the fact that you wrote a story highlighting it is something to be greatly appreciated. Your portrayal of the riots, especially in the beginning is really good. Your use of imagery and extensive vocabulary makes its really vivid and interesting to read. I also love the realistic speech of Rahul-you were really able to...

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Nandan Prasad
13:58 Jul 13, 2020

Hey, thanks so much for your detailed feedback! Really helpful! I'll watch out for the dialogues and the veena and chaat description, unfortunately, I cannot change because the deadline has passed, but next time I'll try and elaborate on the lesser known cultural aspects. To clarify the fourth point, the old man's sister's family loved in Karachi, his own family lived in Ajmer. He was going from Karachi to Ajmer after visiting his sister. Hope that cleared it up. Thanks so much again, really means a lot!

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Aqsa Malik
14:40 Jul 13, 2020

Not to worry, you can always look out for that in your future submissions haha. And yes, that does clear it up actually! Sorry, I put Kashmir instead of Karachi* haha. Looking forward to reading your other stuff! :D

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Nandan Prasad
01:49 Jul 14, 2020

Thanks!

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Arvi Krish
08:50 Jul 13, 2020

Like reading a real situation! I'm not sure how did you get this idea but it seems so real. All the best to you! Please do read my other stories if you have time :-)

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Nandan Prasad
09:32 Jul 13, 2020

Thank you so much! Sure, I will read your other stories.

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Christine Casey
20:02 Jul 12, 2020

I loved the historical importance of the story. The concept behind it, accepting others, is so important as a reflection on our world now as well as throughout history. Choosing such a difficult time for change, especially a change that was forced, is a challenge for any writer. You did a remarkable job. Grammar issues aside, I would suggest keeping the story all in the moment. You have some sections in the beginning where you mention what the future would be like. Keeping the story completely in the present I think would add tension and ...

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Nandan Prasad
01:51 Jul 13, 2020

Okay, thanks for the feedback! I'll keep that in mind :)

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Khizra Aslam
09:42 Jul 12, 2020

Such a tragic story and the history of partition between India and Pakistan is way more than painful as so many people lost their lives and their loved ones. Your story hooked me from the beginning till the end and it flows so smooth as well. Loved it❤ I want to ask this question if you don't mind, are you from India? :)

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Nandan Prasad
09:58 Jul 12, 2020

Thank you so much for your comment! And to answer your question, yes, I am from India.

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Khizra Aslam
10:15 Jul 12, 2020

Oh I see, hello from pakistan then🙋‍♀️ looking forward to read more stories from you❤

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Nandan Prasad
12:19 Jul 12, 2020

Thank you!

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08:17 Jul 12, 2020

Very good story, it kept me riveted all the way through.

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Nandan Prasad
09:03 Jul 12, 2020

Thank you!

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Roshna Rusiniya
11:24 Jul 09, 2020

Great story about the partition Nandan. I am sure a lot of families can relate to the events you described fictionally. Well done!

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Nandan Prasad
13:08 Jul 09, 2020

Thank you!

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Roshna Rusiniya
04:00 Jul 11, 2020

You are welcome! Would you mind taking a look at mine too? Thanks!

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Nandan Prasad
04:39 Jul 11, 2020

Sure! Will get to it soon!

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Abigail Slimzy
12:20 Jul 18, 2020

Interesting! More grace.

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Nandan Prasad
15:08 Jul 18, 2020

Thanks so much!

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Kat Gruszka
22:57 Jul 13, 2020

I couldn't stop reading this story once I started. I agree with some of the other comments - a couple of the grammatical errors pull away from the story. But those are easy fixes. It was such a powerful story. So well done!

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Nandan Prasad
01:49 Jul 14, 2020

Thanks so much! I'd be happy if you could try and point out some grammatical mistakes so that I can correct them. Thanks once again!

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Kat Gruszka
19:14 Jul 14, 2020

Sure! For example, it should be "kind neighbor" instead of "kindly neighbor". This sentence should have a semicolon instead of a comma, "There was a protest starting at one o’clock in the morning the next day, one that would awaken the whole city of Karachi." "my first thought were for my son" - it should be thoughts or was. Someone mentioned grammerly, I've heard great things about it! Might be helpful to check out!

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Nandan Prasad
05:02 Jul 15, 2020

Thanks! These just slipped my mind. Thanks for this; very helpful!

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Kat Gruszka
13:50 Jul 15, 2020

Not a big deal - like I said, very small changes that can make a big impact. Your story telling is gorgeous and that's the biggest hurdle!

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Eve Falls
11:37 Jul 11, 2020

This story really made me feel a certain loss when the family had to leave. I really loved it! I have always had thoughts about the partition of India and Pakistan, and this, sort of, put me in the right place. Thank you!

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Nandan Prasad
11:56 Jul 11, 2020

Thanks so much! Please like if you enjoyed!

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Felicity Edwards
19:46 Jul 10, 2020

Great story, you could feel the anxiety and the relief at the very end. There were a few mistakes, tenses etc. But it not detract from tension.

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Nandan Prasad
01:54 Jul 11, 2020

Thanks for the feedback! And sure, I'll look out for my grammar.

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Prakhar Mishra
18:56 Jul 10, 2020

I absolutely loved this story! From just a pure writing standpoint, it is impeccable; but the story itself is so well told. The descriptions feel so real, the writing is so immersive. The dialogue is perfect; it felt human, realistic and only showed up to serve the plot and the world. The themes of the story felt clear throughout, and were very well told without being on the nose. The tension was also very well done. I have seen the religious conflicts in real life, and they're told very realistically here. This was an incredible story, and ...

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Nandan Prasad
01:54 Jul 11, 2020

Wow, thank you for such amazing feedback! It really means a lot!

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Lynn Penny
17:43 Jul 10, 2020

This was a great piece, the dialogue felt realistic and the emotions were high throughout the story. Altogether I enjoyed it.

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Nandan Prasad
01:53 Jul 11, 2020

Thanks a lot!

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Evgeniia Makeeva
15:17 Jul 10, 2020

Thank you for this beautiful story, Nandan. I think it is so important to speak up about the current issues, and stories like yours allow us to feel what you feel and it is truly amazing. P.S. The mentioning of Quaran has touched my heart.

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Nandan Prasad
01:52 Jul 11, 2020

Aw, thank you so much!

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Courtney Stuart
11:54 Jul 10, 2020

this was such an interesting story! your writing flows very easily, and you did a great job capturing the emotions of your characters - i felt very tense the entire time i was reading, and i'm glad for that ending! great job! :)

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Nandan Prasad
13:26 Jul 10, 2020

Thanks so much!

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10:50 Jul 10, 2020

Wonderful story nandan! I loved the story very much. And the 'delcious chaat' you mentioned made me chuckle. Its so true, i have come across so many street vendors who have butchered the spelling. From 'franch fries restro' to 'food bekary' this is so common in south asian countries 🤣. And i would like you to give more emphasis on your grammar. Anywayss... You are a brilliant story teller. And i like the fact that you chose the plot about the turmoil that many people faced during india pakistan partition. Kudos to your writing 👌

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Nandan Prasad
11:16 Jul 10, 2020

Thanks! Your feedback means a lot! And, yes, I'll look out for any grammatical mistakes.

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11:55 Jul 10, 2020

You're welcome😊

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