Sunday, September 6, 2015

See Salman Rushdie merge the differing Indian and Pakistani accounts of the 1965 War into a dazzling display of the art of writing

Excerpted from Midnight's Children.

“But who attacked? Who defended? On my eighteenth birthday, reality took another terrible beating. From the ramparts of the Red Fort in Delhi, an Indian prime minister (not the same one who wrote me a long-ago letter) sent me this birthday greeting: 'We promise that force will be met with force, and aggression against us will never be allowed to succeed!' While jeeps with loud-hailers saluted me in Guru Mandir, reassuring me: 'The Indian aggressors will be utterly overthrown! We are a race of warriors!

One Pathan; one Punjabi Muslim is worth ten of those babus-in-arms!'

Jamila Singer was called north, to serenade our worth-ten jawans. A servant paints blackout on the windows; at night, my father, in the stupidity of his second childhood, opens the windows and turns on the lights. Bricks and stones fly through the apertures: my eighteenth-birthday presents. And still events grow more and more confused: on August soth, did Indian troops cross the cease-fire line near Uri to 'chase out the Pakistan raiders'-or to initiate an attack? When, on September 1st, our ten-times-better soldiers crossed the line at Chhamb, were they aggressors or were they not?

Some certainties: that the voice of Jamila Singer sang Pakistani troops to their deaths; and that muezzins from their minarets-yes, even on Clayton Road-promised us that anyone who died in battle went straight to the camphor garden. The mujahid philosophy of Syed Ahmad Barilwi ruled the air; we were invited to make sacrifices 'as never before'.

And on the radio, what destruction, what mayhem! In the first five days of the war Voice of Pakistan announced the destruction of more aircraft than India had ever possessed; in eight days, All-India Radio massacred the Pakistan Army down to, and considerably beyond, the last man. Utterly distracted by the double insanity of the war and my private life, I began to think desperate thoughts… Great sacrifices: for instance, at the battle for Lahore? On September 6th, Indian troops crossed the Wagah border, thus hugely broadening the front of the war, which was no longer limited to Kashmir; and did “great sacrifices take place, or not? Was it true that the city was virtually defenceless, because the Pak Army and Air Force were ail in the Kashmir sector? Voice of Pakistan said: O memorable day! O unarguable lesson in the fatality of delay! The Indians, confident of capturing the city, stopped for breakfast. All-India Radio announced the fall of Lahore; meanwhile, a private aircraft spotted the breakfasting invaders.

While the B.B.C. picked up the A.I.R. story, the Lahore militia was mobilized. Hear the Voice of Pakistan!-old men, young boys, irate grandmothers fought the Indian Army; bridge by bridge they battled, with any available weapons! Lame men loaded their pockets with grenades, pulled out the pins, flung themselves beneath advancing Indian tanks; toothless old ladies disembowelled Indian babus with pitchforks! Down to the last man and child, they died: but they saved the city, holding off the Indians until air support arrived! Martyrs, Padma! Heroes, bound for the perfumed garden! Where the men would be given four beauteous houris, untouched by man or djinn; and the women, four equally virile males!

“Which of your Lord's blessings would you deny? What a thing this holy war is, in which with one supreme sacrifice men may atone for all their evils! No wonder Lahore was defended; what did the Indians have to look forward to? Only re-incarnation-as cockroaches, maybe, or scorpions, or green-medicine-wallahs-there's really no comparison.”

“But did it or didn't it? Was that how it happened? Or was All-India Radio-great tank battle, huge Pak losses, 450 tanks destroyed-telling the truth?

Nothing was real; nothing certain. Uncle Puffs came to visit the Clayton Road house, and there were no teeth in his mouth. (During India's China war, when our loyalties were different, my mother had given gold bangles and jewelled ear-rings to the 'Ornaments for Armaments' campaign; but what was that when set against the sacrifice of an entire mouthful of gold?) 'The nation,' he said indistinctly through his untoothed gums, 'must not, darn it, be short of funds on account of one man's vanity!'-But did he or didn't he? Were teeth truly sacrificed in the name of holy war, or were they sitting in a cupboard at home? 'I'm afraid,' Uncle Puffs said gummily, 'you'll have to wait for that special dowry I promised.'-Nationalism or meanness? Was his baring of gums a supreme proof of his patriotism, or a slimy ruse to avoid filling a Puffna-mouth with gold?

And were there parachutists or were there not? '…have been dropped on every major city,' Voice of Pakistan announced. 'All able-bodied persons are to stay up with weapons; shoot on sight after dusk curfew.' But in India, 'Despite Pakistani air-raid provocation,' the radio claimed, 'we have not responded!' Who to believe? Did Pakistani fighter-bombers truly make that 'daring raid' which caught one-third of the Indian Air Force helplessly grounded on tarmac? Did they didn't they? And those night-dances in the sky, Pakistani Mirages and Mysteres against India's less romantically-titled MiGs: did Islamic mirages and mysteries do battle with Hindu invaders, or was it all some kind of astonishing illusion? Did bombs fall? Were explosions true? Could even a death be said to be the case?

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