S L Sadhu
The Precious Present
THIS story takes the reader to a village on the bank of the Wular, one of the largest fresh water lakes in India. Many years ago the only approach to the village was over mountain tracks or across the lake which though alluring to the eye when placid is impassable when otherwise. Consequently the village was practically cut off and no outsider visited it unless it was absolutely indispensable for him to do so. Nor were the villagers very curious about the rest of the world. God had given them enough land to grow maize, pulses, and a few vegetables and the lake supplied them fish and water-nuts (caltrops), the kernels of which formed their staple diet. There were the old shops exchanging salt and cloth for dried fish, caltrops, maize and ghee, and currency was hardly necessary. Coins were not in circulation in this remote corner, and if ever they were, they were mostly of copper, or other lower denominations. It was an age when even government officials were paid their salaries mostly in kind, in terms of khirwars (ass-loads) of cereals. In short, nobody in the village had ever seen the silver rupee with the effigy of Victoria, Queen of Britain and Empress of India.
It so happened that by some mysterious process a silver rupee of the above description found its way into the village. It caused a great sensation there and everybody was eager to have a sight of it. Before long the matter came to the notice of the nambardar, the headman, and the coin was handed over to him for safe custody till he decided how to deal with this novelty. He pondered over it for a day and a night, a pretty long day and a dark sleepless night, and announced his decision the next morning.
“Brethren,” he said, “this is the first coin of the kind that has ever been seen by any one of us. It is stamped with the figure of our most respected ruler. (At this his hand went involuntarily to his forehead by way of saluting the ruler, listeners following suit.) God grant our ruler prosperity and victory always, and humiliation to our enemies! It is most befitting that we make a present of this respected and honoured token to His Highness in person…. ”
The proposal was no sooner made than accepted. The headman of the village was regarded as the wisest man. He gave them full details as to how such a present should be placed before the ruler for his acceptance. The gift was to be placed in a palanquin carried by six worthy elders of the village whom he nominated. They got a really dainty palanquin and decorated it with whatever choice cloth they could get. Spreading a finely woven blanket inside they covered it with a piece of silk that somebody possessed. The headman then called all the village elders to the palanquin. Young men and little urchins were there already. In the presence of such an august gathering they placed the rupee inside the palanquin and drew the curtains as if it carried a delicate bride on her way to her husband’s home. The capital was to be reached by boat. A doongha stood ready at the quay equipped with all requirements for the journey. The palanquin was lifted to the accompaniment of delightful songs, portending success, sung by village women and deposited gently in the doongha. The boatman pushed off and made for the south where the capital lay, the villagers shouted their good wishes after it and the headman gesticulated au revoir when the boat reached the mouth of the river.
It is a tiresome journey going upstream. The palanquin was given a seat of honour and nobody could sit or stand with his back to it. At night they lit a lamp and kept it alight till the dawn, and took their turns at the watch. Whoever asked them the purpose of their journey south was told that they were carrying a precious present for His Highness. They did not reveal the nature of it at all.
On the morning of the third day when they came to the outskirts of the capital they decided to dispense with the boat and carry the palanquin on their shoulders. Barefoot, with legs wrapped tightly with woollen puttees, and their backs with cotton scarves in the manner of ancient courtiers, four of them lifted the palanquin on their shoulders while one preceded it with a flag. The headman walked humbly behind. They were all merry as befitted a deputation waiting upon the ruler with a precious present and impressed every passerby with their festive appearance. At the octroi-post the tax-collectors wanted to have a look into the palanquin but the headman protested, saying, “Nobody except His Highness will cast a look inside”; and the guards gave in.
The small procession had to pass through the principal streets of the capital before they could reach Shergarhi, the palatial residence of the ruler, built on the left bank of the Jhelum. The news had spread fairly quick throughout the city and many people were curious to know what precious gift it was that had brought these doughty folk over such a long distance. The village folk reached the palace gate and made their purpose known to the guards. The captain of the guards got orders from His Highness to admit them within and to show utmost hospitality. With loud shouts wishing victory and prosperity to His Highness the little procession entered the gate of the palace. They felt amply recompensed when treated as the guests of their ruler.
Within the palace premises they, of course, displayed greater solicitude in according respect and obeisance to the precious but secret gift inside the palanquin. The guards and other palace officials were highly intrigued about the secret but dared not ask them for fear of offending their sense of etiquette. Meanwhile, the villagers fully basked in the lavish sunshine of the ruler’s hospitality and were keenly conscious of the honour which had schuss fallen to their lot. “What reward will His Highness feel too high for us when he receives us in audience and accepts the gift ?” whispered the headman into the ears of the gratified elders.
In the afternoon His Highness got up from his siesta and: desired the elders to be admitted to his presence. The -minister-in-waiting, the prime minister and other dignitaries of the State were in attendance. The headman entered barefoot and made obeisance. He was followed-‘:: by the elders bearing the palanquin. “Sire !” began the headman “this humble servant who has the signal honour of standing before his ruler and father is the nambardark of the village…on the bank of the Wular lake, famous for its fish, caltrops and deadly waves. Along with these men -who are worthy elders of the said village this loyal servant has covered the distance with a happy heart on account of the pleasant and honourable duty before us. We crave your permission, our liege and father, to place this nazar at your Highness’ blessed feet.”
“Our good men,” returned the ruler, “we are touched hype your affection and loyalty which prompted you to come from such a distant place to offer your nazar. We desire that it be placed before us.”
The headman drew the curtain and thrust his hand into the palanquin. He appeared to be somewhat perplexed) and raised all the four curtains. Whispers were exchanged by all the elders who began to fumble in the folds of theft blanket and rummage into the corners of the palanquin) The nazar was not forthcoming. Quite a few minuted passed thus while the villagers completed a thorough search for the coin inside the palanquin. The primp minister said, “Be quick rustics, His Highness has urgent matters of State to attend to.” But the rustics could not help the matter. In their rustic hilarity they had so carried the palanquin as to suffer the precious gift to slip somewhere. It was too late now to mend their folly and the headman made the submission: “Our liege and father, we have unfortunately dropped the nazar somewhere unwittingly.”
The situation thus took a serious turn. The ministers were of one mind in looking upon the incident as an insult to the person and throne of the ruler. Punishment could easily be awarded for such an act. “What astounds me,” declared the prime minister, “is the daring of these uncouth rustics. To come right to the august presence of His Highness and try to cover their crime under the frivolous excuse that they had dropped the nazar somewhere! Your Highness, let them be taken to the prison and dealt with according to law,” he submitted.
The village elders looked like sheep at the gate of the shambles though the headman bore this sorrow with exemplary fortitude. “My head upon your Highness’ feet!” declared the headman turning towards the ruler, “make but a gesture and this humble servant will offer his heart for you to feed upon. Who is there so unworthy of his salt as to harbour anything but esteem, honour and affection for our lord, liege and father! Who can be so daring as to put his head into the mouth of a lion! Our Holy Book says that God Almighty is Karim (merciful). I invoke your mercy, our respected father, and seek permission to explain the whole case.”
The ruler was gifted with a good deal of commonsense. He saw at once that they were simple but good-natured folk who had come from a remote village and meant nothing but loyalty and affection. On the insistence of his councillors he devised a plan to test their intentions. The villagers were placed in a cell and were supplied with all requirements to enable them to cook their food. Instead of being given a burning faggot or live coal they were given a box of safety matches. They did not know what a match stick was and could not cook their meal. They ate part of the rations raw and the rest was kept intact.
When the ruler heard this news through the captain of the guards he was convinced of their innocence. He called the villagers, heard the whole story and had a hearty laugh at their simple faith. He assured the headman that the gift was as good as accepted. In fact he gave them a rupee and received it back as nazar. The villagers felt highly gratified. Further, they were treated as guests once again and dismissed the next morning with suitable gifts. In addition, the land rent in their village was reduced. The villagers departed merrily shouting slogans. Back in the village they narrated the tale about how they had been saved from the very brink of destruction. The tale spread to neighbouring villages and to remote ones till it was imprinted on the minds of men.
The Devil Outwitted
ONCE there lived a young man in a village. He had no land of his own but worked on the farms of several landlords one after another and thus picked up a living. He was handsome and industrious and entered into matrimony as could be expected. Fortunately his wife was an uncommonly good one. She had attractive features, a strong physique and a sweet disposition – a rare combination. She shared the burdens of her husband and made him happy and somewhat prosperous.
Once, while she was returning from the spring with two pitchers of water – one upon another – on her head in the company of several other women, she and her husband came in for a poignant taunt from her companions. How and why it started is needless to state but in effect they told her that they were landless beggars and had little stake in the village. When she reported the matter to her husband the “earth seemed to slip from under his feet.” He had all along been feeling that the landed class, even those petty peasants who could not pay their rent to the State, did not treat him as an equal because he had no land to call his own. The land gave a subtle but respectable status to a tiller of the soil. Minus a piece of land of his own he was like a woman unable to get a husband. Apart from his own feelings on the subject, he was now upset that his wife had got hurt by the unsophisticated though callous observations of the village women-folk.
The peasant was gifted with youth, health and strength. Said he to his wife, “Is that what is worrying you? I never thought that my wife would be upset by such idle gossip. Anyway, before the year is out, you will also be the owner of a small farm of your own.”
She felt somewhat reassured but could not see how it would be possible for him to implement what he said. “May be,” she thought, “he has some resources unknown to me.” She had grounds for her fears because, as far as she knew, he had had no savings. As a cultivator he was entitled to a share ranging from one half to one third of the produce of the farm he worked on. But prices of agricultural produce were low and did not leave anything by way of surplus. His savings had gone away on the occasion of his marriage when he had to make a settlement on his wife. She also helped her husband in earning their living, but soon came extra mouths to feed in the shape of their offspring and their affairs did not go far on the road to prosperity.
The peasant approached the local patwari with a present and told him everything. The patwari was mighty glad that this latest client would bring him a little money in one form or another.
“I shall make you a peasant-owner” he assured him.
“But I have nothing to purchase it with” rejoined the peasant.
“Don’t worry”, said the patwari. “When I have given you my word, I shall prove true to it.”
The patwari explained to him how he could become a landholder without having to pay the price on the understanding, of course, that the young man would render adequate service to the official. There was a piece of land on the outskirts of the village which was entered as barren in the revenue records. The patwari advised the young man to reclaim it and assured him that he would help him in owning it in course of time.
The young peasant set about his task with might and main. He was helped by his wife and in a few weeks the land was practically fit for cultivation. The peasant was making preparations for sowing seeds. Late one night he was about to return home from this newly-acquired farm when he found a hen with a number of chicks occupying his path. Surprised to see this brood at such a late hour he was about to make his way when a flock of sheep came within his sight, and he was obliged to go from one side to another and suffer much inconvenience on this account. He walked thus for quite a long time, up hill and down dale, getting his clothes rent by brambles, or suffering from a fall now and then, but he nowhere got near his house. It was dark and he could not make out whereabouts he had been led astray. After a while he saw three or four men coming with a lantern from a distance. He came to know through them that he had strayed quite a few miles from his home to which they escorted him. “It is the devil’s doing,” they told him.
The next evening when he was about to start from his [arm he had some more experiences which the devil alone could cause. He planted his pocket-knife into the ground and sat down. Lo ! the devil came forward in the guise of a man with his heels in front and toes pointing backward. The young peasant did not in the least lose his presence of mind.
“What can I do for you, my dear Sir ?” he addressed the visitant.
”You have been tilling my farm,” replied the other.
“Is that so, but the patwari….”
“To hell with the dishonest rogue!”
“Never mind, my dear Sir, I have all my life been cultivating land for people. Could your honour get a better tenant than this humble servant?”
The devil obviously felt flattered with the respectful attitude of the peasant. “I have no special prejudice against you. Only I thought that a tenant would take the permission of the owner,” said he.
“For that transgression I crave the indulgence of your honour’s generosity,” submitted the peasant. “And what rent may this humble servant be commanded to pay?” he asked.
Oblivious of the ironical attitude of the peasant, the devil was taken in and demanded the same rent as other well-known landlords.
“Indeed, Sir, I shall feel it a great honour to render unto your worship one half of the crop, but which half it would please your highness to accept, I pray this humble servant may be commanded, the upper half or the lower half.”
“Of course, the upper half,” said the devil ingenuously.
“By all means, your highness. When the crop is about to be harvested, will it please you to come and have your share?”
The devil was mighty pleased and disappeared. The peasant left for home with a light heart.
He did not tell anything about the visitation to his wife but decided to raise turnips on his land. The seed was sown and in good time the leaves raised their head from the earth. The devil saw it thus and felt pleased that at last through his wisdom he was making a fortune through labour not his own. Then came harvest time. The peasant was up and doing, cutting with his sickle the leaves from turnips. A big heap of leaves he piled for the devil and the turnips his wife carried home. While the devil was deliberating how best to dispose of the produce of his land, the leaves started turning yellow and brown. He carried them to the market but the prospective customers only winked to each other or grinned at the wisdom of the seller. “Is it a conspiracy or what?” said the devil to himself, deliberating over his failure to dispose of the turnip leaves.
He came to know ultimately that he had cut a sorry figure on account of his ignorance of farming. “For once this young peasant has scored over me. But none of this more. I shall teach him a lesson now,” thought he.
The next sowing season came and the peasant once again asked the devil “Which part of the crop will it please your honour to have?” The devil did not like to give the peasant the impression that he had been worsened and that he was smarting under the discomfiture.
He simply told him that he would take the lower portion. “By all means, your worship, and this humble servant shall work with utmost zeal to his entire capacity to win the approbation of your honour,” said the peasant.
The devil was highly pleased with this unctuous verbiage.
This time the peasant sowed barley and in due course the entire farm was full of green waving crop. It pleased the devil to watch this emerald spot, particularly when the wind forced it to bow to him in courtesy. Gradually the virgin stalks were heavy with ears, and the crop turned yellowish and golden. It was a bumper crop that the peasant raised.
Once again he and his wife got busy with harvesting. They plied their sickles deftly and did a good job of it. Sawing the stalks into two the peasant took all the ears and the grain leaving the stubble and the roots for the devil. When the latter came to collect it, the peasant respectfully submitted that the entire share was kept for the rightful owner, untouched. And the devil was so glad! But in the market they laughed at his stupidity and he understood that he had been duped once more.
“I must teach this fellow a lesson” said he to himself and he felt relieved to throw the bundle of stubble into the stream. By experience he had found that it was either the root or the top that mattered. To eliminate all risks he determined to have both as his share and leave the middle of the crop to the peasant. And he communicated it to him.
The peasant agreed unhesitatingly. The devil was sure to trip him up. But the peasant had his own plans. This time he sowed maize. The crop was rich and luscious. The stalks grew tall and full of white milky cobs. In time the grains of maize became brown and strong on the cobs. The devil came and got his due, the roots and the lofty crowns; and the peasant bundled together all the stalks in between with the rich cobs growing on them.
The devil soon realized that even the third time he had been defeated. “He is more than a match for me,” he came to the conclusion. He called the peasant.
“What is your highness’s pleasure?” submitted the latter courteously.
“Pleasure, indeed!” the devil replied. “It is too much for me,” he added, “the land and its problems. From this time forth I have absolutely no claim upon your farm and you can do with it what you like.”
“Your highness, I am much grateful to you!”
There is a French variant in which the peasant sowed pole-beans on the third occasion. Afterwards they hold a contest in wit, the last one of its kind, in which, of course, the devil is defeated.
Just a Nickname
WHEN all is said and done a nickname is a name, a concrete appellation standing like an unshakable rock in an angry ocean which demolishes and engulfs reputations. Think of such names as William Rufus or Single Speech Hamilton! The nickname enables us not only to pin-point the particular man from among the billions of the dead but also unrolls for our perusal the whole record of his character. What a great boon it, therefore, is for the unknowing!
Nicknames have had a glorious career in Kashmir. They were invented and applied owing to an inherent necessity of spotting out men and women, or families. With the exception of a few cases what are family names today were but nicknames once. These nicknames have gradually come into their own and attained respectability quite at par with the original family surnames. Surnames like Trambhu (meaning pock marked), Braru (a cat), Dand (a bull), Tak (an earthenware plate), Alma (unbaked), Kotru (pigeon), Kantru (a male sparrow), Khar (an ass), are proudly professed by hundreds of families today. The list could be multiplied a thousand fold. Human deformities like Loung (lame), Shanglu (with six fingers), Kana (with a deformed ear) give rise to many family names today, while other bodily characteristics are responsible for many more like Mota (corpulent one), Nika (a slender one) Chhot (a pygmy), Dandan (one with teeth dropped), Khosa (a beardless one), Khor (one with scabies). These families are regarded to be as proud and good as any, and yet nicknames have made many a person miserable.
There was once a peasant in a Kashmir village. He had not much of land and was obliged to spend several months of the year in the city as a domestic servant in one family or another. It was by no means a pleasant experience for him to be at the mercy of his employer and his numerous encumbrances including an aunt, two wives i. and an indistinguishable brood of children. Getting up early in the morning he, to use his own words, would “get . into the harness like the pony dragging a cart.” Sweeping the house, several speedy trips to the market, the usual drudgery in the scullery, tending the children, cleaning utensils, washing clothes, making beds, and quite a good deal more was his usual routine. And all the time he had had no tidings from his wife and children throughout the long winter months.
Is it surprising that he complained of his unenviable lot to many? Among these latter was a shopkeeper from whom this peasant-cum-domestic servant would make purchases for the household of his master. He seemed to be a sympathetic man and offered the other the tube of his bubble bubble at which he would give a few pulls with his ample lungs. “Will you take my advice if I place an inexpensive plan before you of supplementing your meagre income?” said the shopkeeper once. The other jumped at the idea as he was in need of nothing else more earnestly than the means to get rid of the drudgery of domestic service. “All that you need do,” said the shopkeeper, “is to buy a hen. She can be fed with a few crumbs and will lay eggs. I undertake to make the sale of your eggs for a nominal commission.”
The idea of raising poultry was nothing novel for the peasant but he always found it difficult to negotiate a.: price for the produce. The village shopkeeper got eggs almost for nothing from unsophisticated peasants. Therefore, though rearing of poultry did not cost anything, it meant a lot of bother for little gain, and hence the hesitation in the mind of the peasant to undertake it.
As the shopkeeper promised the peasant to arrange the sale of the produce, the biggest stile in the way of this new undertaking was overcome. Though he had no ready cash he managed to borrow some money to purchase a hen. In due course of time the hen laid eggs and brought a little sum to the peasant. The peasant invested the proceeds in the same business and added to his stock of poultry. His business expanded steadily till by the next fall of winter the peasant felt that he could manage to live without having to go to the city in search of service. It was such a blessing to be spared the drudgery of a domestic servant and the shame of it. The peasant was grateful to his stock of poultry and particularly the first hen with which he made a start.
The first hen happened to be whitish in colour. It was not bright dazzling white but rather the faint pale white left after the other colours had been washed out. The peasant regarded this hen as the harbinger of good fortune to him and wherever he went or whomever he talked to, he had something to say about his white hen, how it started crowing early in the morning, how it would sometimes strut or cut a graceful caper…. Never did he miss an occasion to say something about the white hen. In course of time the white hen became the talk of the village and the surrounding ones too.
The next stage was to identify the peasant as the owner of the white hen: “M — has been responsible for such and such an act.”
“Which M — ?”
“The one who owns the white hen.”
Not long after, however, they omitted to mention the ownership entirely and called him by this very name, the “white hen.” This name spread like wild fire in the manner of all nicknames which are always catching. Urchins in the streets and old men near the bank of the stream began to call him by this very name, and this was very irritating. Every time he heard the urchins shouting”white hen” he felt provoked and angry. He was easily put out and wished to crush them to a jelly and retorted with abuse and vituperation. This tickled the urchins and encouraged them to further fire works. Even the grown-ups felt a peculiar pleasure in provoking him.
His susceptibility to excitement on account of the nickname increased tenfold. If he saw two men talking together he suspected that they were plotting to shout “the white hen” behind his back. If he saw people smiling he ran to the conclusion that they were doing so at his expense. This gave people opportunities more and more to fling the nickname at him either in his face or behind his back.
This excitement affected his nerves. “They are bent upon driving me mad,” he would blurt out now and then.
“Look here,” a good friend would tell him, “you are a grown-up man, you should exercise self-restraint and not get upset like a girl of sixteen.”
“Self-restraint! Do you talk of self-restraint? Who can exercise it to a greater degree than I do? But how long can I exercise self-restraint when they are bent upon downright abuse? Didn’t your hear them shouting ‘the white hen’? Rascals. I’ll make an example of them,” and down he would rush with a stone in his hand against an imaginary foe raising the provocative slogan.
A simple matter took thus a grave and tragic turn. Several times in the day he would imagine people shouting the nickname and out of his house he rushed, set upon “teaching the rogues a lesson.” Physicians and sane men came to only one conclusion and that was that a change in the environment alone could save him. He was advised to go out of the village again for some time.
He could have gone to the city to his former employer. But he preferred to go to the plains beyond the mountain walls encircling the valley. He joined one of the gangs of peasants who go out to the plains in the winter to supplement their earning on their lands. He earned a pretty little sum everyday which pleased his heart. But, above all, he was happy because no one in the plains knew the nickname which had almost driven him mad. Those terrible moods of excitement, moments of temporary insanity or depression became a matter of the past and he came almost to believe that life was not so bad.
Several winters passed. In the plains the idea of his former nickname had practically disappeared from his mind, what with the change in the environment and the savings from his wages which had accumulated. The thought of returning home began to stir his heart. This craving became stronger every day till he could no longer resist it. He decided to visit home.
The return journey was quicker and easier, for he could afford to come in a bus. Money was jingling in his pockets. He came to the road crossing whence his village was but a couple of miles distant. He saw several men going to the surrounding villages and they fell a talking.
“Hello! I seem to have seen you and known you but can’t place you,” said one.
“Indeed so do I. But methinks I saw him several years back,” joined another.
“Sure enough, for I am coming from the plains after several years.”
“I used to know a fellow who couldn’t stand a nickname and left the village. Your face very much reminds me of him. …. Are you by any means the same fellow whom they nicknamed ‘The white hen’? He has been missing for many a year now.”
“Lord! they are starting it with a vengeance,” he thought “Good friends,” he told them, “yes, I am the man who could not stand the nickname ‘the white hen’ and slipped out to the plains. The craving for my home brought me back. You have restarted the game right now when I have not even stepped into my village. I will go back to the plains and I wish you joy of your homes. Such a place is not for me.”
He retraced his steps right then and came back to the plains. And the nickname “the white hen” languished and died.
QADIRA lived in the house of the great Sheikh as did his father. The latter was first employed in the household as a groom. His wife died in the village to which the family belonged and the stable-man brought the little boy to live in the house of the nobleman. Here he assisted his father in the stable and sometimes was entrusted with errands by the ladies of the household. His chief claim to his board and lodge with the illustrious family was his companionship with the young Sheikh, the nobleman’s son. The latter was practically of the same age and grew so fond of the urchin that he would never brook separation from him except when the former was engaged in assisting his father in cleaning the stables or grooming the ponies.
Though Qadira had to remove horse-dung from the stable or to attend to other unpleasant duties he kept himself unusually clean. His father persuaded him to wash his clothes frequently. In winter when it was cold he went to the bath and made free use of the warm water in the boiler after other members of the household went to bed. Those who did not know him could hardly suspect that he was a stable-boy. Those who saw him frequently always quoted the Kashmiri adage that one should wash one’s hands clean before touching him.
Well, Qadira was a groom and errand-boy in the house of the Sheikh and a companion of the nobleman’s son. It was never intended, that Qadira should receive any bookish education. But being exposed to it in the company of the young Sheikh he could not help remembering the same lessons and picking up literacy. His blue blooded companion was a boy of varied interests as befitted the scion of the great house; he could, therefore, pay only scant attention to his studies. Qadira’s mind, on the other hand, seemed to be so constituted that letters, sentences and whole lessons found a fertile soil there. If the money spent over the young master of the house did not yield result commensurate with its magnitude, it at least made up through the education of the rustic urchin.
Qadira grew into a shrewd lad. He could strike a good bargain and gained advantage by his boldness and dash where faint-hearted men older in age failed. Before very long he was promoted to assist the bailiff and keep accounts. This was a signal advance in his position which delighted his father but filled other domestics with pangs of jealousy. He discharged his duties admirably and his master was pleased with him mighty well. He never made any secret of his appreciation of Qadira’s ability.
One day Qadira’s father saw his master in a jovial mood and was assiduous in keeping his exalted spirits aloft. When he perceived that the moment was opportune, he said, “Sire, may I make a humble request?”
“Do so, for I am much indebted to you and your son for your faithful service. What do you want?”
“Father,” said the servant, “I have grown grey eating your salt. It is my great good fortune. My son has bloomed into a young man eating your bread. While it is my ambition to lay down my life in your service, I request you to seek a job in the administration for your slave, my son. I do not quite relish his being here.”
He told his master how other servants in his household felt jealous of father and son, and cursed them behind their backs. “I can stand anything except a curse against my only son.” His words moved the heart of the SheiLh, who himself had only one son. In his own heart he had an additional motive and that was to gain respectability in the eyes of society. Before long the Sheikh, a big feudal lord got Ghulam Qadir, the son of his trusted servant appointed as a clerk in the office of the district collector who was only too pleased to embrace a chance to oblige a big landlord like the influential Sheikh.
Ghulam Qadir was an intelligent clerk and came to have a reputation for efficient work. He disposed of the work allotted to him in no time every day and was also able to assist other clerks in the disposal of their cases. Consequently he got to know the work in all sections of the office which gave him a sort of a key-position. Other clerks sought his advice when baffled with difficulties. Intricate cases could not be attended to without his consultation and apparently insurmountable difficulties were smoothed out by him in no time. The district collector was pleased with him and appointed him as his own Munshi or confidential clerk.
Munshi Ghulam Qadir, or Munshi Ji as he came to be called now, had learnt another precious lesson by instinct kind that was that “more things are wrought by establishing proper public relations than this world dreams of.” Accordingly he went to the residence of the collector now and then with a case of choice luscious apples, fine walnuts or a khirwar of mushkbudji rice. The collector would not accept such a present from his humble clerk, but he had no hesitation when he heard that it came from the great Sheikh. There was, therefore, little doubt that the Munshi would race along the roads to prosperity along which others were panting on leaden feet or merely limping. In a year or so the Munshi found himself transferred to the executive line as a girdawar with a score of patwaris under him.
Ghulam Qadir now found it necessary to come to the notice of the hakim-e-ala or the provincial governor and he sought the good offices of his erstwhile master, the Sheikh. Not long after, the governor went on a tour of the part of the country where the Sheikh had his estate. It was in his own interest for the latter to entertain the governor. At a dinner held in honour of the governor the Sheikh commended his protege to the kind attention of his august guest. Munshi Ji was in need of just this introduction. He won his place nearer and nearer to the heart of the governor by the efficient discharge of his duties. The governor also received occasional presents from the Sheikh and he was intelligent enough to understand that the latter would feel obliged if he pushed up Ghulam Qadir. In a couple of years, therefore, he got him appointed as a naib-tehsildar.
The old groom in the house of the Sheikh was beside himself with joy and urged his son to take steps to settle himself in married life. Ghulam Qadir, however, was not satisfied yet and considered such a development premature. He had a higher ambition and marriage, he felt, would hinder rather than help its realization. He picked up the ins and outs of his new job till he felt confident that he could hold his own against even the veterans amongst his subordinates. He prepared to win the good graces of the mashir-i-mal, the supreme head of the revenue administration of the State. This time he did not trouble the Sheikh himself but played his cards so well that the governor offered his good offices to introduce him to the mashir-i-mal as a relative of the great Sheikh. This done, the mashir-i-mal found the young man very useful. If eminent people came from outside the State as guests of the administrator, Ghulam Qadir saw to it that they were comfortably lodged and looked after; if there was a wedding or a festival in his house, Ghulam Qadir lost no time in making arrangements for the purchase of commodities of the finest quality. Besides, the Sheikh was eminent enough to include the administrator in the circle of his friends and suitable gifts were gratefully accepted by him from the former. It was, of course, Ghulam Qadir through whom such gifts were received and the latter’s name had therefore grown familiar to the mashir-i-mal.
The Sheikh once called on the mashir-i-mal and Ghulam Qadir too figured in the conversation. “I have not been able to do anything for your kinsman,” said the minister The Sheikh spoke courteously meaning that it was never too late to begin. A couple of days later when Ghulam Qadir saw the mashir-i-mal in the course of his official duty the former put him the question: “How are you related to the Sheikh?” After a slight demur he replied “I am his son-in-law, sir.”
“Oh really!” observed the minister. “I am very sorry. I have not been able to do anything for you. Please convey my apologies to your father-in-law. I shall try my utmost to find a way to help you.”
In a week or so Ghulam Qadir became a tehsildar. The minister sent a message to the Sheikh expressing the hope that he would feel somewhat satisfied at the promotion of his relation, adding that he had learnt of their intimacy only a few days earlier.
When Ghulam Qadir met the Sheikh next he asked him how he had described his relationship with himself. Ghulam Qadir was silent. The Sheikh reiterated his question but the other was still hesitant. “You had better kill me sir,” replied Ghulam Qadir. But the Sheikh was eager and promised to forgive him. It was then that Ghulam Qadir revealed the truth.
“Son . . . in . . . law!” His face turned red in anger. But that was not for long, for he added, “You have reached your present position through hard work and intelligence while my own son has come to no good. I really could not get a better son-in-law. You are my son-in-law indeed,” and he determined to entrust his daughter to him.
Thus did the groom’s son marry the daughter of his master It was a proud day for the groom and prouder still for the Sheikh.
AWAY from the ocean the sailor is never in his element. He falls D prey to the sharp practices of swindlers and city sharks; he becomes the laughing stock of the townsmen. Likewise is the peasant when he is off his land. Clever people exploit his simplicity, his ingenuousness and his capacity to work. He may be made the butt of many a jest, or the victim of a practical joke, and he bears his cross on his ample shoulders patiently.
Owing to the rigour of the climate in Kashmir, the peasant has to pass through a period of unemployment for nearly five months in a year. The well-to-do farmers can afford to enjoy this enforced rest, consuming cooked rice, lentils, turnips and pickled knol-kohl to their hearts’ content. Those who are not so well-off supplement their slender incomes by working on cottage looms arid turning out woollen blankets. Others, standing at the lowest rung of the ladder, hire themselves out as domestic servants in the larger towns, or the metropolis of Srinagar. Aziz Buth belonged to this last class.
Many, many years ago when the corn was abundant to the extent of superfluity, Aziz Buth could not stretch his harvest so far as to cover the needs of the family all the year round. He was the father of two children, and in spite of the labours of the whole family—even the elder child would sometimes contribute his mite—he ran into debt. He was, therefore, compelled to drift towards the city in search of temporary employment as a domestic servant.
Untutored in the ways of the world as he was, he did not think it would be easy for him to find some employment in the city. He spent the first night in a mosque wrapped in a blanket, for he knew of no secular habitation where he could obtain shelter. He feasted on a couple of dry loaves and sincere prayers rose from his heart. The next morning had a pleasant surprise for him, for he met an acquaintance—a rare experience for him. The man belonged to a village in the neighbourhood of his own, and they knew each other moderately well. Aziz Buth considered his night well-spent when his acquaintance promised to get him the sort of employment he was after.
The acquaintance was as good as his word. Aziz Buth was taken to the house of a man who appeared to be very prosperous. There were already a couple of servants in the house and Aziz Buth made the third. Khwaja Saheb, that is how the head of the house was designated, called him to his presence and said, “Many people proudly seek my service for the consideration of free board and lodging. Will that satisfy you?”
Aziz Buth was so overawed by the manner of the Khwaja in his costly shawl and turban that he found words missing from his tongue. With difficulty he seemed to stammer out: “Noble sir, I am a poor man having left little ones in the village.”
Khwaja Saheb was thereupon pleased to fix half-anass load of paddy as his monthly wages besides the privilege of free board and lodging. “But, mind you, if ever one of my servants is not able to complete a task given to him, he is subjected to a fine,” said he, half in jest and half in seriousness. Aziz Buth’s companion only laughed “ha! ha” by way of taking the sting out of these words and he himself grinned bashfully.
The winter was on and Aziz Buth gave his best to the employer Late at night before he went to his bed Aziza had the privilege of being admitted to the bed chamber of his employer. He was asked to massage the legs of the Khwaja with his strong muscular hands, for he found sleep evading him until he was subjected to this process. Early in the morning, sometimes even before the cock crew, the Khwaja would shout “Aziza” and the latter was expected to be ready with the hubble-bubble, refilled with fresh water from the river, with tobacco and live coal to enable his employer to fumigate his interior to his fill. He was the favourite of the harem in so far as he would be entrusted with all tasks requiring personal attention. His colleagues—the fellow servants in the house—encouraged him in this belief, for otherwise such tasks would fall to their own lot. This encouragement lightened their own tasks, for Aziza could easily be got into the right frame of mind so as to volunteer to undertake what all shirked.
The winter turned out to be extra severe. Householders, who could afford to do so, avoided leaving their homes as far as possible. But domestics like Aziza had no choice in matters like these. In fact the comforts available in the home of the Khwaja Saheb depended a great deal upon the exertions of men like Aziza, and the latter was modestly proud of the part he played in this respect.
At the end of a period of about four months Aziza thought of going home. He had not seen his family all the while and soon his farm would claim his attention. He made a request to the great Khwaja, the first of its kind. The latter did not seem to relish it, and with a face beaming with a mischievous smile he said, “Aziza ! I shall certainly pay all your dues. But before I do so, go to the market and get me two things, wy (eh!) and wai (oh!). Your wages will be paid to you only when you get the things.” “Eh and Oh!” ejaculated Aziza in utter amazement, for he had never heard of such things. However, he had not the face to articulate his suspicions lest it be only his ignorance. So he set out.
Long he roamed and far, but never did any shopkeeper seem to deal in these substances. Some laughed outright, others pricked their ears while some came to regard him light in the head. “Should I fail in this last task?” cried he. “All these months I worked to the utter satisfaction of everybody’ arid now this last straw seems to be too much for me And the big man will probably eat up my wages if I fail to satisfy him…. ”
He was walking abstractedly, with these thoughts pressing upon his mind. He went from shop to shop. At the seventh or the seventeenth shop he met with a different response to his inquiry. ‘And what do you require them for, my good man?” asked the shopkeeper, an oldish man with a rich stubble on his face. Aziza told his tale.
“And if you fail to place them before him you won’t get our pay, your hard-earned dues, is that it?”
“Exactly; that is what the man threatens me with.”
The old man soon found out that the Khwaja was trading upon the simplicity of the peasant. He was himself something of a sport and he thought of playing the game for the fun of it.
“I can give it to you provided you hand it over directly to the Khwaja himself without showing it to any one else. Do you agree?”
“It is meant for Khwaja Saheb. Do not spoil it by examining it yourself or fingering it,” the shopkeeper insisted.
“Not at all, sir; and God bless you for coming to my rescue. I went over from shop to shop but nobody seems to stock it,” said Aziza with a feeling of relief.
“Such precious things are not found with every grocer. Even I keep it in a godown. You will wait here for me.”
He returned after half-an-hour and gave Aziza a package covered in an old newspaper bound with a dried weed. He got eight annas for his pains and Aziza was glad that he could now keep his head high in the presence of all the other servants in that he had not failed in his errand.
The Khwaja expected Aziza to return and report failure and crave his mercy, for when God created this universe out of His bounty, he forgot to give a corporeal frame to “eh!” and “oh !”. According to the verbal agreement which, of course, was morally binding upon Aziza the latter’s failure to work up to the satisfaction of the master would result in forfeiting his wages. The Khwaja was thus looking forward to a lot of fun: his verdict that Aziza was no longer entitled to his wages would bring Aziza prostrate before him, but that he would stick to his word till ultimately he would condescend to release part of the amount….
The Khwaja was in a very rosy mood when Aziza appeared before him. The tube of the hubble-bubble passed from one mouth to another. Seeing Aziza he simulated an angry mood. “Where, in the name of God Almighty, have you been all this while,” he shouted. “I sent you on a little errand and you seem to have been lazing at your grandmother’s. How fat you have grown eating my cooked rice here!”
“Respected sir, I have been roaming from street to street in search of it and my legs are aching with the fatigue,” replied Aziza.
“If your legs are so delicate, why did you take the trouble of coming over here for employment? Did you not get the thing?”
“Respected sir, I have got it,” submitted Aziza.
The Khwaja relaxed as he now expected to fill the little assembly with theatrical laughter by declaring what Aziza had got as spurious. “What have you got? Let me see it,” he said in an over-weening tone.
Aziza submitted the little package. The whole gathering was intrigued. The outer chord of dry weed was unfastened and the wrapping removed. Two small earthenware receptacles, no bigger than a medium sized ink pot, were discovered. Each had a wide mouth closed over with a piece of paper pasted with gum. Their inquisitiveness was piqued.
The paper covering of one of the vessels was broken through and the Khwaja peered into it. It appeared to be empty. While he was about to throw it away out came a bee which buzzed along the hand of the Khwaja who could not help crying “oh!” So far so good.
The paper lid of the other vessel was broken through. But before the Khwaja could say anything, from its interior darted a wasp who perched directly on his brow and involuntarily a painful “oh!” escaped from his lips.
The assembly realized that Aziza had after all not failed to get the rare commodity!