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 13

The Upstart

The house of the nobleman wore a festive appearance. In celebration of some important function an invitation to dinner was thrown to many relations and friends. The nobleman was seated in his reception hall, a large room on the ground floor. The walls were painted with arabesques in different colours, green, white, orange and blue-black. The ceiling was in the famous khatumband style. There were several large windows, consisting of beautiful lattice work provided with shutters of wood painted in a fine slate colour.

The windows were mounted with ventilators fitted with glass panes to let the light in when the lattices and shutters were fastened owing to excessive cold as on the present occasion. The room was covered with large carpets in loud colours.

It was pretty cold outside and the guests arrived severally in their warm clothings, pherans with fine shawls or finer pashmina woollen blankets wrapped over. They took their seats on the carpet squatting in accordance with the importance of their social position or their proximity to the host in relationship. They shared the class tie, for most of them were landholders or state employees, and of course, they drew strength from one another. The face of the host reflected satisfaction as guest after guest arrived to take his seat. Ladies were being seated in a separate room in keeping with the age-old tradition. Conversation was warm and cheering.

There was a feeling of slight embarrassment on the face of the host on the arrival of one guest. He was neither a member of the elite social circle to which the host belonged nor a relation. He owed the invitation to his office, for he was an assistant accountant in the district collectorate. He had a humble start as a private tutor to the children of the naib-tehsildar, and an unpaid apprentice in his court till by gradual steps he had attained this position. He was looked upon as some sort of an upstart by the families of the landholders, but was tolerated because of his utility in remissions of arrears of rent. This official was handsome and intelligent and was convinced of the contribution of a befitting apparel to one's personality. He was therefore, always well-dressed, in fact dressed a little above his position according to the sartorial standards of the time. Those others whose shoulders he aspired to rub socially felt it an encroachment on their privileges and looked askance upon him. When he came dressed in a white pheran and a fine blanket into the gathering of the hierarchy it was regarded by the latter as if he were carrying war into their very camp, for his dress appeared no whit inferior to that of the "blue-blooded." The host in his exalted position felt as if the upstart was making an attempt to beard him in his own den. There was naturally a scowl on his face when the official arrived but it lasted a brief while as he camouflaged his feelings at once.

It was a challenge which he was determined to meet there and then. He excused himself on some pretext to an adjoining room and sent for his trusted servant and steward. The two were closeted together for quite a few minutes while the guests outside regaled themselves with the brew of Ladakhi brick tea, a speciality of respectable and well-to-do families.

The host joined them soon after. Hubble bubbles moved from one guest to another, conversation centred round land, clever or lazy peasants, rent, the tehsildar and the collector. The gunfire from the Hari Parbat Fort announced the dinner to be served. There was, of course, fine basmati rice served with a number of courses in meat: roganjosh, kabab or mincemeat, meat-curry cooked with turnips. The host went round from guest to guest inquiring after their pleasure and keeping up the conversation. He showered special attention on the assistant accountant at whose back the steward had taken his seat.

The conversation touched the early school days of the guests who, one by one, vividly recalled their maktabs in the house of the teacher and the instruments of punishment—the mulberry switch, and the rope hanging from the ceiling to suspend the recalcitrants in the inverted pose. One of them told the audience how he had once been made to lie naked on the bed covered with the prickly weed and was thrashed liberally with the same weed for the offense of taking a bath in the river. Another explained how as the monitor he was asked by the teacher to stamp the legs of the boys with his own stamp to prevent their taking a bath and how he (the monitor) was himself discovered by the teacher swimming in the river. They, however, expressed gratitude to the ancient school where they got a grounding in Persian and quoted liberally from Gulistan, Bostan and other classics. They were meanwhile kept busy with pilau with which pickles of cabbage and radish were served. The last course consisted of kabargah which when consumed prepared the guests for washing their hands. Two servants went round, one with a jug of warm water and another with a basin to help the guests to clean their hands.

Those who cleaned their hands took their pherans and wrapped their shawls or blankets. When the turn came for the assistant accountant to do so he was bewildered to find his pheran clipped to shreds with a pair of scissors.

"Who is responsible for the foul deed?" he shouted. There was a silence as every one of the guests turned his attention to the victim.

"What foul deed?" said the host.

"Who has heard of respectable guests being exposed to such villainy in the house of the host?" shouted the guest.

"No respectable guest has been touched," answered the host, thus clearly holding a clue to the mystery. "And" he continued, "as to the garment that has suffered thus, I am convinced that it must be grateful to the scissors for having been relieved of the unpleasant association with that body, for who has heard of petty officials making themselves insolent and odd in the presence of respectable gentlemen claiming nobility in birth for hundreds of years? Who indeed has seen a humble clerk dressed in pashmina?"

"Are you referring to my dress?" asked the guest. "If you mistake it for pashmina," he continued, "you are deceived. I am a wage earner subject to rigours of hard work. Mine is not the soft pashmina, the garb of the elite. You could have spared yourself all this labour. The stuff is a mixture of cotton and coarse wool, though it is well calendered and soft. Why did you not satisfy yourself before having my pheran torn to shreds?"

There was confusion among the guests but the host was heard repeating the words: "The upstart will learn to keep his place. Somebody has misled him into giving himself airs...."



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