Folk Tales from Kashmir

Table of Contents

  About the Author
  The Precious Present
  The Devil Outwitted
  Just a Nickname
  The Son-in-Law
  Eh! Oh!
  The Inauspicious Bride
  Himal and Nagrai
  The Haunted Mosque
  The Intruder
  The Burglar's Gift
  The Two Thugs
  The Patwari and the ...
  The Upstart
  Two Brothers
  The Merciful Burglar
  The Clever Lawyer ...
  Counting Ripples
  The Fugitive Fawn
  The Mortal Utensils
  The Hydra-Headed
  The Physician's Son
  The Professional Wedding ...
  The Village Teacher
  The Opium Smokers
  The Drone
  Telltale Narration
  Download Book

Koshur Music

An Introduction to Spoken Kashmiri



Chapter 1

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.



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