This is the fourth in an eight-part series on Urdu fiction by contemporary Indian writers. Rakhshanda Jalil is the curator and translator for this series.

Part I: In 'The Crocodile', Gulzar tells a story of smoke and fire

Part II: In 'Those Without Graves', Joginder Paul blurs the lines between the living and dead

Part III: In 'The Rape of an Abandoned House', Deepak Budki lays bare the hunger of scavengers


KANHAIYALAL KAPOOR (1910-1981): Kapoor's best-known collection titled Sang-o-Khisht contained essays such as 'Apne Watan Mein Sab Kuch Hai Pyare' ('We Have Everything in our Country, My Friend’) and 'Qaumi Libas' (‘National Dress’) – the latter was a spoof on the correspondence between Gandhi and Jinnah. Kapoor turned his pen towards his fellow writers, parodying the fare that was being passed off as ‘new poetry’ in 'Ghalib Jadeed Shoara Ki Ek Majlis Mein' (‘Ghalib in an Assembly of Modern Poets’). Several contemporary literary, social and political issues became the subject of Kapoor’s satire, including the powerful literary group known as the Progressive Writers’ Movement (to which he belonged), in a letter-like essay 'Tarraqui Pasand Dost ke Naam' (‘To a Progressive Friend’).With great mastery over wit, humour and satire, he perfected the technique of the anti-climax. One of his finest sketches is ‘Tutor’, which seamlessly blends humour and pathos. The post-Partition period in India gave him material to sharpen his tools, as in ‘Shan Shan Shan’, ‘Hijrat’ (‘Migration’), ‘Gunde’ (‘Goons’), ‘Professor Danish’, ‘Urdu Ka Akhri Daur’ (‘The Last Phase of Urdu’), ‘Film Director Ke Naam’ (‘To a Film director’), or ‘Sansani’ (‘Wildfire/Gossip’) . Using both prose and verse, Kapoor could create delightful parody from even the most tense or fraught of situations.


I Have Done My Bhartiya-karan | Kanhaiyalal Kapoor

I said to myself: Why don’t I do my own Bhartiya-karan — that is, ‘Indianise’ myself — before someone else thinks of doing it? However, the first problem was my name. Perhaps you don’t know; my name is Iqbal Chand. It occurred to me that ‘Iqbal’ is an Arabic word. What kind of nationalism is this, to live in India and have an Arabic name? And so I changed my name to Kangaal Chand. As it happens, this name is far better suited to my financial condition, considering ‘kangaal’ means ‘poor’. And why just me; it suits the rest of my country too.

A second problem arose, that of dress. There was no trace of Indianness in the pants, coat and tie I wore. In fact, all three were a reflection of my slave mentality. I was amazed that I had worn them all this while. I decided to wear pajamas instead of pants. But then a certain Persian person told me that the pajama has come to India from Iran. And so I began to wear dhoti and kurta. But not a kameez as the word ‘kameez’ too is of Arabic origin and it reeks of the stench and stink of an Arab!

The third problem was that of hair! After all, what is it if not treachery against the country, a blatant form of anti-nationalism, to keep one’s hair fashioned in the English style? I instructed the barber to keep only one lock of long hair at the back of my head and shave off all the rest. He did exactly that. I had seen images from ancient India showing men with long and lush moustaches. Following their example, I began to grow my moustache. When my friends saw this large moustache on my somewhat small face, they assumed that I had put on a fake moustache possibly because I was acting in some play. Forget friends, when I saw myself in this new look, I began to feel that I had been created not by God, but Shankar, the cartoonist. But I did not lose heart.

One has to do all manner of things to be Indian.

Now we come to my eye-glasses. I asked several pandits: ‘Is there any mention of eye-glasses in the Ramayana or the Mahabharata?’ They said: ‘In those days, people didn’t eat vanaspati ghee and so their eye sight did not weaken while they were still young.’ I asked: ‘Did Sugreev, Kunbhakaran, Dushasan and all the rest have such good eye sight that they never felt the need to wear eye glasses?’ The pandits replied, ‘All of them applied kajal in their eyes.’ I found the solution to my problem. I took off my spectacles and began to apply kajal. As a consequence, when it got dark, I began to mistake a rope for a snake and a goat for a dog. And when I attempted to read a book the words turned into black doodles. In a few days, even during the daytime, I began to mistake one thing for another. I consulted an eye doctor. He advised, ‘If you don’t wish to become blind, kindly wear your spectacles.’

‘But spectacles are not Indian?’

‘How does it matter? This watch that you have strapped on your wrist is not Indian, and this cigarette that you are smoking isn’t Indian either.’

‘You have rightly reminded me. From tomorrow I shall smoke a huqqah.’

‘What have you decided about the watch?’

‘I shall take it off.’

‘And if you have to know the time?’

‘I shall ask someone.’

‘Do as you please, but kindly wear your spectacles, or else you will lose your eye sight.’

Thinking that I would simply add to the number of blind people in India if I were to become blind, I went back to wearing my glasses.


Illustration © Sharath Ravishankar for Firstpost

One night as I was watching television, a friend of mine pointed out somewhat caustically, ‘The television is not Indian.’

Ruing his utter ignorance, I said, ‘If there was no television in ancient India, how could Sanjay give an eye-witness account of the events of the great war of Mahabharata to King Dhritrashtra?’

‘It was a miracle of yoga and meditation.’

‘You may call it a miracle of yoga. I would like to believe that Sanjay had a television set.’

‘What happened to that set after Sanjay’s death?’

‘It was destroyed in the great war of Mahabharata.’

A few days later, another friend picked on me. He said, ‘You have done your Bhartiya-karan, but why do you still wear boots?’

‘I shall wear a joota from tomorrow.’

I found it quite difficult to walk in the joota, because it bit my foot terribly. But I paid no heed to the pain.

However, wagging tongues will wag as long as people have something to say. Someone said, ‘Why do you always go to the office in a bus or a taxi? You should travel in a chariot or a palanquin.’

Annoyed, I replied, ‘Where are palanquins and chariots to be found in the twentieth century?’

‘Then you should walk.’

‘The office is eight miles away; how can I go on foot?’

‘Then forget this business of Bhartiya-karan.’

‘I can’t do that.’

In a sly tone, they got back with another quip. ‘Your wife still wears lipstick and powder. When will her Bhartiya-karan take place?’

The words were bitter but true. I vowed that I would insist that my wife henceforth colour her lips with betel juice and use sandalwood paste instead of face powder.

Now I thought that no one could point a finger at me and say that I was not a hundred percent Indian. But I was proved to be wrong. One evening, a group of young men came to my house under the pretext of congratulating me. In the course of the conversation, they said to me, ‘Despite being a complete Indian, why do you have a telephone in your house?’

‘The telephone is a necessity for everyday life.’

‘But it was not invented in India.’

‘Nor was electricity.’

‘You are absolutely correct. You must light lamps instead of electric bulbs.’

‘How can lamps give sufficient light?’

‘Why have you kept chairs in your house?’

‘To sit on.’

‘The ancient Indians did not sit on chairs.’

‘Where did they sit?’

‘On the floor.’

After a lapse of a few minutes, one young man spoke up. ‘Why do you drink tea?’

‘What else should I drink?’


Joshanda is not worth drinking.’

‘Fine, then drink milk.’

‘I can’t digest milk; moreover, it is very expensive.’

‘Why does your son study in the medical college?’

‘I want him to become a doctor.’

‘Why doctor? Why not a vaid?

‘I have don’t have any faith in the Ayurvedic system.’

‘But that is pure Indian.’

‘Maybe. But I don’t like it.’

‘You like all other Indian things; why not this?’

‘I don’t have an answer to this question.’

‘Then that means that you are not a hundred percent Indian.’

They went away. But I was left in a terrible dilemma. Despite doing so much, could I still not do a complete Bhartiya-karan on myself? Will I really have to light lamps? Will I have to drink joshanda? Will I have to send my son to the gurukul? And even when I have done all this, the nit-pickers will still say: Why do you read an English newspaper? Why do you take penicillin injections? Why do you eat cakes and biscuits? Why do you call your wife

After thinking long and hard, I decided to make an announcement through the newspapers, ‘I have done my Bhartiya-karan to the extent it was possible. I do not have the capacity to do any further Bhartiya-karan.’


Joshanda is a decoction made from brewing various herbs and spices, usually drunk for a cold or cough.


Dr Rakhshanda Jalil is a writer, critic and literary historian. Her recent works include: Liking Progress, Loving Change: A Literary History of the Progressive Writers Movement in Urdu (OUP, 2014); a biography of Urdu feminist writer Dr Rashid Jahan, A Rebel and her Cause (Women Unlimited, 2014); a translation of The Sea Lies Ahead, Intizar Husain's seminal novel on Karachi (Harper Collins, 2015) and Krishan Chandar's partition novel Ghaddar (Westland, 2017); an edited volume of critical writings on Ismat called An Uncivil Woman (Oxford University Press, 2017); and in the past year a literary biography of the Urdu poet Shahryar for Harper Collins; The Great War: Indian Writings on the First World War (Bloomsbury); Preeto & Other Stories: The Male Gaze in Urdu (Niyogi), and most recently, Kaifiyat, a translation of Kaifi Azmi’s poems for Penguin Random House. She runs an organisation called Hindustani Awaaz, devoted to the popularisation of Hindi-Urdu literature and culture.