God's Own Land
A modern classic of Urdu literature, God's Own Land (Khuda ki Basti), is set in the slums of Karachi and Lahore.It is the early 1950s, shortly after partition with India.
The story concerns a poor but respectable Pakistani family which has fallen on hard times. Corruption and degradation take over their lives. Jobless, and without any real hope of a better life, they find themselves in the clutches of unprincipled entrepreneurs who exploit each of them totally. The tragic, but deeply moving finale is inevitable.
"Shaukat Siddiqi's best known work is the epic novel Gog's Own Land (Khuda ki Basti) which has been translated into 26 languages. In God's Own Land, the young woman Sultana and her hapless brother Annu survive one calamity after another, including the meedically facilitated murder of their mother by her second husband. The vulnerability of a family with father at the head is shown as it falls apart with the children the corner."
-Persimmon, New York
"In God's Own Land (Khuda ki Basti), Shaukat Siddiqi describes the events and characters with minute details without defending them or apologizing for them. His wonderful understanding of the underworld makes him a master of narrative and of the working world."
-Morning News, Karachi
The lanterns of the municipality were burning at the corner of the street. Under their dim light, some boys from the area were playing cards. The eldest was Raja, who fancied he looked like a film actor – long matted hair, a tattered shirt, ragged trousers and a silk scarf tied around his neck. His shouts repeatedly rose above the clamour of the other dissonant voices:
‘Come on, my teacher! You’ve put a club down there.’
‘Rubbish! That’s a diamond. I swear it.’
‘Bloody fool! I’ll cut you with a heart.’
But the fact is, he kept on winning. Shami came in to counter him. Shami was a thin, puny boy. He had intelligent eyes and was very quick-witted. As Raja was taking a card which he had concealed under his foot while no one was looking, Shami’s sharp glance spotted him. He yelled: ‘Look! You’re cheating, you bastard!’
Raja looked sheepish and tried to laugh the matter off. ‘Come on! Something’s wrong with your head.’
Shami fixed him with his eyes and said: ‘You’ve just taken that card from under your foot.’
Raja wanted to hide it, but Shami flared up. He threw down all the cards he was clutching in his hand and sat sulking. Raja began to tease him.
‘Poor little bastard. He’s losing, so he starts crying.’
Shami shouted: ‘You’re a cheat! I’ll never play with you again.’
Raja answered, ‘Oh, so you won’t play, won’t you? Well, you’ll have to pay your debts first.’
Shami, contorting his face, said, ‘We’ll see what bastard’s going to take anything from me.’
This made Raja angry. His eyes blazed at the puny boy. He yelled out: ‘So that’s how it is, is it?’ and springing up took Shami by the scruff of the neck. Shami tried to shake him off and release his collar, which tore at the seam. He flared up with rage, and with tears in his eyes looked at Raja. Then he landed such a blow on Raja’s face, hard enough to make his ears ring. For a moment Raja staggered; he pounced upon him and the two boys were locked in combat.
The other boys began to shout and make a din. Now they split into two groups, one supporting Raja; the other egging on Shami to keep his spirits up. With a punch below the belt, Shami sent Raja reeling and he fell to the ground with a thud. Shami immediately fell on his opponent, sat on his chest and with his knee firmly resting on his neck aimed a number of deft blows with such force that Raja was winded. He squealed in pain.
At that moment, a shadow passed along the street. As the shadow emerged into the light, the boys saw that Kale Sahib was approaching. His back was bent and he shuffled along with heavy steps. As soon as they saw him, the boys cried out: ‘Kale Sahib, Kale Sahib!’
The old man stared at them and approached slowly. Raja and Shami were still locked together. Kale Sahib saw what was going on and started to harangue them. It was with great difficulty that he managed to separate them. Their shirts were torn, their faces were smeared with dust and both of them were panting in spasms. In the dim light they appeared like awful ghosts. Kale Sahib fixed both of them with his stern gaze and vented his anger upon them. They looked at him and sprang up as if to take to their heels. Their action made Kale Sahib smile. He tucked his leather bag under his arm and proceeded on his way. The boys clapped their hands and cried out:
‘Kale Sahib! The bottle’s broken, the cork has flown!’
‘Kale Sahib . . .’
He stopped, again harangued the boys, clipped one or two around the ears, and gave the others a piece of his mind. They pretended to be frightened and ran off. Then they assembled again and made fun of the old man with their cheers and applause, following him along the road shouting and hooting.
Under the lanterns only Raja, Shami and Nausha remained. Raja looked dejected and sheepish. He was the hero of all the boys of the area and in front of the whole company he had just received a beating from Shami. He straightened his dishevelled hair, took out of his pocket a crumpled cigarette and lit it. Inhaling deeply two or three times, he flourished a rupee note and said to Nausha, ‘Do you fancy a film?’
Nausha grinned with pleasure. ‘What picture do you want to see?’
Raja wanted his revenge on Shami and, turning to Nausha, said:
‘Well, my friend, everyone’s going to see The Thief of Baghdad these days. I tell you it’s a first class picture. You’ll enjoy it.’
Nausha put in a word for Shami. ‘Will you take Shami along as well?’
Raja became angry: ‘If you want to go, don’t talk to me like that. Otherwise you can do what you bloody well like!’
Shami scowled at Nausha.
‘Look here, if you want to go to the pictures, go! Don’t bother about me. I’m going home. I don’t stay out on the tiles like you every night.’
With these words, he left their company. Nausha called out: ‘Just a minute, listen!’
Raja moaned: ‘Let the little sod go home. You’ll see, I’ll never take him anywhere again. He’s a bastard. He’s taken the skin off my neck.’
He gently rubbed the affected part which was still smarting. The two friends walked off in the direction of the cinema house.