He rolled the reddish syrupy paste in his mouth, chewing until his tongue dyed brown from the areca nut and tobacco. After a moment, he spat out this paan on the ground, leaving a rusty reddish stain on the ground. His white undershirt seemed clean apart from the sweat stains, so after a cursory check for drops of paan, he dusted his pants, stretched, and put on his shirt.

One hundred Rupees—that was all the money Raahi had. The misty sun had only begun its ascent so the sticky midday heat had yet to arrive. It didn’t matter, because Raahi had a cold sweat forming on his forehead anyway. The Sunday train was soon to come, but this time its payload was an exodus. In the earliest part of the morning the station seemed almost serene. Raahi had just been sitting on a stool, fraternizing with the nearby crows who knew just as well as he the virtues of punctuality. But as more people came in—bustling crowds of men and women and children—he grew more unsure. He wiped the back of his palm against his head and touched his thick mustache far more times than he actually needed to.

By this time, Raahi made sure to position himself towards the front. Watching this horde of faces made him feel young and old all at once. He felt a paternal sympathy for the young forlorn faces clutching their mothers’ hands. Perhaps he’d have had a child by now if was back home with the girl his family chose. But Gujarat—despite its size—was too small for him. On the other hand, when he looked at the men at the station, he felt like a boy once more. They had a direction in their eyes, a conviction held by familial duty. Raahi wasn’t sure what guided him except an intangible goal of success. Was it simply monetary success? If so, he had a very long way to go. But that wasn’t all of it, he hoped.

The high-pitched whistle of the train ran through the air alongside its heavy chugging. He slowly made his way on and felt the weight of the crowd move with him. Thunderous steps thudded about and people poured in. Raahi felt his shirt sticking to him as the others pressed against him. The indoor carriage was already filled, so he contented himself with sitting in the uncovered part. He was pressed shoulder to shoulder, foot to foot with others until the carriage could hold no more; even then, the people kept on coming. He held his knees together and watched children pile on while men climbed up on top of the carriages and hung from the side rails.

Some fumbled and tried to grab on, but there was no space. Others just watched. Many yelled. Children’s cries rung high and loud continuously like sirens announcing the departure. Raahi squinted in the day’s bright gaze and watched the faces go by when the train finally lurched forward. He saw scowls and grimaces. There were blank faces too. They didn’t seem to know what was happening or why—why some people got to go and some didn’t. Why the train was departing without them. Raahi kept a constant scowl, but it felt more blank than anything. It didn’t feel right to look any other way.

They passed through endless trails and trees. Beside the train were droves of travelers, oxcarts and make- shift carriages. They carried shawls and bags draped over their shoulders, stepping barefoot in the cracked soil. It felt a little better to be sitting on the train, even if he couldn’t feel his cramped feet anymore. The more they passed by, the more the scale of this movement sunk into Raahi. The partition felt like a continent splitting apart.

Clouds above started shifting and cooler colors spread across the murky blue sky. Raahi held his arms together a little tighter as the brisk winds of the night whipped against the moving train. The others covered themselves with whatever they had, but no one seemed quite warm in this tiny moving box.

Eighty Rupees. Raahi wasn’t sure the name of this village he had arrived in nor where exactly it was located, but he knew that he had needed a bed and a few meals. He sat on the sidewalk and ruminated; what exactly he was thinking about, he wasn’t sure of himself. He closed his eyes for a moment and muttered a few words to remember them. The same folk moving up through the country were passing through here as well, their wheels treading the dirt path and their smoke billowing from pipes. A child was passing by, hands cupped and dirt mucking her chin. She asked if Raahi had any money. “Na,” Raahi muttered, shaking his head and baring empty palms.

Amongst the crowds Raahi spotted some foot soldiers, khakis pressed and hats held high. They held their rifles lazily until they came in closer, fixing them upright and marching more rigidly. Raahi had heard that in other parts of the country, the movement hadn’t been as well received. There was death around. Hindus and Muslims were at each other’s throats. Soldiers massacred too many to count, some said. So far in his journey, Raahi hadn’t had to face that reality. He prayed for a safe passage without that danger, but he wasn’t always sure who or what he was praying to.

He had been told that the next part of the route was by foot, so he kept what little he had in a sack and merged with the line going out of town. The sea of migrants ebbed and snaked across the trail day and night. Raahi’s sandals clung to his feet, and he could feel the blisters forming. All he heard was the donkeys braying and the children wailing. The wailing never stopped.

Seventy Rupees. Raahi laid down some coins near a little candle on the ground aside a few other flowers. The boy was no older than six or seven, but with his eyes closed and body wrapped in a white cloth he looked like a baby. He must have had beautiful copper skin when he was alive, but now the luster had all but disappeared. Others were huddled beside him, some crying and others silently giving a prayer. Raahi closed his eyes and lifted his hands, whispering what little Arabic he knew for this Muslim family.

Maybe he had passed from hunger, maybe from sickness. Raahi knew no more about it than the family did. The road had been hard, and it was getting no easier. There was no time nor space to bury or cremate the child. They put him on the side of the trail in some grass and assembled the flowers upon him. And so the journey continued. The mules kept going and the people started walking. Raahi resisted the urge to turn back momentarily, but as he walked he looked back every so often. He didn’t know what to feel. His eyes drifted back and forth until he was so far that the child became a white blot in the background.

From the sides of the trail he could hear distant gunshots. Some miles away there must have been skirmishes. Raahi wanted to walk faster, yet it seemed that the pace of this trail had been set. Come rain or storm, this throng of travelers was going to walk into it. Streaks of charcoal smoke bled into the redden- ing sky. Raahi clutched his bag and breathed deeply. He was too far now. Home was but a memory until he found a new one.

Along this path he had met enough of his own Gujaratis, but there were so many more. People came from all regions—many that he had never even heard of. Followers of all faiths had joined in on this departure: Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs. Raahi wondered what this new country would look like. On this journey it was rather impossible to create any divisions, but once they had settled, would they separate by religion again? Where would he end up?

Fifty Rupees. Raahi was on a train once more. He had been talking to another man named Sahat for several hours. He too was alone, at least for the time being. Sahat had family up north, far further than where Raahi was headed. Up there in Punjab, Sahat’s family had a farm. It sounded like a world away from what they were surrounded by here. Sahat’s eyes filled with joy describing the pastures and fields. They had beautiful cows that grazed and fowl that could fill a house. Sahat talked of the eggs and milk and fruits they had, and how the days went by so calmly in the summers.

Sahat had to return to this homeland. Raahi could empathize, but he was on a journey far different to Sahat’s. Punjab was not an opportunity that Raahi would run to. That land was being painted in blood. Each side was massacring the other without haste and families were being lost. If the start of this coun- try was what was happening in Punjab, Raahi’s hope for the future was already dashed. Walking into that battlefield seemed like a fine way of getting shot. So he posed the question: What will you do when you get there?

Sahat looked solemn but steadfast. His family was there. He wasn’t. He had a duty to them. They were both on a train that could take them far from anywhere else, but to Sahat, there was no other option to even consider. He would reach his family and stand his ground. He would find other Hindus and form a community there. Those were brave words from a man with nothing on him but the dusty clothes on his back.

Once they arrived at a coastal town, Raahi bid his farewell. Sahat had another train to catch, and many more days and nights to endure before his voyage could come to an end. Raahi had little to say to this man, for Sahat had said it all himself. Raahi couldn’t help but feel he was already mourning this man as he left for his desecrated home. The little dead boy’s face kept coming up in his mind when he looked to Sahat leaving.

Thirty Rupees. Raahi spent the past days beside the beach in a hut filled with a mix of other drifters. He wasn’t feeling well enough to continue on yet, so he sat on the sand for some time. The sea and sky were both mixed into a muddle of gray, with only the occasional bird skirting across the surface of water to distinguish the two. Raahi rolled up his pants and dipped his feet into the shallow. His grimy feet felt clean for the first time in a while. His body slackened and he relaxed his arms. He kept walking into the water. He went until he was neck deep and his white shalwar was soaked. And he rested there for some time. He looked up to the clouds and sun that was surely hiding somewhere. With his eyes closed, he muttered some words again. When he finally stepped out with his clothing fully drenched, he sat back down in the sand. He would need to wait and let his clothes dry again, but for now, he was relaxed.

He commenced the final leg of his journey. Thankfully, he got a ride in the back of a donkey carriage. The coastline started to fade away as they started to approach the bordered land. There was no line to denote the border, but Raahi could sense the tension in the other passenger’s faces—and that was enough of an indication. Soon enough, some small outposts and buildings became visible. In the distance, men were leading horses in formation. The truly unnerving fact was that Raahi couldn’t tell which side these soldiers might belong to.

The carriage came to halt. One soldier started talking to the driver and the other stepped around the carriage to the back. He looked back at the faces of a dozen lost faces. Raahi immediately felt conscious as the lone man in a carriage of families and children. The first soldier came to the back and whispered to the second. Then one of them pointed the rifle right at Raahi.

His breath got caught in his chest and he felt his hands slowly raising up. Without making another noise, he stepped out of the carriage and followed the soldiers. He was taken to a nearby building and pushed into a chair. The two soldiers immediately started shouting at him, pointing their fingers and demanding explanations. Raahi’s mind was scrambled, but he caught enough of their rant to make out some semblance of the story: they thought he looked suspicious, he was there alone, and they knew he had to be a Hindu. One of them stated that his comrade was killed by another one just like him, hiding amongst the innocent travelers. Then they demanded his name.

Finally, Raahi closed his eyes and exhaled slowly. “Anasah,” he replied, taking upon a name he had heard from a story of the Prophet. The soldiers stopped for a moment, and he took his chance in their silence. The words he had practiced and learned on his own for so long finally came out. He recited a surah in Arabic, stating their God as his for the first time out loud. The soldiers were clearly speechless. They had their hesitations, but the words he had spoken were true and voiced with conviction. Before the soldiers had a chance to make any objections, he offered them a little bribe to sweeten the deal.

Ten Rupees. Anasah made it across, and this time he didn’t look back. Not even the welts on his feet could bother him; he was walking in the new homeland. By carriage, by foot, by horse, or by God. He had made it. His mind was so set on this change of faith and land that he had forgotten what his plan for business was going to be. In any case, that was only a facet of his entire shift. He’d figure it out soon enough.

The town he entered was bustling compared to the stretches of arid ground he just traveled across. Anasah was an outsider, but not for long. One day he’d find success in this land. Perhaps one day his own parents could see what he was going to make of himself—when they find the courage to look their Muslim son in the eyes.

While uncertainty filled Anasah’s mind throughout his entire journey, this time it was perhaps the best kind. He was able to walk the streets and see opportunity for himself, even if he was uncertain which one he would take. He stopped in front of a mosque and observed.

It was old, but the pale tiled walls were wiped clean with care. Its three minarets weren’t towering, but they stood taller than the rest of the buildings in this area. The entrance was crested and nestled between elaborate carvings of Arabic and Urdu letters. Sandals were collected in a heap right outside, and more were placed nearby as people started going in. Anasah meshed with the crowd and stepped inside. The hall was huge, with hanging chandeliers and thick carpeted flooring. The congregation got into place as the main speaker started to pray. Anasah stepped to the back and silently watched this ritual.

The formless mass of people moved in unison to the speaker’s call, moving upright to prostration and back up again. The speaker’s voice was soft yet echoed and filled the room. Anasah studied their movements and tried to follow the words, even though he got lost a few times. At the culmination of this prayer, everyone turned and embraced his fellow. With that, it was over and Anasah had discovered his first glimpse into the life that he had walked into.

The mosque emptied itself and the first shades of the night took over. He stepped outside and went to pick up his own sandals when he saw a woman and child sitting beside the passersby. The woman was raising her arms out, fraught and distressed. She wasn’t speaking the language of this land. No, it was something reminiscent of his old home. He walked up to her and she grabbed his wrist, weeping softly. Her hand outstretched and pointed in the direction from where Anasah himself came. She clearly wasn’t from here, nor was she a Muslim. Perhaps she wanted to go home; perhaps she didn’t have a home. She clutched her child and cupped her empty hands out to him.

There were no Rupees left. Anasah smiled faintly despite his empty pockets and grabbed his tiny bag. He started walking to the town’s market and began practicing his Urdu.




Shahryar Hasnani is a sophomore majoring in Economics and minoring in Creative Writing. He was born in Philadelphia and has lived in Dallas, Houston, Karachi, Dubai, and Austin—if you ask him where he’s from he’ll give you a different answer each time.