Death of Sheikh Burhanuddin

Khwaja Ahmed Abbas, translated from Punjabi by Khushwant Singh

Read time: about 2 minutes

When I met Veena in February, we spoke about a lot of things concerning literature and other things. Among those things was the Partition. I asked her, ‘Why are people so obsessed with the whole thing? Why are we still talking so much about it even though so many years have passed? Isn’t it time we moved on from that?’

Veena is a history freak. She reads a lot about this stuff. And of late, after her Kashmir obsession, her new obsession was the Partition. She said, ‘Ram, the thing has shaken the roots of so many people! It has affected them so badly.’ After a few minutes of explanation, I did get it. It was like how my grandmother, in her childhood, had travelled from Burma during WW-II. She talks of those things to this day.

As we all know it, the Great Partition had a religious basis to it. The Hindus and the Sikhs were asked to leave Pakistan, while the Muslims in India, who were inclined towards the Muslim League left India for Pakistan. Sheikh Burhanuddin was one such Muslim, and this is his account of the scene.

Sheikh Burhanuddin has this acute dislike for the Sikhs. He hates how they wear a long hair even though he dislikes his own father (who would rather shave everyone’s hair if left to himself) dislikes Sheikh’s long hair; Sheikh likes to keep his hair long so they flow in the breeze when he plays hokey. Sheikh hates how the Sikhs apply curd to their hair even though he himself applies glycerine to his scalp—but they’re different things: his glycerine comes from Europe, while their curd comes from a local, dirty sweetmeat shop. He hates how the Sikhs wear a beard and comb it, even though his grandfather combs his beard—“but my grandfather is my grandfather, but a Sikh is just a Sikh!

And one day, he’s assigned quarters next to a Sikh. He dreads the fact, but then accepts it half-heartedly. That doesn’t reduce his hatred for them in any way.

And one day, a Hindu-Sikh mob attacks the quarters, to kill Sheikh Burhanuddin. What follows is a touching account.

This story is part of the anthology, called Our Favourite Indian Stories.

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Ram Iyer

Writer, PowerShell addict, typographer, self-acclaimed rationalist.

Bangalore, KA ramiyer.me