In the summer of 1947, the heat felt different from other summers—hotter, drier, and dustier. The heat lasted for too long and the monsoon season was late. The previous summer, there were riots in Calcutta after reports that the country would be divided into Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan. Several thousand people died. Hindus blamed Muslims, and Muslims blamed Hindus; but, both sides killed, tortured, and raped. The riots spread, resulting in more massacres. Hindus and Sikhs abandoned their homes on the Northwest Frontier, where they had resided for decades, and fled east to areas where their religious groups dominated.
Singh uses the heat of summer as a metaphor for the intensity of tensions between religious groups. The author draws a parallel between the unusual summer heat and the change in relations between Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims as a result of the Partition of India. The lateness of the monsoon season, which typically cools the heat of the summer, correlates with the expansion of the violence, which becomes so unbearable that people flee their homes.
On their way east, Hindus and Sikhs traveled on foot and in bull-drawn carts. Others crammed themselves into trucks or held on to the sides of trains. On their way east, they ran into Muslims who were traveling west. Ten million people—Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs—were leaving their homes in the summer of 1947, when the new state of Pakistan was formally announced. When the monsoon finally arrived, about a million of the migrants were dead and northern India was in a state of panic. There were a few scattered oases of peace in the remote parts of the frontier. One of those villages was Mano Majra.
The partition resulted in a mass exodus, with Muslims going to Pakistan—their new homeland—and Sikhs and Hindus claiming India. During this forced separation, the groups “[run] into” each other, indicating how they share an experience of migration and displacement, despite their insistence on living as enemies. Mano Majra is an oasis, or a space in which there is relief from the constant hostilities.
In 1947, Mano Majra is tiny. The town has only three brick buildings (the home of the moneylender Lala Ram Lal, a Sikh temple, and a mosque), and the rest of the village is mud huts. Of the seventy families there, Lala Ram Lal’s is the only Hindu family—the others are Sikh and Muslim, about equal in their numbers. The Sikhs own all the land around the village, while the Muslims are tenants and till the land with the land’s owners. Mano Majra is about half a mile from the Sutlej River, the largest river in the Punjab region, and it is known for its railway station and its enormous railway bridge about a mile north of town.
Mano Majra’s three buildings symbolize the presence of the three religious groups. The division of the land also shows that the village’s caste system is based on religious membership. Ram Lal is in the minority, but his wealth depends on his role as a lender. The Muslims occupy the lowest social position, for they own no land; but, without their assistance, the Sikhs could not maintain their farms. The system is hierarchical, but it is also built on codependency.
While the station seems busy because of the shopkeepers and vendors that work nearby, not many trains stop at Mano Majra. The goods and passenger trains that do come to the village help to determine the villagers’ daily schedule.
Most of the villagers are illiterate, so they rely on the arrival and departure of the trains to determine their day. The trains are one of few aspects of modernity that are accessible to them.
In August 1947, five armed dacoits come out of a keekar grove near Mano Majra and are walking toward the Sutlej River. Two of them have spears. The leader asks the spearman if he has the bangles for Juggut Singh. Another suggests that Juggut could give the bangles to “that weaver’s daughter,” Nooran. They talk about her “little mango breasts” and the antimony on her “large gazelle eyes.”
The robbers intend to frame Jugga with the bangles. This is the first mention of Nooran in the narrative, who is not named but instead defined in relation to her father and Jugga and recognized only for her supposedly seductive looks.
The goods train arrives, interrupting their laughter about Juggut (also called “Jugga”) Singh’s lust for Nooran and telling them that it is time to go to the home of Lala Ram Lal. Once there, the leader pounds on the door with the butt of his gun, but there is no reply.
There is an ironic parallel between the arrival of the goods train and the robbers’ intention to loot the home of the wealthiest family in town.
The men continue to hammer the door with their weapons, and behind the door a woman’s voice asks who calls. The leader demands that she let them in, but she tells them that Lala Ram Lal is not in. Inside, two women sit “crouching” in one corner of the room, while a seven-year-old boy “clings to the elder” of the two women. The older woman begs the men to take the family’s things and offers them her jewelry. One of the men takes her handful of bracelets, anklets, and earrings, then asks where Ram Lal is.
The women are the protectors of the home, but they are vulnerable during the confrontation with the robbers. Singh’s description of the women “crouching,” the boy who “clings to the elder,” and the older woman who “begs” reinforces their helplessness and contrasts with the men’s forceful actions of hammering, demanding, and taking the old woman’s handful of jewelry.
The older woman tells the man that Lala Ram Lal is out, but one of the robbers separates the boy—the woman’s grandson—from her lap and holds a gun to his face. The women beg him not to kill the child, but he kicks them away and asks the boy about the whereabouts of his father. Shaking with fear, the boy stutters that his father is “upstairs.” The robbers give the boy back to the women and head upstairs.
The robbers have a ruthless disregard for life, which Singh amplifies by illustrating their ill treatment of women and children. This scene contradicts Hukum Chand’s later comment about Muslims being disrespectful of women. The robbers, whom we learn are Sikh, are equally violent.
Upstairs, they find the moneylender, Lala Ram Lal, hiding under a charpoy. The robbers drag him out and demand the keys to the safe, kicking and slapping him. The moneylender begs the crew to take all that he has in exchange for not killing anyone and he offers money from his pocket. Again, they demand the keys to the safe and the leader hits Ram Lal in the face with the butt of his gun.
Ram Lal hides to protect himself and his money, leaving the women and children to fend for themselves. Though he begs the crew not to kill anyone, his choice to hide and abandon an old woman and a small boy to armed robbers is a subtle indication of his greed.
The robbers continue to beat Lala Ram Lal. They smash two of his teeth and he spits blood, but he still will not give them the keys to the safe. Tired of his resistance, one of the men stabs Ram Lal in the belly with his spear and kills him. The men leave the house and one of them fires two shots in the air. All of the noise in the village stops. The robbers walk down the lane and arrive at a “small hut on the edge of the village.” It is the home of Juggut Singh. They remember to give their “gift” of the bangles, which they toss over the wall into the courtyard. They hear the glass break while they mock the imagined love sounds of Juggut Singh. However, Juggut does not hear their laughter; he is not at home.
When the robbers kill the only Hindu in Mano Majra, as well as the only man with the wealth to provide the villagers with money, they disrupt the power dynamic which has long existed. The description of Jugga’s home and its position suggest that he lives modestly, despite his former life as a dacoit. These details also indicate that he is an outcast member of the community because he lives “on the edge of the village.”
For both Juggut Singh and the dacoits the sound of the goods train’s arrival is a signal. Jugga will only be gone from his home for an hour, but before leaving he and his mother argue about his probation, which forbids him from leaving the village after sunset. She worries that, if he goes to jail, he will hang like his father, Alam Singh. Jugga leaves the house and goes for a walk. Suddenly, a hand covers his eyes. The hand belongs to Nooran. They make love. Suddenly, they hear a gunshot.
Jugga’s most important relationships are with his mother and Nooran. His mother reminds him of his ties to his notorious past, while his trysts with Nooran are moments in which he can forget his obligations and his criminal legacy. When the gunshot rings out, it acts as another signal, calling him back to his legal concerns.
Nooran worries that the sound will cause her father, Imam Baksh, to worry and wonder where she is, so she tells Juggut that she must go home. He tells her that the sounds of gunshots were only in her imagination. Nooran begins to cry, worried about what happened in the village and the inevitability of her father waking up and looking for her. Jugga does not listen. He is worried about the possibility of getting trouble with the police for violating the terms of his probation. However, what bothers him more is the possibility of Nooran not seeing him again out of fear of her father. She sobs. Jugga threatens to slap her. He puts his hand over her mouth when he hears someone coming.
Jugga worries about going back to jail, but he is indifferent to Nooran’s more serious concern about her father finding out that she has been making love out of wedlock—an offense that can result in the penalty of death for Muslim women. Jugga’s thoughts and responses to Nooran in this scene are focused on his own needs, and as such make it difficult to believe that he loves her. There is an evolution of his feelings over the course of the novel.
Juggut and Nooran see five men walking in the dark with spears and guns. Nooran asks if Jugga knows them, and he says that the one holding the torch is Malli. Jugga is angry that Malli has brought his gang into Jugga’s village. The robbers walk downstream, so Jugga and Nooran head back toward Mano Majra. The village is awake. Jugga asks if Nooran will see him again tomorrow, but she is worried that her father will murder her if he finds out about her tryst with Jugga. Jugga insists that she lie to her father—after all, Imam Baksh is nearly blind. He would not notice her silk shirt or the antimony on her eyes. Still, she swears to Jugga that she will never see him again. Jugga walks toward his house. When he sees several villagers talking to his mother, he turns back toward the river.
This passage tells the reader that Malli is a rival dacoit from another village, though he was once a part of Jugga’s old gang. This visit from Malli to Jugga’s village is another way in which Jugga’s criminal past continually resurfaces. When he turns and walks back toward the river, it is likely out of a fear that he will be implicated in the dacoity; he does not want anyone to see him. Similarly, Nooran does not want anyone to see how she adorns herself for Jugga’s pleasure. Both worry about their reputations and their lives, albeit for very different reasons.
On the morning before the dacoity, the rest house is cleaned, swept, dusted, and organized to receive an important guest. At eleven o’clock, the subinspector of police and two constables show up to inspect the house. They wear white uniforms “with red sashes around their waists and white turbans.” An hour later, a large gray American car arrives and Hukum Chand steps out. He has been traveling all morning “and is somewhat tired and stiff.”
The constables’ uniforms and the “large gray American car” signify the importance of Hukum Chand. He is a man who can afford an American car and whose arrival requires preparations. The officers demonstrate an efficiency in these preparations that does not always extend to their work in other areas.
Hukum Chand asks if there has been any communal trouble in Mano Majra. The subinspector tells him that trucks of Sikh and Hindu refugees from Pakistan have come through and some Muslims have gone out, but there have been no incidents. Chand tells the officer about dead Sikhs coming through their side of the frontier from Amritsar. They are being killed on refugee trains across the border.
Chand’s comment implies that he is worried that the trouble in Amritsar, a nearby city, could spread to Mano Majra. Mano Majra also has a train station and, if Muslims are killing Sikhs and sending dead bodies to India by rail, it might not be long before the same occurs in the peaceful village.
Hukum Chand tells the subinspector how the Sikhs retaliated by attacking a Muslim refugee train and sending it back across the border with over a thousand Sikh corpses. On the engine, they scrawled, “Gift to Pakistan.” The subinspector talks about how some believe in the “eye-for-an-eye” strategy, but he does not believe that Hindus are capable of vindictive violence, due to their faith. Though Hindus are capable of fighting, he says, the Sikhs “have lost their manliness.” For example, the subinspector wonders why the Sikhs allow Muslims to live in their villages and why the Sikhs call the Muslims their “brothers.” The subinspector reasons that the Sikhs are getting money from the Muslims.
The subinspector has a cynical and stereotypical view of those who are not of his Hindu faith. He thinks that the Sikhs are weak for tolerating the Muslim presence, overlooking the fact that, in villages such as Mano Majra, Sikhs and Muslims have been living side-by-side for centuries and have close personal relationships that override religious affiliations. He exposes his cynicism by explaining their friendship in the context of a financial arrangement.
Hukum Chand asks if there are any rich Muslims in the area. The subinspector says that there are not, for most of them are weavers or potters. Chand then notes that Chundunnugger, which the subinspector manages, is a “good police station.” He hints that the subinspector and others must benefit from bribing murderers, illegal distillers, and the prosperous Sikh peasants. Chand tells the subinspector that he has no problem with graft, for everyone does it, just that he should be careful due to the new government’s talk about stamping out corruption. The subinspector scoffs at their hypocrisy, believing that the “Gandhi disciples are minting money” while pretending to be “as good saints as the crane.”
This conversation deals most explicitly with the theme of police corruption. The authorities, who are Sikh and Hindu, do not want Muslims in India yet are willing to profit from those who remain in the country. There is an atmosphere of mistrust through every level of government. Chand scoffs at Gandhi’s saintly reputation, arguing that the man who led India to independence and a new phase of democracy is also the head of an elitist government that still keeps many people poor.
Hukum Chand asks about the political situation in the village, and the subinspector says that people are barely aware that the British have left and that the country has been partitioned. Some may know who Gandhi is, but he doubts that anyone knows Jinnah. Chand is happy to hear this and insists that they “keep an eye on Mano Majra,” due to its proximity to the railway bridge. He then asks if there are any “bad characters.” The subinspector mentions Juggut and tells the story of Juggut’s father, Alam Singh’s, hanging two years ago. However, he tells Chand that Jugga stays out of trouble because of Nooran. The subinspector asks for permission to return to the police station. Chand asks if the subinspector has arranged for his prostitute for the evening. The subinspector assures Chand that he has, then leaves so that the magistrate can take his late afternoon siesta.
Due to their illiteracy, the villagers would be unable to read a newspaper and keep up with the latest events. They are also too poor to have access to radios. Chand thinks that their isolation and naivete will prevent the arousal of religious strife, but he neglects the possibility that such ignorance could also make the villagers more vulnerable to rumor and rabblerousing. Chand’s use of a prostitute is more evidence of his corruption. However, his exploitation of women is something that he shares in common with Jugga, who makes love to Nooran in a way that is not reciprocal.
The sound of Hukum Chand’s car leaving the bungalow wakes him from his nap. He is dressed by the time his driver arrives back. Two men and two women step out of the vehicle. The men carry musical instruments. One of the women is old and the other is young and has a mouth full of betel leaf.
Like the arrival and departure of the trains, the arrival and departure of Chand’s car is another device that the author uses to show the passage of time, while also alluding to Chand’s privilege.
Hukum Chand shouts for his servant to bring him whisky. When he walks out, everyone but the girl, whose name is Haseena, greets him excitedly; she stares at him. Her large eyes are “lined with antimony and lampblack.” The servant pours Chand a whisky and soda and the group performs. Haseena spits out the juice from the betel leaf and sings. Chand pours himself another whisky. He feels uneasy, but he dismisses his conscience, insisting that life is too short for guilt.
Chand drinks to numb his feelings of guilt. The privileges of his position have conditioned him to having others at his service. However, the girl’s youth and aloofness put him ill at ease. She is too young to be impressed by him. Having such a young prostitute makes him feel dirty, but not enough to put his sense of ethics over his demand for pleasure.
Hukum Chand compliments Haseena’s singing and encourages her to drink a bit of whisky. The old woman tells him that the girl does not drink because she is only sixteen. Chand then offers her food, which she gamely eats. He pulls Haseena onto his lap and plays with her hair. The musicians and the old woman leave, and the servant puts dinner on the table; Chand says he and the girl will serve themselves.
To engage himself in the moment, Chand flirts with Haseena. He flatters her and tempts her with all of the good things that he can afford. The interactions in this scene imply that there is a predetermined understanding of how the evening will go and how everything is arranged to satisfy Chand’s desires.
Hukum Chand indulges Haseena, but he is not interested in how she feels; he paid for her. They hear a gunshot. She thinks that it may be a shikar, but Chand insists that no one would be hunting on a dark night. The silence after the shot tells Chand that all is well and he puts his arm around the girl again. He clears off the table and lays her on the tablecloth. She covers her face with the loose end of her sari to avoid his breath. Then, Chand hears the sounds of people shouting and dogs barking. Two more shots ring out and Chand leaves the girl.
Chand’s flirtation is merely an attempt to display good manners. The girl’s attribution of the gunshot to a hunt suggests her naivete. In this instance, the sound of gunshots disrupts lovemaking, while in Jugga and Nooran’s case, it signals the end of the consummation of their relationship. Both relationships, though, are disrupted by the dacoity.
The next morning, the railway station is more crowded than usual. The passenger train is an hour late. Iqbal steps off of it. The stationmaster bows obsequiously to the subinspector, who has also returned to Mano Majra on the train, and opens the gate widely for him, but Iqbal gets there first. The stationmaster quickly takes his ticket, but Iqbal does not move to make way for the subinspector. Instead, he asks about a place to stay in Mano Majra. The stationmaster is irritated and doubly so after hearing Iqbal’s urban accent. He sarcastically tells Iqbal that there are no hotels or inns, only the Sikh temple. Iqbal thanks him and moves on.
The stationmaster’s obsequiousness toward the subinspector shows how all of Mano Majra is obedient toward the police, probably less out of respect, given the authorities’ well-known corruption, than out of fear. The stationmaster’s aversion to Iqbal, on the other hand, suggests that he is also governed by an attitude of inferiority and a suspicion toward outsiders.
The police eye Iqbal as he walks away. They find it curious that he says “thank you,” which is rare in Mano Majra, except among the “foreign-educated.” The police know of young men who were educated in England and have returned to motivate the peasants politically. Some are Communists, while others are the sons of millionaires or high government officials.
The police know that Iqbal is an outsider, but they wonder if he is the sort who will cause trouble. If he is a political agitator, they wonder if he is one whom they can quietly rid themselves of, or if he is too high-caste to be touched.
Iqbal walks out of the station and toward the village, feeling that the police are watching him. In town, he sees Meet Singh bathing beside a well. The men greet each other, then Iqbal asks if he can stay for two or three days. The bhai agrees but tells the young man to cover his hair and not to bring in any cigarettes or tobacco. The priest then tells him to take off his shoes. He offers Iqbal something to eat, but Iqbal has brought his own food.
The simplicity of the priest’s manner of living—he bathes from a well—differs from that of Iqbal, who arrives in a small Indian village expecting public accommodations, such as a hotel, and has the personal wealth to travel with his own supply of food. The priest’s strict religious customs also differ from Iqbal’s secular tastes.
Meet Singh shows Iqbal to the spare room, then goes back to the well where he was bathing. The only furniture is a charpoy. There is also a calendar on the wall with a picture of the Guru “on horseback with a hawk on one hand.” Next to the calendar are nails to hang clothes. Iqbal empties his sack, takes out his air mattress, and places it on the charpoy. He also lays out his pajamas and a silk dressing gown. For food, he has “a tin of sardines, a tin of Australian butter, and a packet of dry biscuits.”
This passage is more specific about the various comforts on which Iqbal depends, which contrast with the sparseness of the room at the temple. The heroic image of the Guru correlates with Iqbal’s self-image as a political activist, which contrasts with his propensity for self-indulgence—detailed through the descriptions of his food and clothing.
Meet Singh reenters and asks Iqbal what his name is. Iqbal tells him, then asks the priest for his. The priest assumes Iqbal to be Sikh and addresses him as “Iqbal Singhji,” which relieves the younger man. It is better for everyone to assume that he is Sikh. Personally, he has few religious feelings. He introduces himself to the priest as “a social worker” sent by his party. Meet Singh is not interested in this, but he is interested in where Iqbal is from, meaning his ancestry.
Meet Singh is a man steeped in tradition and, thus, concerns himself with aspects of people’s backgrounds, such as religion. Iqbal is firmly in the present and worries only about his political activity. If this means that he must fit the traditional image that Meet Singh has for him to get his work done, Iqbal will oblige.
Iqbal Singh says that he belongs to district Jhelum, which is now in Pakistan, and has lived in foreign countries for a long time. His travel experiences, he says, have helped him understand how backward India is and that something should be done about it. Meet Singh asks how much he is paid and if his salary covers the expenses of his wife and children. Iqbal tells him that he is not married and says that he is twenty-seven. Iqbal then asks if other social workers come to the village, questioning the priest to avoid further interrogation.
Iqbal’s affiliation with Pakistan is strange, given that he has come from Delhi, and the author does not further explain this choice. It is possible that Iqbal wishes to use the more secular government in Pakistan, led by Jinnah, as an example of what India should aspire to, but Meet Singh would not know any of this and, therefore, resorts back to conversation that he understands.
Meet Singh tells Iqbal Singh that missionaries are usually the only other visitors. The priest does not have a problem with the presence of Christians in Mano Majra and asks how many religions they have in Europe. Iqbal tells him that they are all Christians in one way or another, and that they do not quarrel about faith as Indians do or even bother much about religion. The priest surmises that this is why they have so few morals, using the example of foreigners in India who sleep with each other’s wives. Iqbal argues that at least they do not lie about their behavior as Indians do. He goes on to say that morality is a matter of money, but that poor people cannot afford to have morals, so they use religion instead. He insists that if people have more food, clothing, and comfort, they can stop being exploited by the rich. First, the government must change, Iqbal says.
Iqbal distinguishes between morality and religion, while Meet Singh thinks that they are one and the same. Iqbal’s explanation of Christianity in Europe overlooks the sectarian rifts between Catholics and Protestants, which had existed on the continent for five hundred years, and during the time of the novel had most recently occurred in Ireland. For Iqbal, morals develop when people have access to the resources they need. He excludes education, however, which is essential in helping people to understand and contemplate their conditions. Iqbal instead simplifies the needs of the poor to food and clothing, which are withheld from them by the rich.
Iqbal eats his sardines and Meet Singh watches as Iqbal pulls a white pill from his pocket and drops it in the tumbler. The priest asks if he is ill, but Iqbal says that he needs the pill to digest his food. He goes on to talk to the priest about police corruption. Meet Singh nods in agreement but listens absent-mindedly while Iqbal tells him about the group of policemen he saw at the train station. He insists that they do nothing “but fleece people.” Talk of the police reminds Meet Singh of the dacoity. He gets up and says that he has to go to the moneylender’s house. The whole village will be there.
The white pill is a water purification tablet. Iqbal probably refrains from telling the priest this because he does not want him to think that Iqbal is too good to drink the local water, or even that his stomach would be unable to handle the bacteria. Meet Singh’s comfort with the unsanitary water, as well as with the corrupt police, illustrate that the stark differences between the men’s lifestyles and social conditioning.
Iqbal is surprised to hear about a village murder. He asks Meet Singh many questions. Meet Singh is amused that a man who says that he has come to stop such things is upset by news of one murder. He insists that Mano Majra is usually safe and that robberies only occur there once a year. When the next robbery occurs in another village, people will forget about this one, the priest says. Meet Singh then hobbles out of the courtyard, leaving Iqbal to wash his dining utensils.
Robberies and murders are commonplace in the village. Iqbal was insulated from such realities in England and Delhi, where such incidents were likely just as commonplace but more likely to go unacknowledged in large cities. Furthermore, Iqbal’s middle-class lifestyle largely protected him from the problems of crime and poverty.
This afternoon, Iqbal cannot sleep. His room is hot and smelly. There are flies buzzing around. He puts a handkerchief over his face. When he manages to doze off, Meet Singh enters excitedly. The priest has learned that the police have sent for Juggut to be arrested for the dacoity. Meet Singh is outraged that Juggut, who had run away, would loot a neighbor’s home. The stolen money and a bag of bangles were found in his courtyard. Meet Singh insists that this is not the first murder that Juggut has committed, and that Alam Singh and Juggut’s grandfather were also robbers who were hanged for murder. However, these men had never robbed their own village. In fact, when they were home, no robber dared to come to Mano Majra. Juggut, the priest reasons, has no honor.
Meet Singh distinguishes between goodness and honor. A robber is never a good person, it seems, which would justify Alam Singh’s hanging. However, even a robber can have a code of honor, such as refusing to rob members of his own village, or even using his strength and dangerous reputation to protect the village from foreign robbers. The priest’s disappointment lies in Jugga’s lack of a moral code.
Iqbal finds this code of morals puzzling. He finds it strange that Meet Singh, a priest, is not bothered that Juggut committed a murder, but that he killed a fellow villager. Iqbal is already weary of talking to him and people like him, for they do not understand each other. Meet Singh insists that, despite Juggut’s efforts to go straight by plowing and looking after cattle, he is “a snake” who cannot “keep straight.” Crime, the priest says, is in his blood.
Meet Singh thinks that Jugga and people like him are inherently bad. On the other hand, Iqbal thinks that murder is inherently bad. He finds it strange that Meet Singh cares less about the murder than he does about Jugga breaking an unspoken code of honor.
Iqbal stands up to take a walk. When he goes out, he sees that the door of Lala Ram Lal’s house is open. He sees women crying outside of the house. Iqbal walks in the shade alongside the wall of the gurdwara. Children and men have used it as a bathroom. He sees a mangy dog there nursing her eight skinny pups. Iqbal walks along a watercourse to the riverside and watches the express train from Lahore come across the railway bridge.
Iqbal’s first walk in the city gives the impression of a place steeped in misery and poverty. The locals’ respect for religious institutions is questionable, given how many people have used the wall of the temple for a urinal. The village’s only connections to the outside world are the river and the railway bridge.
Iqbal walks back to the gurdwara. He goes to his room and lies down on his charpoy. Meet Singh appears and says that Banta Singh, the lambardar, will visit that evening and is bringing some milk. He then offers Iqbal another charpoy on the roof, so that he can escape the heat of the room. Iqbal does not like the idea of talking to the lambardar. He gets a silver flask out from under his pillow and takes a swig of whisky. He then takes his mattress to the roof and lies there watching the stars until the visitors arrive.
Iqbal’s aversion to talking to the lambardar is partly due to his being tired and wanting to be alone. He has not had a moment to himself since arriving at the temple. It is also due to the fact that Banta Singh is a landowner, whose status makes him distasteful to Iqbal and a perceived enemy of his party’s political agenda.
Later at the gurdwara, Iqbal meets Banta Singh and a Muslim man. The men talk about the Partition. Banta Singh asks Iqbal why the English left. Iqbal does not know how to answer and is annoyed that the visitors cannot see decolonization as a step forward. Banta Singh and Meet Singh talk favorably about English officers. Iqbal, in a moment of impatience, asks they why they do not want to be free. The men say that freedom is fine for the educated, and it will not get the people more land or buffaloes. The Muslim says that they will go from being the “slaves” of the English to the slaves of the educated Indians or the Pakistanis. Iqbal is startled but urges them—peasants and workers—to fight to get the elitist government out. Meet Singh then mentions how another fellow had once told them the same thing—a Communist whose atheism offended him. Iqbal asks for the comrade’s name, thinking to himself that he should report the worker, but Meet Singh cannot remember it.
The Muslim man is implied to be Baksh, whom Iqbal identifies in the narrative as “the Muslim” because Meet Singh never formally introduces them. Iqbal does not sympathize with the men’s concerns that the departure of the British still leaves them vulnerable to a system of injustice in which the poor will always be at the bottom. There is also the possibility that India could be invaded by Pakistan. Iqbal’s desires are somewhat contradictory—he seeks to throw off Western rule but overlooks all of the ways in which he has become accustomed to a more Western lifestyle and outlook, which makes it difficult for him to understand the peasants’ feelings of vulnerability. In this passage, too, it is strongly implied that Iqbal is a member of the Communist Party.
Meet Singh recalls a photo of white British people, including the “Big Lord” and his daughter, at a prayer meeting with Gandhi. The priest uses this example to say that even the English respect men of faith. Iqbal is annoyed at the comment and tells the others that the English may be nice individually but, culturally, they are cheats. He tells them about his years in England and insists that, if the British were honorable people, they would not be imperialists. Then, he says that the colonial past is irrelevant; what matters is what will happen now. Banta Singh argues that the present is filled with the promise of destruction, and that the only people who enjoy freedom are criminals. He concludes that they were better off under the British who, at least, offered security.
Iqbal uses the example of Lord Mountbatten—here referred to as the “Big Lord”—to illustrate how such displays of respect were superficial and were even ruses for the British to maintain and justify their colonial power. He also distinguishes between regarding the British individually, in recognition of the appeal of someone like Mountbatten to many Indians, and looking at the nation’s policies, which exploited the Indian people and were counterproductive to the nation’s growth and progress. Mountbatten, too, was responsible for the hasty and poorly handled partition.
The men sit quietly and listen to the goods train, which tells the visitors that it is time to leave. They all shake hands and the visitors depart. Iqbal lies down and gazes at the stars. He feels lonely and depressed. He wonders how much he can really do to change India. He thinks about how the proletariat does not really care about political freedom, unless it offers a chance to kill a lambardar of a different religious denomination. He could do his best to turn that “kill-and-grab instinct” against the moneyed class.
Iqbal reveals his own hypocrisy about murder. In a political context, it seems, he is fine with killing people. He does not wish to allay the sectarian violence but seeks to manipulate it toward his own ends. He does not think that India can change its habits, but figures that their behaviors can be redirected.
Iqbal wishes that another worker were sent to this village instead of him. He does not feel like a leader and has not made the sacrifices, such as hunger strikes or time in jail. He decides that, when he gets back to Delhi, he will find ways to get himself arrested and jailed. By then, the massacres will be over and he will be safe. As he falls asleep, he hears the goods train leave the station and rumble across the railway bridge. Iqbal dreams of a peaceful life in jail.
Iqbal has left Delhi to escape the massacres there, suggesting he is afraid of violence and left town to avoid getting hurt. He is not willing to risk his life for his political beliefs, but he is open to others risking their lives for his political ends. The sacrifices that he is willing to make are the sort that would earn him attention.
The next morning, Iqbal is arrested. Two constables go into his room and rudely shake him awake. He sits up, bewildered. They show him a warrant for his arrest. Iqbal tells them that they have no right to arrest him and asserts that their “days of police rule are over.” The policemen are surprised by his accent, his possessions, and his aggressive attitude. All of this makes them uneasy. One officer tells him politely that they are merely doing their job and that he can settle the matter with the magistrate, Hukum Chand. The other officer fumbles to get Iqbal handcuffed.
In a strange twist of fate, Iqbal gets the arrest that he wished for the night before. However, when it occurs, he is unprepared and angry that the police would arrest him without cause. The police are equally ill at ease, for Iqbal is not a local. It also seems, based on his accent and his attitude of entitlement, as though he might be too important to arrest.
At the same time that Iqbal is arrested, ten men are sent to arrest Juggut. Armed policemen surround his house and six of them rush into his courtyard with revolvers. Jugga lies on his charpoy, sleeping. He was in the jungle hiding for two nights and a day with no food or shelter and came home early in the morning when he thought everyone was asleep. The police put his feet in fetters and cuff his right wrist while he sleeps. Then, they prod him awake with the butt of their guns. Juggut’s mother enters and starts crying. Four constables search the house. Jugga’s mother brings out the broken bangles as evidence that the dacoits attempted to frame Jugga. They believe that this means that he knows who the robbers are. The constables slap and kick Jugga, then lead him out of the house.
Singh reveals the disparity in the arrests of Iqbal and Jugga to show that the police has less respect not only for people with criminal records, but also for those who are of a lower social class. Their polite manner and gentle handing of the handcuffs when arresting Iqbal contrast with hitting Jugga and putting his feet in chains. They assume that Jugga is automatically guilty, due to the belief that he is an inherently bad character. The police do not know anything about Iqbal, but they assume that he is decent based on his higher-caste accent.
Juggut walks out of the house and past the villagers. He has a jauntiness in his step and a devil-may-care attitude. The policemen feel uneasy. Iqbal was too belligerent during his arrest, suggesting that he is innocent. It is also unlikely that Juggut would commit a dacoity in his own village. It is also clear that Iqbal and Juggut do not know each other.
The police begin to realize that they have pinned this crime on the wrong men, but it is too late for them to correct their mistake, having already arrested the men in front of the villagers. Saving face is more important than properly solving a crime.
Iqbal’s pride is hurt. He initially believed that he was being arrested for his politics. He wanted to be handcuffed so that the villagers could see his willingness to sacrifice himself for their civil liberties, while also witnessing the dignity of his bearing. He feels that the villagers should also be able to attest to his innocence. They saw him when he arrived in Mano Majra. However, during the arrest, the men stare dumbly and the women ask each other who he is. Juggut, on the other hand, does not mind being arrested and has spent a lot of time in jail. Crime is his inheritance. When Alam Singh was convicted of a dacoity, Juggut’s mother mortgaged their land to pay lawyers. Jugga got money to get back the land. Though no one could prove how he got the funds, Jugga was arrested and labeled a budmash.
Singh uses this contrasting description to show the difference between the men’s ideas of honor. Iqbal is annoyed to be arrested, but he is equally annoyed that the police have handled him so gingerly that he cannot make a display of his arrest and use it for his political ends. However, he also does not wish to remain in custody and expects the villagers to defend his innocence. Jugga expects no one to defend him nor his actions. It is suggested that he turned to a life of crime out of survival, so that his family could keep their farm.
When the police bring Juggut and Iqbal to the subinspector, the subinspector recognizes Iqbal from the train station the day before. The head constable feigns ignorance and says that he does not remember seeing Iqbal. He insists that he only carried out the subinspector’s orders to arrest a suspicious-looking, loitering stranger. The subinspector is furious and curses the head constable.
The head constable has made the mistake of bringing in Iqbal as one of the robbers in the dacoity, despite the fact that Iqbal arrived after the dacoity and is a newcomer in town. The arrest reveals both the corruption of the police and their incompetence.
The subinspector goes to Hukum Chand to tell the magistrate about the two arrests. Iqbal is explained to Chand as a man “whose presence had been reported by the headman” under orders from Chand. The magistrate detects the subinspector’s attempt to fob off responsibility for the arrest. He asks for Iqbal’s full name. The head constable goes to Iqbal to ask. The head constable reports that Iqbal is educated, which makes Chand wonder about his family. The head constable says that Iqbal refuses to give his full name or to report his religion. Chand orders that they get the information out of him through whippings, if necessary.
Neither the head constable nor the subinspector want to take responsibility for the mistake, and the latter tries to say that Chand ordered the head constable to arrest a strange man. For Chand, the justification for the arrest is less relevant than Iqbal’s background. He wants to ensure that Iqbal is not someone of importance. However, Iqbal’s perceived elevated status does not prevent the police from possibly using torture on him.
When the subinspector goes back to Hukum Chand he says that he is sure that Iqbal is a member of the Muslim League and he uses Iqbal’s being circumcised as proof that he is a really a Muslim. They fill in the arrest warrant as “Mohammed Iqbal.” Chand also orders him to say that more information is expected to come in regarding Lala Ram Lal’s murderers. He orders them to beat Juggut to get the names of the other dacoits, though the subinspector thinks that he can do it without any beatings.
Chand and the subinspector frame Iqbal as a Muslim agitator based on no evidence other than Iqbal’s interest in politics and his being circumcised. They do this both to cover for their error in arresting him and to avoid investigative police work. This detail is key to understanding how the police exercise unquestioned and unlimited power.
The police take the prisoners into the police station in Chundunnugger. First, they go to the reporting room. Then, the men are taken to their cells. Juggut’s arrival provokes hilarity and someone jokes that he is in the station so often that it seems like his father-in-law’s house. The policemen regard Iqbal differently. They remove his cuffs apologetically. They fill his cell with a table, chair, and a charpoy. They also provide him with newspapers and magazines in English and Urdu. Jugga, on the other hand, gets no furniture and the policemen fling his food into his cell.
The police are still worried that Iqbal is someone of importance, so they wish to treat him as humanely as possible so that they can protect themselves against any future accusation of police brutality. On the other hand, they know that Jugga has no such power, so they treat him as they would any other criminal—with little respect. The flinging of food is treatment normally reserved for a wild animal.
Iqbal is not surprised by the difference in treatment and views it as typical of caste distinctions in the country. Iqbal eats his midday meal and lies down on his charpoy. He hears Juggut sleeping, but Iqbal cannot sleep; he reads the news and wonders if his time in jail would be considered a “sacrifice.” He thinks about how he will get word to the party about his whereabouts. He falls asleep dreaming about “banner headlines announcing his arrest, his release, [and] his triumphant emergence as a leader.”
Iqbal is not surprised by the difference in treatment, but he also does nothing to protest it. He enjoys the comforts provided by the police and thinks about how he will use this arrest to construct his public image as a Communist hero. He seeks to turn the arrest into an opportunity to scale the ladder in his party and become a leader.
In the evening, the subinspector goes to Iqbal’s cell and says that Iqbal’s circumcised penis and his inability to declare his purpose in Mano Majra are evidence of his being a Muslim. Iqbal tells the officer that his purpose in the village is none of his business and he threatens to take the department to court, where he will file a habeas corpus petition and tell the court about how the police conducts its business. The subinspector laughs and tells Iqbal that he has been living in foreign lands for too long.
Iqbal is naïve about police power in India and speaks to the subinspector as though they were talking in a cell in England. On the other hand, the subinspector thinks that his excessive and unjust exercise of power is normal and typical of how police do their work in India, revealing that the corruption is systemic and not particular to Mano Majra.
The subinspector then leaves abruptly and goes to Juggut’s cell. He asks where Jugga was on the night of the dacoity. Jugga insists that he was not involved, but the subinspector does not believe him. The subinspector asks for the names of the robbers. Jugga does not respond and the officer threatens to whip him or perform other acts of torture. Jugga winces from the memory of previous tortures. He flings himself to the floor and begs the subinspector for mercy, saying that he is innocent. The subinspector is excited to see such a large man grovel at his feet. It reminds him of the efficacy of torture, when done properly. He gives Jugga two days to tell him the names of the robbers. He frees himself from Jugga’s grip and walks away. The subinspector thinks of how frustrating it is to deal with two such different people.
The subinspector threatens torture against Jugga and not Iqbal, contrary to Hukum Chand’s suggestion, because it would not be as pleasurable to watch Iqbal, a slight and less conventionally masculine man, gravel at the feet of the subinspector. The subinspector delights in using his power to intimidate men whom he would not be able to dominate under normal circumstances. Jugga’s submission reasserts the subinspector’s sense of masculine power.