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 11

The Two Thugs

There was once a thug who plied his trade with reasonable efficiency and success. He was a past master in the art of creating illusions which is the basis of the trade of a thug. Perhaps the most paying line of the business would be to sell brass for gold; but in such a transaction people secure the advice of a reliable goldsmith. The thug called himself a tradesman. If anybody asked him, "What do you deal in?" "Whatever holds the promise of a meagre profit", he would reply, thus reserving to himself the right of dealing in any commodity he liked, from oilseeds to pashmina, from saffron to sandalwood.

It was not his way to keep his wares in a shop for sale. Indeed, he never made use of a permanent premise as a shop. He sojourned to different places of pilgrimage or fairs as Tsrarisharief, Pakharpora, Aishmukam, Anantnag, Bomai, Badgam, Handwara, Trehgam, Tulamula, where people collected in tens of thousands for a few days and brisk marketing took place. They were in a mood to spend without undue higgling and that is what the thug took advantage of. He also hawked his wares from street to street, or engaged a little dinghy occasionally to acquaint the naive boatwomen on the waterways of Kashmir with the wealth and quality of his merchandise.

Once the thug joined the fair at the far off shrine of the saint of Bomai. There were lots of people come from distant villages to pay their homage to the memory of the saint. There were musicians and singers entertaining the onlookers with their naot and quwali; there were wrestlers come for their annual meet; there were bhands or itinerant actors, and there were magicians beguiling the people with the sleight of their hands. There, of course, were hundreds of tradesmen buying from and selling to thousands of villagers: the carpenter with his toys, yardsticks, balancebeams' teasers and winders, grain-measures, ladles, sandals, etc., the smith with his knives, scythes, spinning rods, cauldrons, horse-shoes, tongs, etc.; the glib-tongued tradesman purchasing thick woollen blankets from peasants, the agents of the fat and immobile mutton dealers of the city bargaining for herds of sheep and goats, confectioners, clothiers, sharpeners with their circular whetstones mounted on an axle, and, of course, shapers.

The thug had also wended his way thither according to an itinerary fixed well beforehand. He was dressed as a peasant and carried a medium-sized wallet besides his blanket. He had taken his seat on the ground at one end of the crowd. By chance another peasant carrying a bigger sack took his seat near him.

"How do you do?" the latter greeted the former.

"God's a mercy," replied the other.

"My good friend, where do you come from to this holiest of the shrines?" asked the former.

"I come from the distant maraz."

"I could guess as much from your talk and the look of weariness from your face."

"Yes, I had to foot a pretty long distance. And you yourself ?"

"I belong to the blessed Kamraz, the region of droughts, poverty and lawlessness. How much land do you own?"

"Not much by your standards. Actually I come from Pampur where I own a few marlas of saffron-growing land. I have managed to collect a little of this precious stuff in this wallet. What is your sack bulging with?"

'The arid tableland of the village where I work yields little. So I usually go to Pindi in winter and earn a little to spread over the whole year round. This year I was working with a merchant who paid me in kind. I have earned this sackful of peppercorns for six months which

I shall now exchange for cash or kind. Are you interested?"

"I have myself to dispose of my wallet full of saffron and I intended to carry home in return dried fish, dried caltrops, sesame and other produce of your region. But it occurs to me that if I happen to get a suitable customer for my saffron I may as well settle a bargain to relieve you of your heavy load."

"As you please. But why seek another customer? Why not exchange our precious commodities without getting in a middleman?"

"It is well for you to regard my saffron no more precious than your peppercorns, but I am no fool to be taken in thus. Let us settle a price."

"I have not much experience in evaluating commodities. If you don't fancy my heavy sackful of peppercorns in return for your light wallet of saffron, you may as well look for a great queen to purchase your precious commodity."

This sort of conversation was carried on for a pretty long time, each one of them playing his role perfectly and camouflaging the intonation and uttering the words peculiar to the region adopted by him. There was a good deal of higgling on the part of the Pampur man who lifted the sack of peppercorns to judge its weight. The other man fumbled the outside of the wallet of saffron. "Do you doubt the genuineness of what I carry?" asked he as he tonged his fingers in to draw a pinch of saffron. "Look," he continued, "hast ever seen genuine saffron as this?" And he trotted out like a practiced dealer the Persian adage mushk aan ast ki kbud biboyad na ki atoar bigoyed (fragrance will out and needs no eulogies from the perfumer) .

"Aye, aye! but the wise have cautioned us not to relax against any gundum numa jaw farosh that may be prowling," retaliated the other.

The deal was finally closed and the Pampur man came away with the sackful of peppercorn while the other one was happy with his wallet of saffron. The former retired to a grove of trees and began to examine the contents of his sack. There were round berries of peppercorn genuine enough at the top but beneath that layer there was sheep dung. The worst suspicions of the thug were confirmed, for by an irony of circumstances he had met a fellow of the same trade upon whom he had foisted paddy husk -covered with a thin layer of saffron. "I shall renew my acquaintance with him," he said in the spirit of, "I shall meet thee at Phillipe."

Before long the two tradesmen met at another fair but spoke not a word about their previous transaction. They came to be known as Toh thug and Mengan thug after toh or paddy husk and mengan or sheep dung that each tried to pass on to the other. They tried to play other tricks on each other to establish their individual superiority but not once was either of them caught unawares. In course of time they developed friendship and some affection, for they were fellow townsmen. But being men of the same trade they could not overcome their mutual jealousy and spirit of rivalry.

One day Toh thug called on his friend and found him laid down in bed with fever. The visits were repeated, for Toh thug saw it as his duty to ask after the health of his friend. There was, however, no improvement. Every time he touched the wrist of Mengan thug, he found his heart beating fast. "My end is come," said Mengan thug, "for I have never been so ill, nor for such a long time."

"Don't worry, friend, you will soon get well," consoled the other.

"I know better. The hakim has not been able to diagnose the malady. It is the angel of death that has taken his seat in my pulse."

"Oh! Why do you talk so wild? You must give the physician time to harmonise your rebellious humours."

"I am not a child that you try to console me. I have fallen on evil days besides and have not a pice left for my treatment. What can save me then?"

"Be cheerful, friend, you should not burden your heart with unnecessary anxieties. If you are really hard up why don't you ask me to lend you a helping hand?"

"You know the sort of person I am. I feel really ashamed to stretch my hand for help."

The upshot was that Toh thug passed on to his friend a sum of about two hundred rupees as a loan which the latter gratefully received. But Mengan thug did not get well. His fever continued to rage though his face did not indicate any remarkable trace of emaciation. One fine morning a message came to Toh thug that his friend had passed away. The former was really sorry though it occurred to him that he (the deceased) had met the death deserved by all swindlers. His own deeds appeared to him innocuous in comparison. It also appeared to him that he had lost the amount offered as loan to his ailing friend. That Mengan thug had not shown any traces of grave illness on his face, however, struck him as odd. "For aught I know, it may be a trick to defraud me of my money .... No, he could not have been so bad, peace be to his soul...."

He went to the house of his friend where they were about to dispose of the dead body. To ensure against any tricks Toh thug used unusually hot water to give the body a wash but not a muscle twitched on the naked body of Mengan thug. Ultimately the dead body of the thug was buried and Toh thug was left mourning.

In a couple of days Toh thug was bewildered to learn that the body of Mengan thug had disappeared from the grave. "I know the rascal was pretending all this to defraud me," he said. "He has hurled dust into my eyes and made away with my money. I'm beaten, I must own. Think of it! The feverish pulse and then the stiff carcass." He learnt that Mengan thug had developed a feverish condition with the help of an onion to fake death "I am immature and raw," he said as he carried a note to place in the house of his friend. "You've beaten me outright," the note said.

In a week's time he got back his money.



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