Dogs of War

I: Manto’s Irony:

Saadat Hasan Manto’s well-known short story “Tetwal ke Kutte” is very prescient in contending with our hypernationalist and jingoistic conjuncture. The story is well known, but worth recapitulating. The setting of the story seems idyllic:

The weather was pleasant; the wind wafted across, spreading the scent of wildflowers. Oblivious to the battle on the peaks and slopes, nature was immersed in its necessary work—the birds chirped as before, the flowers continued to bloom, and lazy honey-bearing bees sleepily sipped nectar in the old, time-honoured way. 

The discordant notes in this idyll comes from “occasional bursts of fire” from the entrenched Indian and Pakistani soldiers. “Each time a shot echoed in the hills,” the narrator writes, “the chirping birds would cry out in alarm and fly up, as though someone had struck a wrong note on an instrument and shocked their hearing” (80). After these brief and jarring interruptions, the idyll seemingly continues. We are provided a glimpse of both the Pakistani and Indian army camps, and learn that there is a space in between that functions as a no-man’s zone. The lone traveler across this no-man’s zone is a stray dog, that suddenly appears, leaves and reappears in the two camps as a “bin bulaye mehman” (uninvited guest). This phrase—bin bulaye mehman—is key as the core of the story seems to be about the (missed) possibilities of hospitality due to a “bin bulaye mehman” that arrives suddenly from an indeterminate somewhere (Incidentally, one of the characters, Banta Singh, also characterizes the dog as a “refugee”). In other words, the story seems to be posing the question—what is the form of hospitality that is due to the stranger? What is the form of relationality that can be forged with an “uninvited guest”? The possibility of violence is constant—”Subedar Himmat Khan picked up a pebble and threw it at the dog. ‘Saala knows nothing except how to wag his tail.’” (84). However, a significant portion of the story also shows a fragile form of relationality shaping between the dog and the soldiers from both sides. The sharing of food and the wagging of the dog’s tail emerge as the indices of this fragile relationality. The soldiers address the dog, the dog responds by wagging its tail—it seems like the “bin bulaye mehman” has been allowed to stay.

Things change suddenly and terrifyingly from the point where the unnamed dog is endowed a national “identity.” This endowment of identity to the stranger by the soldiers simultaneously accentuates its status as a piece of movable property. The Indian soldiers put an “ID card” (this term is not present in the story, but I will discuss the implications in the next section) around its neck that states: “Chapad Jhunjhun. This is a Hindustani dog” (84). The Pakistani soldiers respond by writing: “Sapar Sunsun! This is a Pakistani dog” (85). [“Chapad Jhunjhun” and “Sapar Sunsun” are meaningless phrases]. These actions lead to a volley of bullets being exchanged by both sides with the dog caught in between. The dog stops, runs with its “tail between its legs,” and flaps its ears violently (86). The gradual disappearance of the wagging tail from the visual space of the story also coincides with the obliteration of hospitality to the “bin bulaye mehman.” Besides the treatment of the dog as property, two other statements show how it is treated like a dog. By this phrase, I imply the descent into the status of what Jacques Derrida in “Eating Well” calls the “noncriminal putting to death” of the animal figure. To be relegated to this status is to be placed outside the orbits of the law and of civil life. This process is inaugurated early in the story when Jamadar Harnam Singh says: “Like the Pakistanis, Pakistani dogs will be shot” (83). The chilling imperative in this statement is that the enemy other is like a dog that can be noncriminally put to death. This aspect is accentuated by the Pakistani Subedar Himmat Khan, who says: “Look, friend, don’t commit treachery…Remember, the punishment for a traitor is death” (85). The juxtaposition of “friend” with the injunction against treachery reveals how an absolute friend-enemy distinction characterizes politics in this war-zone. The imperative seems to be as follows: To be a friend, you have to be one of “us.” If you are one of “them,” you can be noncriminally put to death, a fate that eventually befalls the unnamed dog.

After the dog is killed and its corpse lies inert like a piece of meaningless matter in the no-man’s zone, the story concludes with the narrator laconically reporting the reactions of the Indian and Pakistani soldiers:

Subedar Himmat Khan expressed regret. “Tch tch…the poor thing became a martyr (shahid)!”
Jamadar Harnam Singh took the warm barrel of the gun in his hand and said, “He died a     dog’s death (kutte ki maut).”.

With typical irony, Manto juxtaposes the two expressions—shahid and kutte ki maut. To be a shahid is to be inserted into an economy of sacrifice. Sacrifice presupposes value, an aspect that can be contrasted with the value-less kill of the dog. To return to a well-known phrase used by Giorgio Agamben, the dog is killed but not sacrificed. “Kutte ki maut,” on the other hand, signifies a particularly degraded form of death. I have written elsewhere about how this invocation of a degrading form of death draws from cultural grammars of disgust concerning canines in South Asia (see, for instance, https://criticalkashmirstudies.com/2018/11/25/canine-representations-in-malik-sajads-munnu-2/). Harnam’s Singh’s statement is also the last statement in the story, and properly captures how the unnamed dog is produced as bare life. The fragile possibility of hospitality and cohabitation is shattered by the imperatives of hypermasculine nationalism.

II: Two Contemporary Kashmiri Responses 

“Tetwal ke Kutte” is a key intertext for two contemporary Kashmiri graphic productions: Malik Sajad’s memoir Munnu: A Boy from Kashmir and Wasim Helal and Arif Ayaz Parrey’s graphic fragment “Tamasha-e-Tetwal.” In interviews, Sajad has spoken of how Manto’s courage inspired him (see, https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/no-childs-play/article7977224.ece). There are two references to Manto’s story in Munnu. The story is directly referenced once—a book by Manto lies open on Munnu’s bedside as he falls asleep (241). The story he is reading is “The Dog of Tithwal.”

More obliquely, and more importantly, it comes back in the panels (see below) on the exigencies of being a journalist in Kashmir. Here, we notice two dogs with placards that read “Identity Cards” (a meta-textual reference to Sajad’s career as a comics journalist), directly referencing the signs that read “India” and “Pakistan” on the dog’s neck in Manto’s story (163).

The identity card, to a certain degree, endows the subject with a protective casing in conditions of militarized occupation. Not to have one means that the subject can be instantly transformed into bare life. Having too many ID cards, as is shown in an incident in Munnu (see figure below), can also leave a subject at the mercy of the militarized sovereign.

Usually, as a journalist with a press ID, Munnu is able to navigate the checkpoint ridden occupied space pretty effectively. But, the fragility of this identity is shown in a particularly poignant episode in the graphic novel. This is evident in the panels below where Munnu navigates the potholed streets and rituals of subjection at checkpoints to get his mother to the hospital. Stray dogs (a frequently recurring figure in the graphic novel) and a representation of animalization merge together in this panel, once again underscoring the intertextual resonances with “Tetwal Ke Kutte.”

The image in the first panel is archetypal—we notice a stray dog suckling her puppies while another one stares in the right corner of the panel. In contrast, while Munnu’s mother has been an agent of care throughout, the baton seems to pass from mother to son here. The image in panel 3 is that of animalized abjection. Munnu is virtually on all-fours before an Indian soldier. The prostrate Munnu seems about to lick the soldier’s boots. If, as a child, Munnu is disgusted and ashamed by the fact that dogs lick their own vomit (see pages 95-97 of Munnu), this representation of the prostrate figure of the adult Munnu shows how he is willing to abase himself almost like a dog to give his beloved mother a chance for medical treatment. Even the identity card that says “Press” offers him no leeway.

A more critical take on Manto’s story emerges in Helal and Parrey’s graphic segment “Tamasha-e-Tetwal.” The first five panels of the segment show a stray dog waking up and walking across a hilly landscape, which is later revealed to be in the Indian side of the border. A human figure—a sleeping security guard shares space with the dog in panel 6 (114). We move to the first panel on the next page (115) where a group of soldiers in a bunker directly echo lines from Manto’s story: “’A dog, janab.’ ‘Waiting for the bus, I suppose.’ ‘No janab, a real dog’.” Segueing into a panel that shows us what the soldier spies from his binoculars, we notice the head and tail of the dog in the foreground, and three human figures, one standing and two sitting, in the background. It is later revealed that of the two seated figures, one is a Pandit and the other a Muslim. The standing figure, a bearded man who is soon revealed to be a reporter, is seemingly referred to as the “dog,” showing the bleed between discourses of human and animal and processes of othering and speciesism. Metaphorical and actual dogs seem to share the same space.

The intertextual echoes with Manto are accentuated on the second panel on page 116, where two specimens of writing occupy the background of the image. The first one is a glimpse of a file titled “Harnam Singh Case Files” and a newspaper fragment with the headline “Kashmiri Local of Tetwal Shot Dead. Protest in Area.” A segment of a photograph of what seems like a border post and a bridge over a river spills out from the space behind the file. This fragment is directly reproduced in the immediately succeeding panel. We are in the physical space of Tetwal in Kashmir. The no-man’s zone here is a river. A bridge connects the two sides, one which lies in Pakistan and the other in India. Two megaphones are superimposed on the photograph on opposing sides, each blaring nationalist slogans in Urdu and Hindi. As Haji Sahib, the person the reporter has come to meet says later, the “whoosh of the river” which “was the constant music of our lives” is relentlessly assaulted by the “terrible babel of propaganda” (120).

Stray dogs disappear for a while from the panels, but reappears as the reporter’s gaze falls on a woman who is talking to someone on the Pakistani side. By this time, the reporter’s interview with Haji Sahib is over and he is waiting for a bus to take him back. In two full-page spreads on pages 122-3, we see the Pakistani side and then the Indian one (the dog follows the woman on the Indian side). The use of two full-page spreads with distinct frames and with the negative space of the gutter spilling from one page into the other accentuates the hardness of national boundaries. But the reporter witnesses how quotidian contacts between populations on the two sides persist despite the rigidity of national boundaries. The woman and the man exchange news about their children, and then the man throws a sack of mushrooms—the woman informs the reporter later that the mushrooms are much greener and bigger” on the other side (125)—across the river. The last view of the dog that we get in on the second panel of page 125, as it seems to be looking with longing towards the other side.

The reporter has to refuse the woman’s offer of hospitality and food, as his bus arrives. In a series of wordless panels on page 126, we see him taking his camera out and clicking a picture of the idyllic looking landscape with the bridge fording both sides just before he alights the bus. The loudspeakers blare on (see figure below). Interestingly, in the “mute” photograph which is reproduced in a slightly askew fashion as the last panel of the page, two white birds fly from opposite sides and seem to converge in the middle. The sound of warfare disturbed the birds in the idyllic setting at the beginning of Manto’s story. Are these two birds also disturbed by the propaganda blaring from the loudspeakers? If we eliminate the sonic background, which the “mute” capture by the photograph does, do these white birds symbolize the possibility of peace? I suggest that the placement of the photograph in this slightly askew fashion signifies this ambiguity.

Metaphorical dogs reappear in the full-page spread on the last page. Crucially, framing is dispensed with here, probably signifying the never-ending aspect of the conflict. The background of the image is dominated by the gigantic figures of two feral dogs fighting. Indeed, and cut to the current day, while two national behemoths threaten to attack each other like feral dogs, and while hyper-nationalist multitudes desire that the other should be shot down like dogs, it may be worth stopping to listen to Haji Sahib in “Tamasha-e-Tetwal”:

The world has become an insufferable place. There is too much noise. Take this story, for example. How easy it has turned out to be for the rulers to cloak it with the racket of Partition. The death of a Kashmiri dog has been justified as a tragedy of an imaginary partition, not a real one. And how slickly the dog has been made both an Indian and a Pakistani when he is neither”.

The old man’s musings emerge as a critique of Manto’s story, especially interpretations of his usage of the figure of the dog. Taking a swipe at legions of receptions interpretations of the story (“too much noise”) that read it as the figuration of a dispute between the behemoths of India and Pakistan, the old man critiques the erasure of Kashmir. Hence, the satirical edge to the title of this section—in the tamasha (noise) around the story, the actual condition of Kashmir is elided. Manto probably missed this too, wise as he was. About the “let’s play war war” tamasha brigade in contemporary times, the less said the better…

Works Cited:

Agamben, Giorgio. Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. Translated Daniel Heller-          Roazen. Stanford UP, 1998.

Derrida, Jacques. “‘Eating Well’ or the Calculation of the Subject.” Translated Peter Connor and   Avital Ronnell. Points…Interviews 1974-94. Edited Elizabeth Weber. Stanford UP, 1995,             pp. 255-87.

Manto, Saadat Hasan. “Tetwal ka Kutta.” rekhta.org. Accessed 20 December 2017.

—. “The Dog of Tetwal.” Translated Ravikant and Tarun K. Saint. Manoa 19 (1), 2007, pp. 80– 87.

Parrey, Arif Ayaz, and Wasim Helal. “Tamasha-e-Tetwal.” This Side, That Side: Restorying Partition. Edited Vishwajyoti Ghosh, Yoda Press, pp. 112–127.

Sajad, Malik. Munnu: A Boy from Kashmir. HarperCollins, 2015.

 

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Amit R. Baishya Written by:

Amit R. Baishya is an Assistant Professor in the Department of English at the University of Oklahoma. He teaches courses on postcolonial literature.

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