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
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
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
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
will out and needs no eulogies from the perfumer) .
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."
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
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
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."
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
"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?"
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."
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
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
Ultimately the dead body of the thug was buried and Toh thug was
In a couple
of days Toh thug was bewildered to learn that the body of Mengan
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.