Zafar Khan

by Bansi Nirdosh & translated from Kashmiri into English by Dr.Shiben Krishen Raina

In the annals of history, there exists a harrowing tale that harks back to the days when the resolute Pathan tribesmen, known as Kabaili, descended upon my cherished homeland, Kashmir. From the streets of Muzaffarabad to the humble abodes of Shalteng, an unfathomable wave of destruction swept through the land. Each brick trembled under the merciless assault, and every dwelling fell victim to their savage whims.

Shalteng, a mere five miles distant from the heart of Srinagar, bore witness to the brutalities inflicted by these marauding beasts. With an insatiable appetite for chaos, they trampled upon all who crossed their path. The honor of women, once revered and sacred, was shamelessly plundered, their dignity laid bare on the very streets they once traversed with grace. Homes were engulfed in the ravenous embrace of fire, and shops, once bustling with life, were laid bare by their insidious hands. Innocence and blamelessness held no sway over their hearts, as they rendered countless souls homeless, leaving naught but sorrow and despair in their wake.

Mercy found no harbor in their hardened souls, sparing neither child nor elder from the relentless barrage of bullets. Demons roamed freely, reducing once-thriving homes to mere rubble. Lifetime earnings were callously snatched away, leaving only destitution and despair in their wake. Even the shining brass components of Hookahs, coveted for their golden allure, were stolen in their insatiable greed. The sparkling elements of “Samawars,” the emblematic Kashmiri teapots, were shattered, further extinguishing the remnants of hope. A shroud of darkness descended upon the land, engulfing all who beheld its somber pallor.

Countless lives were abruptly extinguished, and the bonds of kinship were torn asunder. Sisters were cruelly snatched away from their brothers, and daughters were ruthlessly snatched from the loving embrace of their mothers. Amidst this cacophony of chaos, the hapless residents clung to any semblance of salvation that presented itself. Sikhs, compelled by coercion, severed their cherished locks, while Brahmins were forced to relinquish their sacred threads. But even such sacrifices proved futile in the eyes of their oppressors, who indiscriminately tormented one and all.

In the depths of despair, some women, driven to protect their honor and preserve their lives, resorted to drastic measures, casting themselves into the abyss of wells. Fathers, with heavy hearts and trembling hands, chose the unthinkable, poisoning their own beloved daughters and daughters-in-law, sparing them from the clutches of dishonor.

Such was the chronicle of those dark days when from Khanabal to Khadinyar, the flames of hearths ceased to dance. Breaths became shallow, as if snuffed out by an invisible hand, and even the daylight seemed cloaked in the guise of night. The once-bustling roads now lay desolate, bereft of life’s vibrant tapestry. Yet, amid this desolation, an unholy carnival unfurled within the courtyards of Baramulla tehsil. It was there that the Kabaili tribesmen congregated, their ill-gotten spoils amassed in grandeur. The seventh day of their despicable occupation marked the commencement of their morbid revelry.

The courtyard glimmered with towering logs and kindling, casting an ethereal glow upon the scene. Amidst this surreal backdrop, the tribesmen exulted with unbridled jubilation. Countless sheep, twenty or thirty in number, were suspended over the leaping inferno. At times, a tribesman would rise from the depths of their revel in the midst of chaos and despair, each Kabaili warrior had a woman by his side, their presence serving as a constant reminder of the cruel fate that had befallen them. The women, their faces hidden and hearts heavy with curses, endured the torment imposed upon them. Yet, a glimmer of hope flickered within some, reminiscent of Draupadi’s unwavering faith in a savior like Krishna. They clung to the belief that someone would come to their rescue.

Amidst the cacophony, the Kabailis, consumed by their own fervor, would break into collective songs. Their captive women, subjected to their oppressive hold, would feel their arms tightly encircling them, their cries drowned out by the pandemonium. Young men, trapped alongside their mothers, sisters, daughters, and wives, bore witness to the agonizing spectacle, helplessly locked within the confines of the blazing inferno.

Among these tribesmen, one figure stood out – Zafar Khan, a fearsome warrior hailing from Kohat. The very mention of his name instilled dread, for he wielded absolute control over the proceedings. It was Zafar Khan who had orchestrated the entire event, bringing forth the hapless victims like a flock of sheep to the slaughter. He had arranged for men to procure the large wooden sticks that would kindle the flames of this macabre display.

Although the sun had yet to set, the smoke from the raging fire hung heavy in the air, enveloping the surroundings in an eerie nocturnal cloak. Zafar Khan, carving a piece of meat, pressed it against his armpit, his eyes scanning the scene with an air of calculated vigilance. In a dimly lit corner, a trio of elderly women wept, their faces marred by self-inflicted wounds that rendered them unrecognizable to any who knew them.

Zafar Khan took a few steps toward them, his intentions uncertain, before abruptly altering his course. He slung his rifle over his left shoulder and strode out of the Tehsil premises, pockets laden with cartridges. As he walked, he arrived at a nearby bridge, its structure a testament to the resilience of the town. The shops that lined its edges, predominantly owned by Punjabis, Hindus, and Muslims, now stood desolate and forsaken. Transactions had ceased, and the once bustling shopkeepers had vanished, leaving only remnants of their wares. Some shops lay charred and ruined, ravaged by the flames of the ongoing havoc, while others emitted a faint plume of smoke, hinting at the tragedy that had unfolded within.

Yet, amidst the wreckage, a few houses remained untouched, their structures defiantly defying the destructive forces that had consumed the rest. These pockets of preservation stood as beacons of hope amidst the smoldering chaos. As Zafar Khan made his way across the bridge, his gaze fell upon the row of houses standing before him. A sense of anticipation filled his heart as he withdrew a piece of meat from his pocket, savoring its taste before discarding the remnants into the desolate wasteland. His eyes narrowed with determination as he untied the Sherwani he wore, securing within it a precious pouch, a treasure he had kept hidden from the spoils of his conquest. He guarded it fiercely, for within that small pouch lay his very life. Whether he stood tall or lay prone, it remained his constant companion, a testament to his unwavering resolve. His hand firmly clasped the pouch, while the other rested on his waist, ready to defend his secret. Countless arguments had ensued between Zafar Khan and his fellow tribesmen over the contents of the pouch, yet he had never allowed anyone to unveil its mysteries. The Kabilis speculated about the hidden riches concealed within, a precious secret that Zafar Khan refused to disclose.

With measured steps, he advanced towards Sarvanand’s house, his gaze fixed upon it with unwavering intensity. Sarvanand worked as a clerk in a Punjabi shopkeeper’s store. Shopkeeper had fled with his family upon hearing the news of the tribesmen’s invasion. In the wake of their escape, the once-thriving store lay abandoned. Until then, the tribesmen had not set foot in Baramula. Sarvanand, however, persisted in his routine, attending the shop during the day and returning home under the cover of night. But alas! the arrival of the tribesmen had reduced everything to smoldering ruins. For the past seven days, Sarvanand and his wife had managed to evade capture. Each time a tribesman had entered their house, they emerged empty-handed. Except for a few tattered clothes strewn within a dilapidated chest, Sarvanand’s dwelling held no offerings for the invaders. The copper plates, the silver cups reserved for tea-drinking (khos), the pitchers, and the clay pots—all had been shattered by the merciless blows of the tribesmen. In the kitchen, the two cooking pots lay up-turned, their emptiness a testament to the absence of nourishment for the past week, yet untouched by the hands of the marauders. Huddled together in the upper room known as the ‘Vog,’ Sarvanand and his wife Tulsidevi witnessed the destruction unfold beneath their trembling gazes. Grateful to have survived the onslaught, they whispered countless prayers of gratitude to a merciful God.

As Zafar Khan crossed the bridge, his steps drawing him closer to Sarvanand’s abode, a sudden wave of apprehension washed over the couple. Tulsidevi’s body turned cold, her once-rosy complexion fading to a ghostly pallor. Sarvanand struggled to ascend to the safety of the ‘Vog.’ His legs felt weak, barely able to carry him. Tremors coursed through Tulsidevi’s frame, her teeth chattering uncontrollably. Sarvanand, summoning every ounce of strength, draped a sheet around his quivering wife, placing his cap firmly upon her head. He shrouded his own face within the folds of his ‘Phiran,’ a long gown, and commenced reciting fervent prayers to the goddess Jawala Bhagwati.

At that very moment, Zafar Khan stepped into the courtyard. Each footfall echoed loudly, causing the hearts of Sarvanand and Tulsidevi to pound in their chests. With a sly smile playing upon his lips, Zafar Khan ascended to the rooftop, where Sarvanand and Tulsidevi awaited their fate. In that fateful moment, Zafar Khan strode into the courtyard, each step reverberating like thunder, causing the hearts of Sarvanand and Tulsi to pound in their chests with an ever-intensifying rhythm. A twisted smile adorned Zafar Khan’s face as he ascended towards the rooftop, where Sarvanand and Tulsi sat, their spirits filled with trepidation. From the folds of Sarvanand’s ‘Phiran’, his forehead peeked out, exposed and vulnerable. In an act of sheer brutality, Zafar Khan delivered a vicious kick, the sole of his shoe striking Sarvanand’s forehead with merciless force. A crimson fountain erupted, splattering the surroundings with the essence of his pain. And yet, not a single moan escaped Sarvanand’s lips, his resilience steadfast in the face of unspeakable agony.

Zafar Khan, reveling in his sadistic game, toyed with Sarvanand, his feet dancing upon the wounded soul, all the while questioning him in his native tongue, “Where is everyone?” Each attempt to extract information was met with feeble murmurs from Sarvanand’s trembling voice, barely able to utter, “There is no one, sir.” But Zafar Khan’s fury was ignited, his rage kindled by the elusive truth. Grasping Sarvanand with a vice-like grip, he dragged him forcefully, descending the stairs like a ruthless predator. Deep within, Zafar Khan knew that ‘Jan,’ (some lady) must be concealed within one of the rooms on the middle floor. With a cruel shove, Sarvanand was launched down the stairs like a lifeless sack, his body colliding with the middle floor in a resounding thud. The piercing cry of Tulsi filled the air, her heart wrenching upon hearing the chilling impact.

Zafar Khan, alert to every sound, caught the echo of Tulsi’s anguish. His heart quickened its pace, an inexplicable excitement filling his being. The rifle slung over his shoulder, he fixated his gaze upon Tulsi, observing her every movement. Tulsi, her eyes fixed and her lashes still, became a fragile sculpture of despair. Zafar Khan’s mouth widened into a sinister grin, his tongue licking his lips in anticipation. Uttering Tulsi’s name, he descended upon her with fervor, planting passionate kisses upon her tear-soaked face, savoring the essence of her sorrow. Helpless and paralyzed by fear, Tulsi could neither cry out nor speak. Tears continued to stream down her face, yet she remained silent, caught in the thorns of her constricted throat.

Zafar Khan’s arousal grew, his physical power surging through his veins. He lifted Tulsi effortlessly, his movements swift and deliberate, discarding her ‘Phiran’ with a callous disregard. Darkness enveloped Tulsi’s vision, suffocating her senses. Lost and disoriented, she groped for direction, her mind besieged by questions. Whom could she turn to? What path should she tread? Whose ears would listen to her pleas? There was naught to her left or right, not even the benevolent gaze of the Sun God offered solace in that harrowing moment. Fate seemed to mock her mercilessly, taunting her helplessness. Her stomach churned like a grinding mill, the agony spreading through her being, reaching even her unborn child who twisted within her womb, responding to the pain inflicted upon its mother.

Tulsi’s legs faltered, her strength waning. She teetered on the precipice of collapse, yet managed to gather herself, her trembling body finding no solace. Darkness engulfed her vision, casting a shroud over her desperate plea. If only the earth would tremble beneath her, causing the abode to crumble into ruins! If only a tempest of such fury would descend upon them, causing the very grains of sand to assail her delicate eyes! Her fragile form quivered with fear as she huddled, her head buried between her trembling knees. Summoning all her strength, she managed to utter, “Khan, have mercy! Show compassion upon me, a vulnerable woman carrying life within. Release me from this torment.”

Yet Khan remained deaf to her pleas, his cruel words pouring forth in his own callous tongue, akin to kernels roasting mercilessly on an open fire. Tulsi, in her despair, clung desperately to the crumbling walls surrounding her. “Oh, why won’t these walls crack asunder? Why won’t these pillars succumb to the weight of despair? Who shall come to the aid of this hapless, powerless woman?” In that moment, Khan’s gaze pierced Tulsi’s trembling figure, and without warning, he forced her to the ground, her entire being consumed by uncontrollable tremors.

Her world, once vibrant, was now a bleak canvas devoid of life. Desperation gripped every fiber of her being as she clutched her stomach with both hands, her last breath quivering forth as she implored, “Khan, release me! Within me resides an innocent child.” Though her strength waned, Tulsi mustered the last of her resolve and pleaded once mor: “Khan, let me go! A child dwells within the depths of my womb.” Her grip tightened on her swollen belly, a poignant symbol of her maternal devotion.

Khan’s gaze drifted downward, fixating upon Tulsi’s bulging belly. The memories of his mother’s words resurfaced, echoing in his mind. Before departing his home, she had cautioned him repeatedly, “Why do you engage in such recklessness? In a mere month, you shall become a father.” The image of Gulzar, her belly round and ripe like an earthen pot, seared itself into his consciousness. Zafar Khan’s legs trembled uncontrollably, his resolve crumbling in the face of Tulsi’s appearance. Retrieving a bundle hidden within the folds of his lungi, he placed it before her, securing the garment once more around his waist. With the rifle slung over his shoulder, Khan turned away without a backward glance, his steps slow and deliberate.

Tulsi, bewildered, struggled to comprehend the turn of events. What had intervened to protect her from the imminent danger? What force had prompted Khan’s departure from their midst? Swiftly, she donned her attire and scanned her surroundings, searching for her beloved husband. Cradling Tulsi’s head in his lap, Sarvanand tenderly patted her back and brushed away her tears. Together, their trembling forms found solace: “Thank the heavens that we both are safe. It is Jawala Bhagwati who has sheltered us,” Sarvanand murmured, his voice filled with gratitude and reverence.

After crossing the bridge, Zafar Khan chose to follow the road on the right. Tulsi and the others kept a watchful eye, their gazes fixated on him until he disappeared into the distance. With Zafar out of sight, they turned their attention to the bundle, eagerly untangling its contents.

Within the pouch lay a treasure : two exquisite gold earrings, accompanied by two large bangles. A dazzling necklace rested alongside a silver charm, adorned with the sacred inscription ‘Ya Allah’—an invocation to the divine. As they further explored the bundle, they discovered additional items carefully placed within—a collection of clothing intended for a young child.

Among the garments, they found a vibrant shirt-pajama, a stylish bandi/jacket, a cozy undershirt to ward off the chill, a traditional langot (loincloth), and a cap adorned with intricate golden lace.

The sight of these possessions evoked a sense of wonder and mystery, leaving Tulsi and his husband Sarvanand captivated by the possessions of this discovery.

About the Author:

Bansi Nirdosh

Born on May 1, 1930, in Badiyar neighborhood of Srinagar, Kashmir. He initially wrote in Urdu until 1951 and then shifted his focus towards the Kashmiri language. Three collections of his short stories and two novels have been published in Kashmiri. My widely-discussed translation of his acclaimed novel “Ak Daur” as “Ek Daur” was published by Hindi Vikaspeeth, Meerut. He has written over a hundred plays for radio. His published books include “Ak Daur” (One Era), “Mukjaar” (Divorce), “Giradaab” (Whirlpool), “Bal Maroyo” (I Shall Die for You), “Aadam Chu Yithay Badnaam” (Man Is Defamed Like This), “Subah Saadik” (Morning Truthful), “Amar Kahani” (Biographies), “Guru Govind Singh”, “Kumuk Shayar” (The Poet of the Community), and others. His story “Maut” (Death) was aired on the national broadcast program of Doordarshan under the serial “Ek Kahani.” Several telefilms have been produced based on his stories like “Daan Thaar” (The Pomegranate Branch), “Rishte” (Relations), “Giradaab,” “Tafteesh” (Investigation), and others. He has been honored twice by the Jammu and Kashmir State Cultural Academy and by the Bakshi Memorial Trust. After being displaced from Kashmir, he resided in Jammu and later passed away on August 21, 2001.

Dr.Shiben Krishen Raina is a well-known educationist, teacher, and translator. He is more known as a distinguished translator having a long experience in the field of translating from Kashmiri, Urdu, and English into Hindi. His translated work comprising of translation and transliteration of the famous Kashmiri Ramayana “Ramavtar Charit” is a valuable contribution to the field of Hindi literature. Dr.Raina is a recepient of Tamra-Patra from the Bihar Rajya Bhasha Vibhag, Govt.of Bihar in 1975. Dr.Raina was Fellow at Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Rashtrapati Nivas, Shimla during 1999-2001, where he worked on the problems of Translation. Dr.Raina is the recipient of first-ever Translation Award of Rajasthan Sahitya Academy, Udaipur, and also Anuvad-Shri honour from Bhartiya Anuvad Parishad, Delhi.


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