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 22

The Hydra-Headed

It was a hot summer's day and the sun was shining bright in a blue sky. The people in the village had already done a good deal of the day's work and yet the morning was not really past. They could judge by the position of the sun that the hour for the mid-day prayer was yet far off. Presently a man trotted into the little village market on his pony covered with a pack-saddle. His own hamlet was a couple of miles distant yet. But he stopped at the shop of a friendly shopkeeper, letting his pony free for a little while to browse on whatever it could in the nearby camping ground. He himself began to eat a loaf of bread got from the shopkeeper. There were other men sitting on the shop-front, smoking.

"Yes, what is the news from the city today?" said one of them to him. The man had obviously returned from the city on his pony, having sold a khirwar of wheat flour to a baker there.

"Things are pretty bad over there in the city," he replied. "Is it some epidemic that has raised its head or some drive for begar?"

"It is neither of these, but something more dreadful. The city has been invaded by a mysterious monster."

By this time more villagers gathered round the speaker and he related what he had learnt in the city. A monster had been found prowling about at night which played havoc among peaceful citizens. It lifted babies off their mothers' laps, tore men's eyes and women's limbs. The whole city was panicky and nothing had been found possible to give people protection against the monster.

"And what is the monster like?" asked a young man.

"Look at this offspring of a fool! Did I not say that it is mysterious and works in the darkness of the night?"

The villagers were left in bewilderment as the traveller from the city resumed his journey home. The only guess they could hazard was that the monster might be an instrument of justice sent by God to punish the sinners who were increasing in number.

* * *

The boat was moored to the landing site at Rainawari. It was packed to capacity with passengers, men and women, who shouted at the boatman to push off. But he was unmindful. In another ten minutes he got three more passengers, accommodated them inside somehow, lifted his long pole and pushed off. The passengers felt some relief now and relaxed mentally.

"Where are you bound for, mother?" said a Muslim to an elderly Hindu lady.

"Worthy son," she replied, "I am going to Ganpatyar. The daughter of a cousin of mine who lives there, I am told, has been wounded by this monster. Once I heard it I could find no peace nor rest."

"The fruit of our sins! But who told you about it?" joined another passenger.

"A neighbour of mine had been to a place nearby at Ganpatyar which had suffered a visitation of the monster. My relation does not live very far from the place, naturally I was filled with fears and misgivings."

"What evil times have we all fallen upon!" said another passenger. "A cousin of my brother-in-law met a friend from Sowra who told him that the monster had appeared in that locality also and wounded a woman. When an alarm was raised it had disappeared."

"Brethren, what shall I tell you!" said a white-bearded man. "Thanks be to God Almighty that we in Rainawari have been spared this punishment. Yesterday a man came to us from Zainakadal who said that several women and children had been dragged out of their beds and left with pads of flesh missing. He had heard a religious preceptor say that this menace was bound to grow for several months according to the indications of the stars."

"Is it a fact that it lives under water?"

"That is what they say, but who can be sure? Nobody has seen it coming out, not even the boatmen who always live on water."

* * *

The same evening, scores of Hindus had assembled as usual in the temple hall at Ganpatyar for their evening prayers. Before prayer-time, however, they exchanged the day's gossip.

"Did you not hear it? They say that the monster entered a house at Rainawari through the skylight in the roof. The mistress of the house was sleeping on the second floor. It tore her breasts before she could wake up. She shrieked. Others woke up and seized tongs, sticks, smoking pipes and even ladles. They struck doors, windows, utensils and boxes so as to frighten the monster away with the rattling sound."

"And you should know that another man was sleeping under the shade of a tree not far from the river near Chhatabal yesterday. The monster chopped away his big toe and left him lamenting. A man who came to our office from Chhatabal told us the story."

"Did he see the man deprived of his big toe?"

"No, not he himself. It was his uncle who told him about it and the latter had gathered the information from his brother-in-law."

"Brothers, have you seen the monster?"

"How could we see it? It has not made its appearance in this locality. But they say it has its abode in water and resembles a monkey in all respects except that it has several heads like Ravana."

"This locality is under the benign influence of Lord Ganesha and no harm will come to us as long as we are sincere in our worship," said an elderly man as he got up to sound the gong for evening prayers.

"Come, brothers, let us offer our prayers," and the groups broke up.

* * *

Zainakadal was for long considered to be the stormcentre of gossipers and rumour-mongers. It was believed that on the flimsy foundation of dropping his spittle into the river a Zainakadal gossip could create quite a stir throughout the city. With the wild-fire of reports pouring in about the depredations of the monster all round the place Zainakadal gossips made their own contribution to the main theme. Groups of people were standing on the bridge that same evening, each of them pregnant with news.

"The cousin of my father's brother-in-law reported this morning that the Zaindar Mohalla locality suffered last night from the depredations of the monster. Two babies have been torn limb from limb while their mothers had been tackled first."

"I have been told that in Muniwar it bit the nose and the earlobes of a man."

"Who told you so?"

"I have a friend who learnt it from his wife's second cousin." ~

"My cousin knows a shikari who had gone to the forests beyond Shopyan with an Englishman. This Englishman showed him a strange animal with several heads in a lake in those mountains. He says it is the same monster who has come down to the city, but it is that very Englishman who could capture or kill it."

"Why doesn't the administration do anything to capture it?"

"They have asked the police to patrol but they have so far failed. It is said that the Resident has asked the Viceroy to send that very Englishman who saw it first."

"May be it is this very Englishman who got it to the city to trouble us. They want to take Kashmir and will do so by showing that the Maharaja is weak and inefficient."

"Whatever it be, Shah Hamdan Sahib and Mahakali protect our locality which has been safe so far."

* * *

Every house, every street and every locality was bursting with reports about the monster. Old ladies exchanged experiences of their childhood while talking about the monster and school boys recalled the tales of jinns and dragons they had read. The currency of reports was so astounding that even young men found it difficult to disbelieve. The sceptics appeared to have gone underground. There was panic everywhere, especially among women and children. Even in hot summer people slept inside their rooms with windows and doors closed and bolted.

One day a young woman was sitting by the window late at night waiting for her husband. The day's heavy work induced sleep over her and she fell adoring. The monster took advantage of the loneliness of the lady and advanced its paws to molest her beautiful face and her earlobes. But fortunately the lady woke up at once before anything serious could happen and an alarm was raised in the neighbourhood. A babel of noises, "the monster is here," "the monster is there," "the monster has stalked this way," "it has hopped over the roof," "beware brethren," "take care sisters," together with the rattling and drumming of wooden windows was heard everywhere. People rushed to their roofs and strained their lungs and throats in warning fellow-citizens all round. A few had whistles while many used their conches to good effect. From the neighbouring mosque the gong was struck while a bugle came handy on this occasion to a young lad who had secured it.

The whole city was thus roused up to excitement and panic. Before long the police and magistrates were on the spot. To their inquiries about the monster they were told "it came this way," "it went in this direction," "it sprang over the wall here." .... But none of these statements could stand even a single cross-question. The whole neighbourhood was ransacked but not a trace of anything abnormal could be detected. Judicial inquiry into the matter came to the conclusion that it was all due to excited imagination. The immediate cause was that the golden ornament hanging by a chord from the lady's ears got momentarily caught up in the iron hook on which the window turned and exercised a pull on the earlobe.

The next day an inquiry was held in all the reported causes of molestation by the monster: of breasts torn, noses chopped and big toes lopped off. None of them could be traced. Finally, swimmers and divers were put into the river and the adjoining streams who kept stroke to the beating of drums and the blare of bugles. Thousands of people saw them struggling with the element so dear to the monster and felt reassured.

Thus was the hydra-headed monster exorcised away.



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