Kareempura is a small village in the Lahore district in Pakistan. In fact, it is the last village on the Pakistan side bordering with India. The village is known for its special variety of mangoes and basmati rice. The people there say, “If you have tasted the mangoes and basmati of Kareempura once, you will decline a royal invitation to taste it again.”
There is lot of truth in it but Kareempura’s picture will remain incomplete if it were not added here that the people of Kareempura are very warm and hospitable.
It was the year 1943.
Jagir Singh was the zamindar of Kareempura. He was a happy go lucky fellow, generally amorous but generous with his subject. He liked good things of life and organized cultural activities like qawali, music and muzra in the lawns of his haveli, which was thrown open to the public on such occasions. Though the income from the zamindari was not much, Jagir Singh seldom complained.
In the winter months, the farmers after sowing ravi crop have a little respite. That is the time for social, cultural activities. In villages, the groups of nomadic mirasi tribe, the singing and dancing troupe, move from village to village entertaining the peasantry. Normally open to men only, some elderly women do sneak in or watch the performance from the roof top of the nearby houses.
Karishma was a member of such small troupe. She was young and beautiful and had a melodious voice. When she rendered gazals, men were moved and when she sang from Bhulesah, women could hardly hold back their tears.
Jagir Singh was captivated by Karishma’s talent and charm. He wanted her to stay back in Kareempura and he knew he had to pay a price for it. Jagir Singh made a deal with the head of the troupe for one thousand silver coins to keep Karishma in Kareempura. It was a fortune those days.
Jagir Singh gave Karishma enough money and a house and spent most of his evenings with her. His wife accepted the situation without much demur but his two grown up sons were not happy and they made it known to their father. Jagir Singh ignored all protests for he knew it was common those days for the rich landlords to have such relationship, which in fact was a status symbol. The family resentment came to surface again when a son was born to Karishma two years later. Jagir Singh was very happy but worried at the same time for Karishma and his newly born son.
“I should leave some property for them to survive when I am no more,” he thought and decided to give a piece of land to Karishma.
"I am giving the tract of land on the other side of the canal to Karishma. I have a responsibility towards her and her son. You will still have far more than you need. Hope you have no objection," he asked his sons.
His sons knew that their father had the legal right to do so. Moreover, it was a small piece of arid land away from the village and they still had over seventeen hundred acres of land between them.
"Do as you wish," they said with a sly smile.
Jagir Singh called the Patwari, the land revenue officer to prepare a deed transferring the land to Karishma. As was the requirement, the deed was written on a court-paper, which was then to be registered in the District Court of Lahore.
Was it because of procrastination, or was it providence, nothing can be said for sure. The fact was that the deed remained unregistered. It at times worried Jagir Singh but Karishma was happy with her son and satisfied with whatever she got from Jagir Singh.
"Allah, the merciful has placed me in to your care. He will take care of my son too," she often told Jagir Singh.
In the year 1947 India was partitioned with the creation of a new state of Pakistan. There was mass exodus of population from either side, which history had not seen before. Loss of land, property and dear ones angered all who were incited by maullvis and pundits. There were riots, arson and bloodshed of unprecedented scale on both sides of the border.
Jagir Singh was forced to leave Kareempura and along with that, his land, his haveli, his wealth, his love and his newly born son. The family decided to go to Amritsar, the nearest town on Indian side. They took all they could carry and decided to leave in the night. All movements had to be made discreetly since people in that area knew of his wealth and many envied him. He told his sons to move in separate groups and reach the army camp, which was set up seven miles from Kareempura towards Vagha village, now the international border post.
"You people go ahead, I will join you soon," he said and sneaked out of the house.
Jagir Singh wanted to give some gold coins and money to Karishma and he wanted to see his son, whom he had named Iqbaal, meaning, power and fame.
The separation was painful for Jagir Singh, as it was for Karishma. He held her passionately against his trembling body. Karishma took a black thread, which she had brought from the mosque and tied it around his arm. "Allah will protect you from all evil forces," she whispered. Jagir Singh kissed Karishma and his son several times and promised to come back as soon as the situation came under control.
“I must leave both of you in the hands of Wahe Guru,” he said handing her the gold coins and money he had kept for her in a separate packet. He hugged Karishma for the last time and kissed his son and stepped out in the dark. Karishma raised her hands in prayers for his safety.
It was still dark, but far on the horizon, there were signs of daybreak. Jagir Singh was petrified as he realized that he had very less time to cover the seven miles to safety. He heard the shrill shouts of the marauders who cried death to Kafirs. He ran as fast as his aging legs would allow him but fate had ordained otherwise. The group spotted Jagir Singh, the benevolent zamindar of Kareempura and speared him to death, on the piece of land, he had given to Karishma.
Jagir Singh’s family reached the army camp safely and they had managed to carry the gold and jewelry that once belonged to Jagir Singh. They waited for him anxiously until the army officer threatened to leave them behind. The family, unaware of the fate Jagir Singh had met was taken in a military truck to Amritsar along with other refugees. Jagir Singh’s family had a feeling that Karishma might have used some black magic to hold him back or got him killed for the gold sovereigns he was carrying on his person.
Karishma and her son Iqbaal were left in Kareempura. A couple of days later, she learnt of Jagir Singh's fate. She saw the rotting corpse but there was nothing she could have done for she herself was suspect in the eyes of the locals. Her heart ached for her lover and benefactor who she knew had staked his life to secure her future. She went to the village mosque and prayed for his soul.
The government of Pakistan decided to allot the land belonging to Hindu and Sikh families to the Muslims arriving from India. The piece of land Jagir Singh had wanted to give Karishma still remained against his name in the revenue records and therefore included for distribution amongst the refugees. Karishma’s protest and wailing didn’t help. Faiz Ali a prosperous farmer of Kareempura, who envied Jagir Singh, connived with the land revenue authorities and got the land allotted to his cousin, who had migrated from India.
Ten years. Karishma had used all the gold and money that Jagir Singh had left for her. She now worked as a housemaid and her health was failing. She often told Iqbaal the stories of the good days she had spent with Jagir Singh.
“Son, I may not live long. We have lost the land that your father had left for you. Learn some craft to earn your living.”
Iqbaal would but retort and swear at Faiz Ali. He was annoyed that Faiz Ali had usurped his property in a fraudulent manner. He had turned a rebel, no one in Kareempura wanted to employ him.
Iqbaal started working as a barber. Shaving the beard of his clients, he often fancied running it down the throat of Faiz Ali and his children.
The land deed that Jagir Singh had signed was not traceable for several years until Iqbaal requested the land record munsif who was his regular client to help him in the matter. Several other men of the village also told the munsif that they were aware of such deed.
The papers were finally located under a pile of old records. Faiz Ali but argued that since the deed was not registered in the district court, it had no validity. The court accepted this plea and that closed the matter for all time.
Iqbaal was frustrated. “There is no justice in this world. Justice is what you can get for yourself and I am going to do that,” he vowed.
It was not very long thereafter that Karishma died, leaving behind Iqbaal to face the world alone. During her illness, she talked of her youth, of her admirers who stayed back until daybreak, listening to her songs and she talked of the land that Jagir Singh had given her. When the funeral was over, Iqbaal vowed to take revenge.
Iqbaal was a tall lad with broad shoulders. He supported a beard and wore a turban like Jagir Singh, the former zamindar of Kareempura. People laughed at his back and some mocked at him. Iqbaal was but impervious.
It was a wintry night. The sky was clouded and people were tucked in their quilts other than those who had to use canal water for irrigating the Ravi crop. Iqbaal knew that that night it was Faiz Ali’s turn to use the canal water. He was standing outside his thatched cottage, waiting for him with bated breadth.
It was Imtiaz, Faiz Ali’s elder son going towards his fields. He stalked him as the track passed through a mango grove. That was the spot Iqbaal had chosen to kill his victim. He increased his pace. The hatred that raged in side for years was about to burst like a volcano.
“I want to shoot the bastard from the front. The son of a bitch must know that it was I, son of Karishma who killed him,” he muttered.
Suddenly, he heard Imtiaz Ali shouting, “I am dead… I am dead… a cobra has bitten me. Some one please save my life.”
Iqbaal jumped close to Imtiaz who was lying on the ground pointing a torch light at his ankle. Imtiaz saw blood oozing from his ankle.
“You sure it was a snake?”
“Yes, I saw it.”
“Don’t worry, you will be all right," Iqbaal said tearing a piece of cloth out of his turban. He twisted it with his hands, tied it tightly above Imtiaz’s ankle and sucked it hard and spat the blood on the ground. He repeated it until he felt giddy. All this time, Imtiaz was looking at him dazed.
A little later, Iqbaal dragged him to the edge of the canal.
“Put your foot in the water and let the blood flow. Have a heart now. Nothing will happen to you. I will go to the village and send your folks.”
Imtiaz had regained his wits and he was feeling better. Then he realized that presence of Iqbaal at that place and hour was strange but providential.
“Iqbaal Bhai, don’t you think Allah the merciful only sent you here at such an odd hour to save my life?”
Iqbaal looked at him and smiled wryly. And then throwing the pistol at Imtiaz he said, “You know, I had come to kill you.”