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 28

Telltale Narration

As a lawyer's clerk in a district town he came into contact with all sorts of people: big landholders and petty tenants, shopkeepers and businessmen, judicial officers and public men, and he knew practically all their innermost secrets. It pleased him to relate to those who collected in his study at home, anecdotes about men and their affairs which he learnt in his professional capacity. Of course, he never mentioned names but his narratives were all the more interesting in spite of that because he was an unconscious artist in story-telling. But he was at his best when he related a Story of his own creation. In that process the limitations of the three dimensional world ceased to stand in his way and time and space could dissolve at his bidding. He was a child, pure and simple, and was so absorbed in the child's play of his fancy that people really envied him. While he was narrating a tale, usually with himself as the central figure, scepticism disappeared.

It was not easy to provoke him to start his pet hare. But one Sunday when he was at perfect leisure he was in a favourable state of mind to regale his friends with "laughter holding both his sides." He would be drawn out by a simple statement made deliberately but with all innocence.

"Saw son of the other day. Though so young, he was galloping with the speed of wind." This would come almost as a red rag to the bull and the lawyer's clerk would not stand it. '`Tush, tush!" he would say, "don't talk in hyperboles. I can know a good horseman from bad. Must I tell you what it is to gallop with the speed of wind? Listen." The child set about building castles in the air.

"Many years ago when I was a younger man, my boy attended the school. The teacher introduced a new book and asked the boys to do certain sums from it. The boy asked me to get him the book but it was not available locally. I said I would go to Srinagar and get it. I was extremely busy and could not keep my promise. Then one morning the boy came to me at about eight and began sobbing, 'The teacher will beat me black and blue if I don't show him the sums.' I could stand his sobbing no longer. My pony was saddled in a moment and off I galloped in the direction of Srinagar. Towns and villages flitted by in a few moments and I was duly in Srinagar. At Amirakadal I met an old friend with whom I talked for a couple of minutes and shared a cigarette. Getting the book from the book-seller I galloped on my return without wasting time anywhere. Back here I gave the boy his book. You may be sure that he did the sums and trotted to his school in time. His teacher was highly pleased with him for he was the only boy to have got the book and done the sums."

Being gay in mood and light in spirit the hero took his associates into confidence and related another adventure.

"I had gone to a village in the foot hills. Dense and dark forests abound in the vicinity. One night we heard an unusual sound. It was the whining of the fox. In that part of the country it is an alarming signal, for it means that the leopard is stalking in its wake. Sure as anything there was a panic as cottage after village cottage shouted that the cattle were in danger. Before they could take all measures about the safety of their cattle, the wild beast had already claimed one or two victims. The household where I was staying was still fumbling and hesitant about the steps to be taken to safeguard their cattle. But the royal beast was on the spot. They were too late. Many of them were funky. They cried or shouted. It was a strange spectacle of spinelessness.

"I was perhaps the only one who was not unnerved. I foresaw that the cattleshed would come in for the special attention of the beast. I took my position near the entrance to the shed, the trunk of a tree providing me cover. The leopard was in the attempt of pushing open the door of the shed when I sprang up from behind my cover, was astride its back and grasped its ears even before it was aware of what had happened. I twisted, tweaked and twitched its ears with such vigour that it turned its head away from the shed even as the elephant responds to the spike of the mahout. The leopard was soon turned into a cousin of the lamb. The onlookers who were taken by surprise came rushing with ropes and chains. A halter was put round the jaws and head of the leopard, its legs were bound in chains and ultimately the leopard became an inmate of the zoo in Srinagar."

But another exploit of the man beats all else in its originality and boldness of conception. In handling this theme all accepted conventions, scientific laws and propriety have been thrown to the winds. Here is the narrative in brief.

"I was strolling along the road early one morning when I saw a car coming in the distance. In a minute or so I realized that it was the Maharaja's car and when it came close to me, sure enough it stopped. Even before I could salute the Maharaja he had recognized me and asked the chauffeur to apply the brake. He betokened me to get in and the car ran once again at full speed. We talked informally as usual and I learnt that the Maharaja was being awaited by several friends in his favourite game-preserve. He invited me to keep him company in a bear hunt. I gave my assent.

"I had never handled a rifle so far but I had confidence in my ability to pick up the fundamentals of the art the moment I was confronted with the situation. When we reached the shooting lodge I at once grasped a rifle without in the least betraying my ignorance which the Maharaja never suspected. The shikaris had already chalked out the plans for us. We went deeper into the forest, and were surrounded by lofty grass and undergrowth. Various members of the party went in different directions but I kept close to the Maharaja. In an hour or so we detected traces of bears and before we could really expect them they were already upon us. The beaters, the shikaris, the aides and the Maharaja all got into frantic activity. They took position under cover and some of them betrayed nervousness. At last the Maharaja fired. The bullet missed the aim, for by that time the two bears had shifted their positions. The shikaris and the aides were excited now because of the concern they felt for the Maharaja. I felt that unless I took a careful aim, the situation might get out of hand. Taking cover behind a stone I fired in the name of the Almighty. Two bullets whizzed at once out of the double-barrel gun. For some distance the twin bullets kept pace together. Getting close to the bears the two bullets bifurcated and penetrated the hearts of the two bears. In a few moments the bears collapsed even before my eyes and I emerged as a hunter. 'Thank you,' said the Maharaj a. 'Glory be to your Highness,' I replied. . . "

* * *

The headman was an institution of hoary antiquity in the Indian village set-up. He commanded high prestige in the village and he was the liaison between the administration and the people. His duties included communication of intelligence of an extraordinary nature and realization of land tax.

Because the headman served as a liaison and enjoyed the support of the administration he commanded obedience from the common people. Nobody dared disobey him and sometimes when he merely raised his eyebrows it was taken as an admonition by the simpler among the villagers. But it was not always roses. Occasionally he found it difficult to realize land revenue from the villagers and then the tehsildar took him to task. If he was haughty and vain he usually made an example of the headman. Indignities were loaded upon him.

Once upon a time the tehsildar called the headman of a village to the headquarters. In Kashmir the State also undertook to supply rations in paddy to the citizens of Srinagar at fixed rates. For this purpose it imposed upon the cultivators a levy in grains which the tehsildar and finally the headman collected from them. That year resulted in a drought and the people of the city became panicky owing to the poor harvest. They raised a hue and cry and the State administration, fearing the British Resident, set its machinery into motion to collect the levy. To allay the panic tehsildars were directed to. collect the levy much ahead of the usual schedule.

At the tehsil headquarters the village headman represented the difficulties of the cultivators. Their harvest was poor and they could not part with the grains because they were afraid their own families would starve. They looked to the State to come to their aid in that lean period. All these were common grievances but the headman of the village above referred to was the first to ventilate them. Other headmen who had also been summoned endorsed these views and the tehsildar felt himself landed in a mess. But he was bold and sagacious. He did not want to punish everybody. He decided to make an example of the first headman and thus to overawe everyone else. He had the turban taken off the headman and dismantled. Under his orders the headman was caned and finally he was dragged by the feet on the earth for nearly twenty yards. These usual weapons in the armoury of petty administrators overawed the headmen.

The headman who had thus been subjected to these grave indignities left for his village. The news of the rough treatment he had received had already reached the village and the villagers were touched by the stout courage with which he had stood for their point of view. Many of them came to him to express their sympathy with him. The gathering was tense with a good deal of resentment against the tehsildar. But the headman had not lost his sense of humour. When one of his sympathizers said, "We are grieved to learn, sir, that the inhuman tehsildar put you to indignity," he replied:

"Indignity! indignity to the devil. Not the least of it."

"Respected sir," said another, "we are shocked to learn that your turban was demolished."

"Utterly incorrect. Who told you it was so? Do you think I would leave them alive? It was only a turn or two of the turban that they undid."

The villagers were surprised at this complacence on the part of the headman. Another man put the next question to him.

"Is it a fact, sir, that they caned you?"

"Caned!" replied the headman. "Who the devil? What rumours some people spread and others believe! They no more could cane me than count the stars in the day. All that happened was that I received just one or two lashes and they were as light as the touch of Now ers."

"Mr. headman, did they drag you by the feet on the earth?"

"Not at all, not at all. Dragging me by the feet! Think of it. Not even their grandfathers could dare to do so. Do you take your headman to be so cheap? It was only over two or three yards that I was made to slip!"

The dense clouds of tension had already lifted and now the whole company burst into laughter. "By God," said the villagers to the headman, "you are a rare gem."



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