Sher Khan was the son of a weak, pious Khan, who shared a fraction of a village with his many powerful cousins, they all wrestled with one another for power, but no one bothered Sher’s father. Being a weakling in this world he was full of ambitions for the next. He wore priestly clothes, exchanged his revolver for a string of rosary beads, and deserted the Bachelors House (Hujra) for the mosque. He mixed up hopelessly his fear of his cousins with his fear of the Lord. The little coward tried to be a big saint and consequently lost his sense of humour. He preached against snuff and smoke, wore an impressive beard and never smiled. He mistook a bad liver for a good soul and his poor wife paid for it. Sher, the child of this pulpy Jelly-fish, was a mountain of strength- the picture of the longings of a strong woman married to a weak man. His father did not dare spank him even when he was very small. At nineteen he was big and powerful and insolent and proud. He treated his weak old father with contempt and his tough little mother with indifference – yet they both worshipped him.
His father saw in him all that he found missing in himself. Domineering power, commanding pride, a pleasant face and dancing eyes. His mother found his commanding tone a refreshing change from the irritable whinings of his father. They both worshipped him. He treated them both like dirt under his feet. But the young men of his village he treated with great love and devotion. He ate with them, slept with them and gambled with them. He knew how to make them worship him and he also knew how to use that worship.
No one was quicker to see these qualities than his unc Dalaire Khan. Dalaire Khan was a bullying domineering o. scoundrel, with a big good-natured face and small elephan eyes. He was a great eater and a great hunter and always debt. He was generous and hospitable and had a thunderii big laugh with which he welcomed and flattered you. A lovable old scoundrel who hated his weak, saintly broth because he always took care to remind him of death and the devil. No good hearted man wishes to be reminded of then Dalair Khan found his brother’s attitude vicious, revengefi and narrow, and thought it was specially invented to tortu him. He had hounded his brother out of the village ar playground into the mosque. Dalair Khan was tl undisputed Khan of the village, his brother the undisput^ Saint. Dalair hunted and sang and feasted his friends, it brother prayed and gambled and preached little virtues big words. It was a satisfactory arrangement, until somethin happened to upset it. Dalair’s cousin Kurban Khan arrive in the next village after finishing a term of life imprisonmet for a murder that he had not committed. He was a notoriol fighter all the same and the villagers talked of nothing bi his deeds of reckless courage and extraordinary fairness. I one of these fights Kurban had shot Dalair’s father (his ow uncle) in the leg. The old man had forgiven him (because was obviously a mistake) but tradition had not. The blod was there, shrieking for revenge – his blood, his father blood.
Kurban having served fourteen years of hard laboil thought he had paid for all his sins. He came out of prison clean, honest man full of goodwill and compassion. The villagers had flocked to him hoping to see a hero and ha’ found a man, straight and humble, kind and well bred. The thought of the things of utter recklessness that he had doi and looked at his soft humorous eyes and loved him.
The attendance at Dalair’s house dwindled and Kurban’s increased. Dalaire spent lavishly, hunted rnadi; entertained royally and borrowed thoughtlessly, but still was Kurban who attracted all those he wanted. He sat at t the Dastarkhan (Dastarkhan is a long cloth that is spread on the carpet for a meal. It is the Asiatic cousin of the Western dining-table.) from day to day, watched people eat his roasted sheep and knew that they were there for the sheep and not for him. Not one of them was worth the food he ate. Yet at Kurban’s table, where the food was simple and plain, the euests were strong and faithful and the servants brave and honest. Dalair grew to hate the smiling face and simple generosity of Kurban for they spelt his doom.
Then Sher grew up, strong and proud and handsome. Dalaire Khan looked into his grey blue eyes and shivered. He listened to the lusty young voices singing in sher’s Hujra and heard the cough of croaking old throats in his own. He felt his pistol and looked at his little son of five. He looked into his little face grimly and said, “Dilawar, my boy, you must be the Khan of this village, even if I pay for it with my soul”.
The next day he brought Sher to lunch and gave him a revolver as a present (the best present you can give any Pathan). He laughed and joked with him and treated him like an equal. This greatly flattered Sher Khan, who was used to the august piety of his own father. It also made him love his big uncle. Dalaire Khan spent lavishly on his nephew, roasted sheep for his friends and told dirty tales about his enemies. He introduced him to big and famous Khans and took him out hunting to far- away valleys and distant villages. He treated him like a son and listened to him like a friend. He fussed about his food and worried about his comfort. He smiled at his follies and laughed at his jokes. He did every thing to make him love him. He succeeded. Sher forgot his age and talked to him as an equal, as a friend.
As soon as Dalair was sure the boy would believe him he began to tell him stories about his grandfather. He gave instances of his good nature and kindness and great humanity. He painted the old Khan skillfully in the favourite colours of Sher. When he was sure that Sher worshipped his grandfather he told him how Kurban Khan had shot the old Khan mst to humiliate him. It worked and Sher was furious.
Dalaire was grateful. “But,” said Sher with blazing eyes, “I thought it was an accident.” “Accident?” said Dalaire with scorn. “These accidents are rather common. It is a good way of crawling out of your responsibility when you are not strong enough to fulfil it. You see it suited your father and me to accept it as an accident and we did so. He was too weak and I was too young.” Sher’s lips curled up in contempt. “Afraid to revenge the blood of your own father” “he said aghast. Dalaire put his arm around him. “I will stand by you my son, he said, “and give you the village of Kizas as a medal of honour.” “I will show you I am not afraid,” said Sher and went away.
That night he lay awake and thought of his closest boy friends, the income from Kizas and his wonderful grandfather, and forgot his warm young wife by his side. It was cold and drizzling, a miserable evening. Kurban Khan was stirring a worn-out fire and telling his tenants a tale. “You know how stupid youth is,” he said with a grin. “Well, I was young once, and thought the world belonged to me. Anyone that did not agree with me forfeited his right to live. One evening Zangi quarreled with me and I vowed I would kill him. I went to keep my word the next day, and shot my dear old uncle instead. I nearly killed myself when I learn it. But good old uncle forgave me. That hurt more then, after a month someone killed Zangi and his brother accused me of it. The judge gave me twenty years, because I had threatened to kill Zangi in the open bazaar and I was famous for keeping my word. I did not grumble. I paid in the name of Zangi for all the sins I had committed”.
“My Khan,” said Gulam, “You protect yourself.” Kurban Khan smiled. “Death would be the final price. I would not mind paying it.” Just then two guests walked in. They were carrying shot guns. Kurban Khan looked at them and smiled. “Where do you come from, my friends,” he inquired. “We come from Pata Village, our Khan,” they replied, “and looking for a lost mare.” And they settled down in a corner and kept silent.
All the tenants left one by one. Kurban got up to go to his house. He smiled at the strangers. “I will bring you your luck for tonight,” he told them and went out.
A quarter of an hour later he returned with a tray full of plates and eyes full of kindness. “Here is what you were destined to have today,” he said with a smile. One of the guests lifted up his gun and shot him in the eyes; the other lifted his and shot him in the shoulders. The tray dropped with a crash and Kurban Khan fell with a deadly thud.
The two guests rushed out and Joined Sher Khan who was hiding nearby. They ran through fields and crops and got onto waiting horses. They galloped away, from duty and murder, pride and folly.
Sher returned to his village the next day and attended his uncle’s funeral. In the meanwhile Dalaire had rushed to Kurban Khan’s brother and sworn that Sher had killed him. Thus he put the finishing touch to his plan to kill Kurban and hang Sher and thus keep a clear field for his son Dilawar.
Sher was sentenced to fourteen years. He was a dignified prisoner and came out after serving seven years. He came out stronger and prouder than he had gone in.
Dalair gave a big feast in his honour. Sher accepted it because he did not wish to show his hatred for the uncle who had used his love to deceive him and had made of him a tool. He asked for the village of Kizas, the prize for saving the name of the family. Dalaire ground his teeth and refused, for the branch of Kurban’s family was strong and influential and he could not give away the village without condemning himself to their wrath and revenge. He refused. Sher looked at him hard and with loathing. “You made me kill my own uncle, ” he said” and by Allah you must pay for it. Dalaire put his hand on his revolver. “I will not give away a village for the murder of my own brother,” he said obstinately. “You have grown wiser in these years, Sher, so have I. I will not confirm in my old age the follies of my youth- You forget, my dear young nephew, that a Pathan would rather” give up his life than surrender his land or wife. They are both sacred.”
Sher understood and waited. It took him three months to train a young man to pull the trigger on him. Dalaire died with his hand on his revolver. Sher is an outlaw ever since. He lives in a little village in the tribal territory amidst hardship and danger and cowdung. His voice has lost its deep tones and his eyes their pride. Fifteen years is a long time and fifteen years of loneliness and persecution are longer. Time and the world have broken in Sher Khan. He has learnt to beg and beseech. He does not hunt any longer for he knows what it feels like to be hunted. He has grown kind and gentle like Kurban Khan, the uncle he had killed. And Kurban has a son who is strong, proud and handsome, and is not afraid of his uncle Sher Khan, though he be the bravest and most daring man in his tribe. Some day the two must meet. Revenge and Death, Death and Revenge always and forever.