It Happened to Me Thus

بر ما چنان گذاشت Translated by: Daniel Majchrowicz. Original language: Urdu
Muradabad, India

Qazi ‘Abd al-Ghaffar

Muradabad, India
1889 - 1956
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In the same way that a broken film projector fails to display the full image on the screen, these blind impressions of the beginning [of my life] hardly remain on the forgotten shelf of my memory. How strange it is! The first thing [of my childhood] that I remember is a corner of our house where my father’s pencil-sharpener was kept. I tried to sharpen one of his pencils and ended up giving my index finger (Kalma kī unglī) such a severe surgical incision that the mark is still visible now, fifty years later. In the blink of an eye, the sharp blade removed a pūrda of my finger so that even the bone came apart and the flesh was left hanging off. In that time, the “Rajas knife” was famous. This was the first Western [manufactured] knife whose blade I tested on my finger. At that time I wasn’t a poet, and hadn’t heard this misra’

انگلیاں فگار اپنی، خامہ خوں چکاں اپنا
My fingers wounded, the pen dripping my own blood

This game has many other aspects, too. For example, my attempt to hide that finger in the hem of my kurta, my kurta turning a deep purple color, and its revealing the secret of this first wound. And then the realization brought about by my father’s agitation that the incident was serious and my life in danger! While making my way through the journey that is life I often contemplate this first experience with a sharp blade! Perhaps it was a game of the Invisible that the story of my life would begin from the tip of a wounded finger!
The second event that occurred during that same period now seems extremely full of meaning. Perhaps you might, in your opinion, call it a bad omen. The first time I ever wore western clothes, I was struck by a severe blow. What happened was that my father was a servant for the state of Bhopal and he was returning after spending some time away. I went to the railway station to welcome him back with my cousin, who lived in our house and fulfilled the role of an older brother, and who took care of all of the family arrangements in father’s absence. We arrived at the station in one of the carriages of that period. I got down from the vehicle, and it was then that this first encounter with the cunning of the English language prepared that 8 year old fool for ever more of its sneaky tricks. In the run from the door [of the shikdum] to the platform I took a sharp fall. The mark of that incident remained on both of my knees for quite a long time. Often, when I would go strutting about in clothes stitched in Bond Street through the bazaars of London and the grand boulevards of Paris I would recall that first experience wearing western clothing. That day my knees were broken, and today my eyes have been burned out by constant confrontations with the “flame of Western culture.” That beginning delivered me to the end! I was once an eight year-old, beaming with pride on that first day, and later a newly-matured man in the age of vanity on the streets of London and Paris, not even thirty years old. There isn’t the slightest bit of difference in quality between the two, just a difference of quantity.