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 15

The Merciful Burglar

---- was well-known in the gentry of the country. He belonged to an ancient family of repute who claimed many cars in their lineage - kardars, chakaldars, tehsildars and what not. Of course, he himself was a prominent zamindar owning many khirwars of paddy land. He was naturally referred to respectfully as "the Pandit," or "Pandit Saheb" among those associated with him in different capacities. It was believed that wealth earned during several generations in his family lay hidden in the underground cellars in his house. He had immense credit throughout the country among the businessmen as well as the populace. He maintained and even excelled the traditions of his ancestors in the observance of all formalities and spent lavishly on such festivals as the Shivaratri, the new year's day and the shradha ceremonies of his parents.

The Pandit did not hold any public appointment at the time to which this narrative refers. In fact he had been waiting for several years for the chance of securing such an appointment through the good offices of his friends. He had been deprived of an important position by the previous governor not because he had in any way failed to discharge his duties and obligations properly but because one of his cousins had out of envy and malice hatched a plot against the Pandit and he was cashiered out, much to his chagrin. He had already covered some ground in rehabilitating himself in the good opinion of the new governor and felt satisfied with his progress.

His financial position was by no means enviable in spite of what his cousins said—that he had enriched himself with the wealth of Kuvera during the tenure of his office. Land was the only source of his income now and agricultural produce was worth little in the market. In the absence of any settled land policy in the State cultivators by no means felt attracted towards the "good earth." A man took to agriculture only when he had no other source of livelihood, and more often than not he gave up farming as he could not spare out of his meagre earnings enough money to pay his rent. A cultivator had to discharge other obligations towards the landlord besides paying the usual rent.

After having lost the official patronage the Pandit did not reduce the lavish expenditure of his household. He felt that it would go against the traditions of his family established by his illustrious forefathers. He was also afraid that such a step would prejudice his credit in the country. He maintained a retinue of servants and maids some of whom had been in his service for decades, and there was the usual stable: ponies with their grooms and cows with their milkmen.

This scale of expenditure was in no way compatible with his present means and the Pandit was not a little worried on this account. He had been postponing the solemnization of his daughter's wedding on the pretext that the stars were not propitious for such an undertaking. But he was not unaware of the whispers of a rumour set afloat by his cousins that the postponement was due to his insolvency. This was a serious matter as far as he was concerned, for these rumours were more piercing than shafts of steel, and he was much upset on this account.

Misfortunes never come alone. In the wake of all these troubles came one day the astounding discovery that one of his servants in whom he reposed considerable trust had forsaken him and taken service with the person he dreaded most, i.e. his cousin. Along with the servant went all the domestic secrets naturally, and this was the worst of it. The domestic had broadcast that he no longer wanted to burden a man moving about on his crutches. This was, therefore, the reason why the wedding of his daughter could not be postponed further. One night along with his wife he was ransacking the secret chambers holding their valuables when she fell down with a shriek, somebody had stolen into these chambers and made away with many valuable ornaments. The Pandit, therefore, went over the accounts of income and expenditure for the last several years and cursed his negligence which had suffered the servant above referred to and possibly his accomplices too, to defraud him systematically. His efforts to have the servant brought to book resulted in his receiving threats from the ungrateful wretch, threats of dire consequences. As the servant was guided by his cousin, and the latter never lost a chance in trying to do him down, the Pandit considered it expedient not to press the matter further for the time being.

The cousin was not satisfied with the success of his plans in bringing about the downfall of the Pandit. Nothing would give him (the cousin) greater pleasure than to raze him to the ground completely. He gladly accepted the suggestion of the erstwhile servant of the Pandit that a clever burglar be egged on to subject the house of the enemy to his depredations, and their choice fell on Layuq, the captain of thieves. Armed with the directions about the interior of the house, the underground cellars and the types of locks used, Layuq set about his task with circumspection and thoroughness for which he was known and dreaded.

The residence of the Pandit was built in the mediaeval style on the pattern of a square. The three-storeyed house built on all the four sides enclosed a space several hundred yards in area. There was one main entrance which led to the interior of this citadel, but, in addition, there were two or three inlets used by the domestics. When the situation of law and order in the country was not quite normal, all the entrances were well guarded; peaceful times, however, admitted of some relaxation in these and other matters.

One night when the Pandit repaired as usual to his bedroom for repose his wife expressed her anxiety on the postponement of their daughter's wedding. The Pandit was usually a man of fortitude and forbearance and would not worry his wife with their deteriorating financial condition. On this occasion, however, he felt that he should reveal the real position to her and gave her an account of the various machinations of his enemies chief among whom was his cousin, who brought about his ruin.

"I have been facing odds with a heart of steel," said he to her, "and have consistently avoided every chance that might give you even a glimpse of the fearful chasm on the brink of which we perilously stand. Who would not like to discharge his obligations towards his children? I should have solemnized the wedding of our daughter several years back if I had the wherewithal for the purpose. The last blow has been the villainous act of the ungrateful servant who, false to his salt, not only left our service but robbed us of valuables worth a good deal and must have betrayed our secrets to the very enemy who brought about my downfall."

"But," retorted his wife, "why have you been holding these secrets away from me? If I deserve to enjoy your prosperity, am I not worthy of sharing with you the sorrows that befall the family? We have no doubt fallen on lean days, but you could dispose of what remains of the jewellery given to me by my father to meet the expenses of the wedding."

"That, dear, is exactly what I don't propose to do. We have fallen on very bad times, but we have still some credit in the country which I don't want to strain further. In fact it is very painful for me to keep up the presence of living according to the traditions of my illustrious ancestors. But the moment it is known outside how miserable we are, there will be no end to difficulties and troubles for us. Those who speak to us respectfully will assume insulting attitudes, and those who sue the hand of our daughter in marriage will spurn it if and when offered. The governor, who seems to be favourably inclined towards me and to whom I am looking for gainful patronage will dismiss such an idea from his mind. Above all, our cousin will make merry to see us exposed thus. Therefore, dear lady, it is not feasible to dispose of any of our scanty valuables to meet our expenses and thus strike at the roots of the prestige and credit that we still enjoy.... "

The Pandit gave an account of his troubles to his spouse in such a pathetic tone that she wondered if she could have, knowing all this, been able to stand the mental strain. On this occasion, however, she broke down and wept bitterly and cursed her stars that by a hostile concatenation had conspired to ruin them just on the eve of the wedding of their daughter. "The nose of our respectability is cut, thanks to our cousins whose thirst for vengeance upon us will not be slaked till they see us utterly ruined... hic... hic... hic...."

Her lord tried to console her but even he realized that for a number of years his affairs had been going from bad to worse without a single exception whereas all the blows aimed at him by his cousin were effective. So far he had never allowed his anxieties and woe to have the upper hand over his reserve, fortitude and manliness. But the proximity of his wife had a softening influence over him; his emotions ran riot inside him and considering himself sheltered from prying eyes, he also broke down.

But they were not alone actually. Adjacent to their bedroom was the strong room where they kept their valuables, and the insidious Layuq was already lodged there, egged on by the agents of the Pandit's cousin. He knew the Pandit for a man of considerable strength of mind. He had been given exaggerated accounts of his wealth by the agents of his cousin and in his view all was grist that came to his mill. But he was the unobserved spectator of a scene which none else would have the opportunity of knowing at first hand and he could see that it was not dressed up for his sake. He regretted that he should have undertaken the adventure on the wrong and misleading advice of malicious persons. He waited for some time till the lord and lady of the house were fast asleep, and slinked away as quietly and mysteriously as he had entered.

The cousin of the Pandit expected to add another feather to his glory by having his house swept clean of valuables and other ancestral property. Though the thing had not happened, he expected the good news to come the next morning. What actually took place was in astounding contrast to his expectation. The next morning he found that all his chests were rifled and that his house was despoiled of the valuables. They could not easily compute the extent of the loss suffered.

The same morning the Pandit found in his bedroom a small compact bag which he had never seen before. He examined its contents in the presence of his wife and they were surprised to find in it valuables worth thousands. Along with it was a sort of a cipher code which was not easily intelligible.

When deciphered the message read, "Layuq is not a mere burglar. He has a heart!"



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