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 24

The Professional Wedding Guest

They were professional wedding guests, two among dozens of the tribe, and they knew each other as such. In the spirit of the old adage "Two of a trade never agree" they looked askance at each other when meeting in the same dining hall on the occasion of a festive wedding. When the hymeneal season was far off, as in the cold frosty days of winter, they met with a degree of cordiality and talked genially. But in the wedding season even a distant glimpse of the other's face made each of them react with a start and when one confronted the other in a dining hall, "jealousy" was a very mild word to express the reaction in their minds.

The heading of this chapter may appear a little paradoxical or confusing to those who are not "to the manner born." Ordinarily, a man or woman assumes the status of a guest when he or she attends a function in response to an invitation accorded by the host. One can never be a guest on one's own, i.e. unilaterally. The number of guests is usually limited and nobody can be a guest on his own choosing. But Kashmir is a place where the number of guests is never limited, especially on weddings which are celebrated with feasting on a large scale. Over a thousand guests have their dinner on the wedding of even a humble man or woman. Everybody who walks in is entreated to favour the host by participating in the feast and plates full of savoury food are sent round to neighbours, friends and relations. Any one can take advantage of these conditions and assume the status of a guest, and if a person is gifted with some perseverance, he soon blooms into a professional wedding-guest and makes the best of the wedding season.

The professional wedding-guest is generally a bachelor out of necessity. This presupposes a low social and economic level. There is no female living in his house either as mother, sister or daughter, and he has to cook the meals himself. This shortcoming also affects the number and nature of his social contacts. He, therefore, looks forward to the wedding-season as a period of relaxation from the drudgery of cooking. During these days he is raised to the status of the vast majority of fellow citizens who have meals cooked for them by a servant or a female member of the family. He puts on a clean dress of old-fashioned respectability and he steps into the dining hall in solo company. Day after day in that season he dines out wherever his fancy carries him. Though he may feel a slight diffidence while making his debut, in course of time he is galvanized with confidence and the right of prescription. When the dinner is over the hosts compare notes to find out who were missed and they are thus enabled to know who were the `'professional" guests. This gives tacit recognition to his initiation and if anybody so much as raises his eyebrows, he can face the person with perfect nonchalance and even rise to the occasion to make a suitable retort. But the established professional guests resist the entry of every new member into their fraternity even as the poets of the past frowned on every aspiring versifier. The hardened professional guests do not accept the fait accompli till the new entrant establishes his survival beyond any shadow of doubt.

Two professional guests met in the dining hall on the occasion of a wedding when the tastefully decorated hall was occupied by about 150 other guests accompanying the bridegroom to witness his winning the lovely bride. Each of the professional guests shied at the other, though unobtrusively. "What an ill omen! " was the reaction of each of them, "would that I had never stepped in here." But it was too late for retreat which would have amounted to utter route by the enemy and exposing one's identity as a "professional" guest. So each of them decided in a split-second to stay put and to make the best of a bad bargain. By a curious herd-instinct they sat on the floor—all guests in a community dinner of this sort sit on the floor—in rows facing one another and the two "professional" guests would have been seated face to face but for the interposition of two "amateur" guests.

The dinner was being served and the guests relished the fare if one can relish viands prepared at a time for the consumption of nearly a thousand guests. To give utmost satisfaction to the guests the hosts went round requesting people to accept another helping of one course or another. One of the "professional" guests was persuaded to accept an additional helping of rice and cauliflower. The other "professional" guest, the elder of the two, who had missed the opportunity, rued his loss and could not contain himself with jealousy.

He burst out, "Look, sirrah! how much will you gormandize? Won't your belly go burst?"

The other was mentally prepared for an onslaught from his fellow-trader and without in the least minding the environment—the bridegroom, the wedding guests and a legion of hosts' he gave himself away when he retorted, "That leather-bag of your belly has already been stuffed with all that you could lay your dirty hands upon. I take no notice of the ravings of pariah-dogs or uninvited guests like you."

This was a grave provocation and the first was hardly worth his salt if he pocketed this insult. He retaliated befittingly and in fact overshort the mark. The festive dining hall was converted into a fish-market with everybody looking in the direction of the two uninvited guests who gesticulated and exchanged filthy words. The hosts considered this ugly development as an unfavourable omen. The father of the bridegroom concurred and one of them led the two guests by the ear out of the dining hall.

It was a situation never dreamt of by the "professional" guests even in their blackest nightmares. They at once forgot the mutual jealousy and helped each other flee the locality lest they be subjected to further indignity. After being on their feet for ten or fifteen minutes they felt comparatively relieved and could not help apportioning blame for this grave insult.

"Had you not said the foul words . . .," started the younger one to which the first replied, "What though I said a few harmless words? You are none of the babes muting in their cradles...."

But this mutual recrimination did not survive long. Both came to the graver issue of the insult under which each was smarting. They were exposed as uninvited guests: the cuckold is reconciled to his lot ordinarily until he suspects people perceiving his horns; a gossip is happy only till the moment he is sure he has not overreached himself; and an uninvited guest goes about his business with a fund of self-confidence till he feels he has betrayed his identity. It was shocking, no less than the actual insult.

"Being driven out thus by the ear with a thousand eyes looking upon me," said the elder, "think of it, my friend. I have been going about thus for forty years, long before noodles like you started babbling and, I swear, by all that is dear to me, that all through I was respected almost like a son-in-law. Now I see why my left eye was throbbing since early morning. If the earth gaped wide enough I would very much wish to jump in."

The younger one gave him a patient hearing and finally retorted, "I wouldn't talk so if I were you."

"Why, what are you upto after that last licking?"

"I have accepted their challenge and I shall certainly be even with them. I'll have mv retribution."

"Vengeance! retribution! What language is that? Are you raving?"

"I am not raving, but if you follow my ways, you will see how some of them who insulted us will rave."

The younger "professional" guest was thinking ahead of the day as one gifted with imagination does. They had not been turned out by the principal host, the head of the family whose daughter was being married. He was known as a man of peace, tolerance and humility. They were led out under the instructions of a cousin of his who belonged to the nobility and was consequently haughty and clever. The younger "professional" guest knew that he had a brood of children to marry in the course of the next few years and he looked forward with robust optimism to an opportunity for revenge.

They had not long to wait. The news of the betrothal of the nobleman's son with the daughter of another nobleman soon spread out and the wedding was being solemnized the very next year. The bridegroom led the wedding procession from his own house to that of the bride's father. Hundreds of people participated; members of the local gentry, high officers of the State and many others. They had chosen the evening as the propitious time for the weddin', and the illuminations glared to the best erect in the dark. Everything had been done in great eclat and everybody was almost bursting with joy. There was only one minor set-back and that was on account of the weather. In the month of July when the marriage was celebrated the weather is as unsteady as the lovers of yore, and there had been a shower earlier that very day. The hall on the second floor, covered with precious carpets became the venue of the festive wedding-dinner.

The guests took their seats of distinction in accordance with the protocol. Longstanding prescription gave precedence to guests who held high public offices or who were closely related to the bridegroom. The bridegroom's father was, of course, the boss whose every word was law. Having seen to the comforts of his peers he was satisfied and he did not mind the rabble—white-collar clerks, distant relations or humble folk who felt honoured at this invitation. Nor did he notice the presence of the uninvited "professional" guests, "wretches" whom he had driven out of a wedding-dinner one year back.

Once again the dinner was being served. The guests had started tasting the delicious dishes which only the nobility could prepare. They were just in medius res when somebody started from a corner, made hastily towards the entrance and shouted with a touch of pathos, "slack! my pair of shoes" and almost raced down the staircase. Before the guests could really grasp the situation, another man left his row with restrained alarm, shouted louder, "The rascals! they have made away with my pair of shoes. Shoes, sirs, our shoes, thieves are prowling about here," and slunk away.

There was an alarm. Almost every guest felt upset. Who relishes the loss of a pair of shoes? Not even the bravest amongst us can stand walking home bare-foot at the end of a dinner. There was unconcealed panic writ large on the face of every guest and before the mischief could be inquired into or other steps taken to allay panic or suspicion, almost every guest was on his feet making towards the entrance. In this melee what was served for the tongue to relish was crushed under the panicky feet anxiously itching for the familiar kiss of the shoes. The hosts tried their utmost to stem the tide but their heroic endeavours bore no more fruit than seeds in the sand. Confusion, perplexity and despair were now stalking the festive dinner hall.

In another hall was the cynosure of all eyes, the lovely bride who richly deserved the bridegroom. But the news of the stampede came to the guests there with a bang. "What has happened?" "Why are the people fleeting?" "They have not had their dinner Yet" was on everyone's lips. There was panic here too which nobody tried to allay. "What is this foul augury? What sins have we committed? Wherefore the sting of a serpent while reaching my hand for a flower?" shouted the mother of the bride. Wild rumours were being whispered by lovely mouths. "The bridegroom's father has been insulted." "There has been a quarrel between the heads of the two families." "The bridegroom fell in a fit and. "

The carefree hours of a wedding conspiring with the fertile imagination of women resulted in rumours varied, pungent and infectious. The mother of the bride who was the first to faint was loyally followed by several others. The bride herself turned deadly pale but did not lose the presence of her mind out of an inherent courage or modesty. By this time, however, the cause of the unexpected turn the events had taken was fully established, the ladies came to or were restored and the nobleman related how he had dealt with the uninvited "professional" wedding guests earlier.

"True it is," said an old woman, "we can make atonement for misfortunes created of our own, but it is impossible to make atonement for the misfortunes which we suffer on account of the sins of others."



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