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 10

The Burglar's Gift

In the good old days there once lived a mason. The days were good enough except in one respect - there was not enough work for artisans of his kind. In summer he would be busy for almost twenty days a month. In cooler weather his services were in less demand and in winter he was confronted with a period of prolonged hibernation. Little wonder, therefore, that he looked emaciated. He was a good and clever workman but not all his cleverness enabled him to make a regular living.

This good mason had some rough and ready means of making some discrimination between his clients. As far as possible he declined to work for people who were not thorough gentlemen. Early in his career he had suffered once when he had worked for a man of suspicious character. Later his client got involved in a theft case and the mason's name was cited as a witness. He did not have the patience or the ability to face interrogations by magistrates or cross questioning of hair-splitting lawyers. He tipped the police officials and effected his escape. "It cost me a whole month's wages," he used to say by way of explaining why he was squeamish about his clients. "Dishonesty," he said, "has a chain reaction."

But, unfortunately, not even the best of us can always afford to stick to our foolproof principles in this imperfect world. This practice on his part begot a reaction and his clientele shrank. On one occasion he found starvation staring him in the face. Though he did not mind his own privations, he could not stand the hardships of his family, the sobs of his wife and the sunken eyes of his children. While he found himself in a tight corner, he was once approached by a man in need of his services. Though the man had no ostensible profession, in fact he was reported to be a thief and burglar, the mason welcomed this opportunity without any hesitation and started working for the man at his residence. He was required to build a couple of underground cellars in the basement of the house, provide ventilation for them and make arrangements for lighting too. His client told him that he wanted to get the work done much earlier but had not been able to see it through owing to his (the mason's) reluctance to undertake the work. He obviously knew his objections and waited till the time was opportune. He paid a tribute to his skill as an artisan.

In the course of a few weeks the work was completed. The master scrutinized it and found no fault in its execution. While giving them solid form in brick and mortar the mason had in fact been able to surpass the fancies of his client. The latter was completely satisfied and said so. "This is why," he added, "I was eager to engage your services for this particular job."

A job well done deserves a reward and the thief knew it as well as any other man of intelligence who is aware of the value of proper public relations. He asked the mason to dinner the next day and added that he would then offer his humble reward. The mason was much impressed with the conduct of the burglar all through the period. He had been paid his wages every day and given refreshment too in accordance with the practice of the day. The client was all courtesy besides. The mason recalled to mind an ancient maxim which means "live and learn even though you have attained a ripe old age." What he meant was that his earlier opinion about people of shady character seemed to be antiquated and deserved an early revision.

He came to the burglar's house the next morning. He was the only guest. The preliminary greetings being over, he suspected that his host's temper was somewhat ruffled.

He felt nervous and was reminded of the fable of the giant and the dwarf. In a few moments he found the atmosphere surcharged with tension and felt increasingly uneasy. He wished he had excused himself but there was no way out at the moment. In a few minutes the uncertainty was ended when his host started to belabour him. It did not come to the mason as an entire surprise but he was remorseful that he had accepted this position against his better knowledge. His host was most relentless and appeared to be in one of his worst moods. The mason cried and entreated the burglar on bended knees to excuse his fault if any.

"I shall return to you every pice taken in wages," said he, "and the greatest reward for me is to let me go." But the appeal fell on deaf ears and the host relished every lash he gave to the mason. The latter invoked all the holy angels, the Holy Book and God to rid himself of the present misfortune. At last the burglar seemed to have got tired and stopped.

The mason felt very unhappy that circumstances had forced him to bargain his long practiced principle. His very heart was bleeding not so much of the physical pain as of the mental torture it had resulted in. He quietly got up to go home but was prevented by the host, who in a stern voice bade him sit down. The mason had not the nerve to disobey and crouched again. In a few minutes the meal was served. It was a dinner of choice dishes but the mason, his body smarting under the lashes, could least relish it. The dinner over, the host presented to the guest a malmal (turban) and a five rupee note by way of reward. The mason was confused beyond redemption by this paradoxical behaviour of the burglar. But he quickly accepted the gift for fear of a more unpleasant one and begged leave to go.

"I shall be most happy to bid you good-bye after I place a valuable and an everlasting gift at your feet," said the burglar. In his renewed confusion the mason said nothing.

The burglar continued, "You did not ask me why I belaboured you so heartlessly?"

The mason was filled with mortification but said nothing.

"Look," said the burglar, "what I gave you as tokens of my appreciation will last a short while and disappear. What I want to give you now will last for ever and is sure to pass from one generation to another, and why I gave you a beating thus was to imprint the lesson indelibly on your mind and body so that you never lose sight of the great truth. The lesson I want you to learn is that you need not fear thieves and burglars as long as your doors and windows are well bolted and hasped. On the basis of my professional experience my advice to you is that you should always keep your windows and doors properly hasped and bolted at night to be free of the fear of thieves. You will please excuse me for the beating but the lesson had to be rubbed in thoroughly."



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