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 18

Counting Ripples

Every community has its predilections and prepossessions. The American businessman is preoccupied with the interest on his investments. The retired British soldier bores his club-mates with anecdotes of his years in active service. Waking or asleep, the Japanese manufacturer can never divert his attention from how to lower costs of production and capture foreign markets. The Indian peasant talks tirelessly not so much of his wife and children as of his lands, his bullocks, his landlord and the money-lender. The average Kashmiri of the past, on the other hand, regarded government service in whatsoever capacity as the choicest profession. Times have changed considerably since the age to which the following tale belongs and the new breezes have blown lofty ambitions into the minds of men and women; nevertheless, many Kashmiris still love to picture themselves living in an atmosphere of grade promotions, privilege leave, clerical mischief and executive authority.

Several generations ago there was a young man of a respectable family. In those good old days it was not necessary for all male members of a family to earn their living. This particular young man, therefore, spared himself the discomfort of burning midnight oil in pouring over his books or the toil of apprenticeship in a profession. His family had inherited enough land for sustenance and with a "devil-take-the-rest" air he felt that rudimentary literacy was enough for his purpose. Nor did he have any occasion to resent his choice.

In course of time he grew maturer in the fullness of experience. He realized that though government employment carried very little by way of salaries or emoluments it carried a great deal of prestige. People spoke to a government employee much more respectfully than to one outside the pale of that privileged circle, and with a little cleverness even the humblest of such employees could earn a good deal without doing any serious harm to anybody. This young man, therefore, made up his mind to seek government employment not so much to make money as to command greater respect, to cut, as it were, a figure in public who would say, "Here goes who wields considerable authority."

While he had come to this conclusion independently, an incident occurred just about that time which in his view made it imperative for him to seek employment under the government. It appeared that his wife picked up a quarrel with a neighbour whose husband was an accounts officer. This lady taunted her adversary with the words that while her husband was a do-nothing drone she was the wife of a respectable and trusted officer of the government and added that she would realize the consequences of being discourteous to her when her husband (the officer) would set into motion the machinery of law and justice against her.

Pompous words these! But the smaller wheels of law and justice somehow got into motion and on several occasions her husband was asked to depose evidence or to explain matters and it squared ill with his own notions of self-respect. To secure a post in the State administration, therefore, became his greatest concern.

Having thus made up his mind he set about currying favour with the high-ups of the time. In those days of autocratic rule the modern practice of looking into budget provisions and securing financial concurrence was entirely unknown and the ruler, or his viceroy, could confer any office on anybody or give the sack even to the highest minister. But most rulers were conservative and therefore slow in accepting suits for offices. This young man made use of a number of agencies with this end in view and when at last he was able to make his request known to the ruler, the latter appeared to him to be unreasonably strict. What he could gather was that there was no post to which he could be appointed.

He waited and renewed his prayer to the head of the provincial administration, but with no better prospect. Meanwhile, both he and his wife were burning with the feeling of humiliation which had been heaped upon their heads by their neighbour.The cold sighs of his wife were unbearable to him but obviously there was no help. At last he approached the high-ups once again and explained that his intention was not to secure necessarily a lucrative job; all that he wanted, he elucidated, was to command greater prestige and respect and that he would be satisfied even with a post that carried no salary. The authorities who wanted to satisfy this young man were well pleased with his offer to work without a salary. He had, however, little experience of working in offices and it was found desirable to entrust him with a task where he would not be in a position to interfere with the working of other government agencies. They gave some thought to the problem but could come to no definite conclusion. The young man renewed his suit and offered to do anything, even "to count ripples on the surface of the river" if he had the patronage of the government. They jumped at the suggestion and at last the young man was offered a situation: his duty was to count ripples. He welcomed this opportunity of gaining a foothold in the world of officialdom and was well-satisfied for his pains.

When the offer was first made it was done with the intention of filling his mind with disgust. Who had ever heard of any gainful employment which comprised counting ripples? And yet so eager was the seeker that he welcomed the offer. The nature of his employment did not seem to dampen his enthusiasm even though wags made fun of the nature of "august duties" entrusted to him. They roared with laughter. "We have heard of star gazers," they admitted, "but 'counting ripples' is an addition to the tasks of a civil government." Among those who made ironical references to the new officer was his neighbour of the accounts office.

Despite all this the young man assumed his duties seriously. Armed with a warrant of appointment bearing the royal seal and equipped with a ledger and an encased pen-tray-cum-inks/and (qalamdan) he posted himself in a doonga. In those good old days the only conveyances on the roads were the pony or the palanquin. Those who make use of cars or tongas today had their own shikaras and the river was the main thoroughfare of traffic. The young man, therefore. moored his boat near a bridge at the busiest centre of this traffic, and he began to "count ripples."

In a few days this news spread all over the valley. His business of "counting ripples" was wildly talked of and People were left guessing as to the purpose behind it. Meanwhile, the particular official felt his stock rising and began to command greater respect. His wife at home regarded herself as respectable as her neighbour. To this extent the mission of securing government employment was fruitful. He recorded his observations in his books in the manner of all clerks. But his ingenuity encouraged him to extend his authority to fields about which his charter of appointment was silent. He urged all boatmen to propel slowly without "disturbing the ripples." This was something which they had never learnt all their lives, and they propitiated him, for obviously he could get the movements of their boats stopped for quite some time on the pretext of recording correct observations. Soon he found that though his post carried no salary he was no loser. In fact, he made a tight little sum every month and thanked the stars that made him "count ripples."

Then came his turn to flaunt his official authority in the face of his overweening neighbour.The latter was proceeding along with his wife and children in a shikara to participate in a wedding. They were dressed in their finest and the "counter of ripples" got a brain wave to pay them in their own coin. When this particular shikara was within hailing distance of the bridge, he had it stopped.

"What is the trouble?" the accounts officer puckered his brow.

"Nothing much," replied the other, "only that I want to discharge my duties correctly."

He started counting ripples and recording his counts; recounting, checking and rechecking. He took a really long time and yet his urgent government duty was not over. He could not allow any boat to move and the wedding guests were hard put to it. Time was galloping fast for the accounts officer, for both he and his wife had to attend to important ceremonials at the wedding.

Equally important, however, was it for the other officer to make correct observations and the nature of his duties would not brook the least disturbance of the surface of water! The wedding guest here beat his breast. Ultimately, however, he saw into the whole business of counting ripples at that particular moment. Both he and his wife took leave of their vanity, made up their differences with their neighbour and lived at peace with the "counter of ripples."



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