The Reading Life Guide to Getting Started in the Indian Short Story
"The Death of Shaikh Burhanuddin" by Khwaja Ahmed Abbas (translated from Urdu by Khushwant Singh, my date of publication information is a guess) is told from the point of view of a Muslim man living in New Delhi at the times of the horrible post partition religious based riots in which thousands were killed, massive amounts of property was stolen or destroyed. The three primary opposed factions were Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs. The narrator has a viscous hatred for Sikhs, partially coming from their support of the British during the period of the Raj. He also feels contempt for what he sees as the filthy unkept beards and long hair of the men. (He does admire the beauty of the women.)
"My name is Shaikh Burhanuddin. When violence and murder became the order of the day in Delhi and the blood of Muslims flowed in the streets, I cursed my fate for having a Sikh for a neighbour. Far from expecting him to come to my rescue in times of trouble, as a good neighbour should, I could not tell when he would thrust his kirpan into my belly. The truth is that till then I used to find the Sikhs somewhat laughable. But I also disliked them and was somewhat scared of them."
Abbas in just a few pages brings the sheer madness and terror of the riots very much to life. Like any racist, he finds the cultural customs of the groups he hates ridiculous . He is fixated on what he sees as the unkept long hair and beards of the men. As a legacy of colonialism, he has a grudging admiration for the British.
Toward the close of the story, a Sikh mob has approached the narrators house. They are bent mostly on stealing everything they can from his house, if he gets in the way or if he is unlucky, he and his family will be killed. His Sikh neighbor comes out of his house and tells the Sikh mob that he is entitled to first picks of the items in the house as he has had to endure the man's abuse for years. As the mob moves on (I will tell more of the plot than I normally would as most will not be able to read this story as it is not online, as far as I know), the narrator is shocked when the Sikh and his family return all the items they had taken from his house, their intention all along was to protect the narrator.
This is a very exciting story, violent, full of vivid descriptions and scenes of religious hatred magnified by post colonial attitudes redeemed by a very courageous act. I see it as a classic post partition short story.
This story is included in an anthology I highly recommend, My Favorite Short Stories, edited by Khushwant Singh and Neelam Kumar. Their are a generous selection of stories from the major language groups and a decent introduction with good mini- bios of the authors. This would be a decent pick as your started Indian Short Story Collection. My only fault with it is that they do not provide first publication data on the stories.
Khwaja Ahmed Abbas (1914-1989) was a journalist, novelist and film producer-director of international repute. A writer with leftist leanings, Abbas published over 40 books in Urdu including Diya Jale Sari Raat (novel), Main Kaun Hun, Ek Ladki and Zafran Ke Phul —all collections of short stories. His other important works include When Night Falls, Face to Face with Khrushchev, a 2-part biography of Mrs Indira Gandhi —Indira Gandhi: Return of the Red Rose and its sequel That Woman.