The Veiled Girls by Saadat Hassan Manto

Written by Saadat Hassan Manto, Translated by Safeer Ullah Khan

When Zaheer got admission in third year of his education, it suddenly dawned upon him that he had fallen in love. And it was so intense that, he thought, he might lose his life. He was very happy when he returned from his college the first day. He was about to enter his room, when he saw a girl wearing ‘burka’ (an all-covering veil) getting off a tonga. He had seen thousands of girls getting off tongas but this one having books in her hands had got off the tonga and landed straight into his heart. The girl paid her fare and entered the house next to Zaheer’s. He kept wondering why he remained ignorant of her existence in the neighborhood.

Actually Zaheer was a rambler who was interested only in himself. He would get up in the morning, go to his college, attend his lectures, would come back home, have lunch, take some rest, and get busy with his books. Though he had many female classmates in his college, but he never talked to them. It was not that he was an insipid, boring, dry person. It was just that he remained busy with his studies and had no time for anything else.

However, that day when he saw that girl, he forgot his latest lesson in political science; the new verses of Khawja Hafiz slipped out of his mind. All he could think about were the gorgeous hand holding a few books…those slender white fingers, one of which had a ring. The other hand that she used to hand over fare to the tonga wala was as stunning. Zaheer had sought her face, but the veil was so thick that he could not see anything. The girl took a few quick steps and entered the next door house, while Zaheer stood there for quite some time thinking why he remained unmindful of her being in the vicinity.

His first inquiry from his mother was who lives next door. ‘Why’, his mother was stunned at his question.

‘Just asking’

‘They are migrants like us’ mother replied.

‘Who are they’?

Mother told him that their father has died, mother is very old, and they are three sisters and one brother. He is playing father… he is very good, he hasn’t married yet because he thinks he won’t be able to support his sisters if he gets married. Zaheer was neither interested in their sad story nor in the reasons for the boy’s decision to stay single. He was interested only in the girl who entered that house holding some books in her beautiful hands. After lunch, he switched the fan on, and lied on his bed. He used to have a nap after lunch, but that day, he could not sleep. He kept thinking about that girl.

Several days elapsed, but they did not come across each other. For a number of days, he would stay at the rooftop under the blazing sun just to steal a look at her, but she would not appear. Zaheer lost all hope. He was the kind of man who loses heart quickly. He thought it was a waste of time, but love said that was the most valuable thing. This is what a lover has to face in love. Nonetheless, Zaheer resolved that he would not give in even if the sky falls; he would remain steadfast.

More than a few days later, he was cycling back to his home when he saw a veiled girl in tonga a few yards ahead. He was right. It was the same girl. Tonga stopped, Zaheer dismounted his bicycle. The girl had books in one hand; with the other, she paid the fare to the tonga wala, and turned to her house. Tonga wala came down, showed the coin to her and said, “These eight annas won’t do”. The girl spoke in a frail and anemic voice, “But that is what I’ve been paying”. The tonga wala, who appeared to be quite a nasty man, said, “They’d be givin’ concessions to you, but….”!

As Zaheer heard that, he abandoned his bicycle and without giving a second thought punched the tonga wala under his chin. Before he could get his head together, Zaheer gave him another blow on the right side of his head. The tonga wala screamed with pain. The girl was quite upset at this unexpected turn of the situation for obvious reasons. Zaheer politely addressed the girl, “Ma’am, you please leave; I will handle this rascal”. The girl wanted to say something. Probably, it was gratitude she wanted to express. However, she did not say anything and left the scene. It was only ten feet. However, it took Zaheer nearly twenty minutes to deal with the tonga wala. He was such a vulgar man.

Zaheer was really on cloud nine that day. He had demonstrated his daring before his beloved. He had beaten the tonga wala black and blue. He saw that the girl was viewing the whole scene stealthily standing behind the blinds. Realizing this, Zaheer gave another two blows to the tonga wala. Now he was head over heels in love with the girl.

From his mother, he acquired some additional information. Her name was Yasmeen. They were three sisters. Their father was dead, but mother alive. They were living off a small property. Now, Zaheer knew his beloved’s name. He wrote quite a few letters to Yasmeen but tore them to pieces. However, one day, he wrote a lengthy letter and resolved to hand it over to her come what may.

After a few days, he saw her in a tonga again. As she got down from tonga and was about to enter her house, Zaheer swiftly reached her and collecting all his courage gave the letter to her, “you dropped your papers in the tonga”. Yasmeen took the paper from his hand, and turned around, “thank you”. She said that and left.

Zaheer heaved a huge a sigh of relief. Still his heart was beating really fast as he did not know what fate had in store for his letter. As he was thinking about the possible reactions to his letter, he saw another tonga stopping by his bicycle. Another veiled girl stepped down, and paid the fare. The hand was exactly like the one he had seen the first time. This girl also entered the same house in which Yasmeen had entered. Zaheer kept wondering for a while. Nonetheless he knew that they were three sisters, and this girl could be Yasmeen’s younger sister.

After handing over that letter, Zaheer thought half of the mission was accomplished. However, when he got a small piece of paper from a young boy the next morning, he knew the mission was completely accomplished.

‘Just received your love letter. The feelings and emotions that you have expressed…I can’t say anything… except that … I am but your mistress’. Reading this letter brought a large grin on Zaheer’s face. He did not attend a single period in college that, but kept wandering in the college lawn, reading the letter again and again.

The third day, he found her again. She was paying her fare, when he threw his cycle aside, stepped ahead and held her hand saying, “you dropped these papers in the tonga”. Yasmeen pulled her hand away, turned around angrily, and shouted, “you rascal, shameless man”, and she went off. Zaheer’s love letter flew around in the air. He was stunned. Why would a girl declare herself to be his mistress, and then behave so arrogantly?  May be, it was a way of ….

Day in and day out, Zaheer would keep thinking about Yasmeen. Her words kept echoing in his head “rascal, shameless man” and the words in her letter “I am but your mistress”. Zaheer wrote quite a few letters afterwards but tore them to pieces. He wanted to tell Yasmeen in very polite and appropriate words that she had insulted him, his love by calling him rascal. But he could not find proper words. He would write a letter, but after reading it, he would think it was not right.

One day, a boy gave an envelope in his hands and ran away. He opened it and found a small letter saying “You forgot me so soon. What was the need for expressing your love? Anyway, forget me if you can, but I am a maid of yours, there to serve you. I cannot forget you.”  Zaheer was flabbergasted. He read the letter again and again. As he looked up, he saw Yasmeen getting on the tonga. The tonga was about to leave, so he rushed towards her and said, “got your letter. Please don’t use words like maid and serve, I don’t like them”. Rage boiled up in Yasmeen’s eyes, and she said with extreme disgust, “You rascal, shameless man… I will complain to your mother that you harass me”.

The tonga moved out of his sight. Holding Yasmeen’s letter in his hand, Zaheer wondered what the hell it was. Then it occurred to him that girls often do not like to be addressed in such a brazen manner. Everything should be communicated in writing. Hence he wrote a very long letter. When he was coming back from college, he saw Yasmeen alighting from tonga, he stopped his cycle near her, and handed over the letter to her. She did not object or disapprove. She took the letter, gave him a stealthy look from behind her veil, and left. Zaheer felt that she was smiling behind her veil, and it was an encouraging sign.

The next day, when he took out his bicycle for college, he saw Yasmeen waiting for her tonga. She was holding a few books in her right hand, while the left one was free. There were not too many people around. Zaheer thought it was a good opportunity. He gathered his courage, approached her, took hold of her hand and said in a very romantic tone, “you are a strange girl. You express your love in the letters, but become so abusive when I talk to you”. Before Zaheer could complete his sentence, Yasmeen had started beating his with her sandal. He was astounded. She had used abusive language, but Zaheer could not understand a single word coming out of her mouth. He was in a state of shock.

He was not sure if anyone else had witnessed the scene. As tonga arrived, Yasmeen got onto it, and left the scene. Zaheer felt relieved at her departure. In the meanwhile, another girl wearing the same kind of veil appeared from the same house from where Yasmeen had come out. She saw Zaheer and signaled him to come closer. But Zaheer was afraid. When she saw that Zaheer did not understand her gesture, she passed by him, dropped a letter on the road, and walked away. Zaheer lifted the letter, it read “how long would you keep fooling around, when would your mother see my mother? Let’s meet at Plaza cinema… matinee show… at 3 pm, yours Parveen”.