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.
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
wheat flour to a baker there.
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
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?"
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
* * *
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.
you bound for, mother?" said a Muslim to an elderly Hindu lady.
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."
of our sins! But who told you about it?" joined another passenger.
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."
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."
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."
have you seen the monster?"
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."
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.
let us offer our prayers," and the groups broke up.
* * *
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.
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
"I have been
told that in Muniwar it bit the nose and the earlobes of a man."
"Who told you
"I have a friend
who learnt it from his wife's second 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."
the administration do anything to capture it?"
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
"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
be, Shah Hamdan Sahib and Mahakali protect our locality which has been
safe so far."
* * *
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
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.