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 29


Once while Mahadev was sitting amongst his friends who belonged to the same trade as he, the conversation centered on the peculiarities of dress among different people. The Kashmiris never weary of the loose tunic pherans which keep them warm. The people of Jammu, both men and women, have preferred for ages trousers fitting very tight on their legs. These trousers are pretty long and the wrinkles can be made to add grace and give an artistic appearance to the wearer's legs.

The degree of tightness of the trousers was being discussed with some amount of earnestness when somebody hazarded the opinion that no pickpocket could steal a valuable if hidden inside trousers of this kind. Though the general opinion was more or less favourable to such a view, Mahadev's vanity was hurt and he desired the remark to be qualified with an exception in his favour. The company was not prepared to concede it, and thereby provoked Mahadev to contest it hotly.

"The test of your ability, Mahadev," said a veteran comrade, "to pull a thing out of one of the wrinkles of the trousers lies in your hand reaching the object without the wearer being aware of it. Do you say it is possible?"

"Why not?" retorted Mahadev.

The company laughed, and but for his reputation would have ridiculed Mahadev for subscribing to such a view. Mahadev, however, was not put out. He put forth a new theory: "If your hand can't reach the object, what prevents you from pulling the trousers out quietly?"

This was regarded to be equally absurd, considering that the garment is close to the leg almost as another layer of skin. Mahadev was challenged to demonstrate it, for nothing short of that could satisfy his comrades. The test of the operation lay in accomplishing it quietly without disturbing the man wearing it.

"You may, for ought we know, draw it out of a man at the point of the knife," said his comrades.

"How could such a possibility be obviated?" Yes, it flashed across somebody's mind: the ruler himself wore such trousers.

"Mahadev, you will have to prove it by pulling the trousers out of the legs of no less a person than His Highness himself," said they.

Mahadev agreed.

"And the wager?"

"I'll surrender my leadership, shave off my moustaches and pick up a new trade."

They accepted.

Anecdotes of thieves breaking into the palace of a ruling sovereign, though rather rare, are not entirely unheard of; but there is perhaps no instance of a ruler being deprived of his trousers while asleep. It was an impossible task that Mahadev had undertaken; at least some of his comrades felt so and they were looking forward to the day when Mahadev would surrender his leadership on oath and expose himself to the banter of his comrades on the loss of his moustaches. Was it a joke to enter into the bedroom of His Highness while all the guards were alert with their rifles and their bayonets? According to the proverb, even birds are afraid to fly over the residence of a ruler, and who was Mahadev, after all?

Probably even Mahadev himself had no idea of the gravity of the task he had volunteered to accomplish, for he found no key to the problem for several weeks. He eagerly pursued the task as an intellectual rather than a physical problem. His task was particularly difficult because the whole retinue of His Highness consisted of his own clansmen of Jammu and others had no access

to his private chambers. Mahadev was found by his comrades frequenting the surroundings of the palatial residence of the ruler and they would exchange a significant wink as much as to say, "where are you with your boasts?"

There was a long and narrow street which led to one of the palace entrances. Guards and other retainers of the ruler who lived in the servants' quarters of the palace usually passed along this street to and fro, and a few shops had been set up there to meet their requirements. When off their duty, these retainers would usually come to these shops in business, have long-drawn pulls at the narela or the bigger bubble bubble, give their teeth exercise with gram coated with jaggery and exchange gossip. Among these was a class of servants engaged for massaging the body of His Highness, and gently pressing his limbs before he went to sleep.

Members of the unofficial guild to which Mahadev belonged possess sharp intelligence, quick judgement and a well-developed faculty to win the sympathies of most people. By cultivating these retainers on these shops Mahadev stored his sharp mind with the usual trend of events inside the palace: the time His Highness ate or slept or enjoyed the company of his friends; what upset his temper or what humoured him; how he spent his day and his night. He carried a small narela and a pouch of tobacco, and the offer of a pull at its tube would easily draw out of these simple hill people their knowledge of the palace.

The ruler was devoted to his faith in the orthodox fashion. It was soon given out that he was proceeding to the shrine called Khir Bhawani so well-known in Kashmir. This shrine was situated on the bank of a tributary of the river Sindh which joined the Jhelum at Shadipur, twelve miles below Srinagar. His Highness' camp moved to the shrine by houseboats, doongas, etc. He freely gave in charity on this occasion and fed every one who came to his kitchen. Having observed a fast and offered worship on the due date, i.e., the eighth day of the bright fortnight of Jeth, and having exercised his charity to his heart's content, His Highness proceeded down the Sindh towards Srinagar. However, it was usual with him to camp at Shadipur for a few days on his return, and on the occasion to which the story refers, he did not let slip this opportunity for enjoying a little respite from his strenuous duties in the capital.

Mahadev was equally unstinting in showing himself off as a devout follower of his faith and people said that though his means of earning his livelihood were despicable, he seemed to have the heart of a devotee. He fasted on the eighth day at the shrine of Khir Bhawani and even served pudding, milk and fruit to the hungry, and this made something of a stir at the sacred spot. He greeted his acquaintances among His Highness' staff with a smiling face.

The next day his boat also halted at Shadipur. The vast State camping ground was covered with many tents pitched for His Highness over whom the majestic chinars stood guard. The ruler here renewed his acquaintance with many of his subjects of this region who came to pay their respects to him and honoured many others by asking their names and other particulars. His subjects were surprised at his sharp memory, for he remembered the names of many of them and, in several cases, of their fathers too. Of course, there were perfect police arrangements, but he was rather friendly, unassuming and merciful, and his camp never developed the "hush-hush" atmosphere. He gave large sums by way of charity and bakhshees.

Mahadev felt at home among the retainers of the ruler and even he came to the camp to offer his respects. He invited one of them to his boat where meat dishes were cooked, the ruler being a strict vegetarian. The man ate to his heart's content.

It was the duty of this man on this particular day to massage His Highness' limbs and lull him to sleep. Mahadev secured a set of the garments worn by the retainers with a turban dyed in bright yellow saffron colour. Boldly and cleverly Mahadev managed to slip past the sentries in the disguise of a retainer and got into His Highness' tent when the latter was already dozing. He began to press his limbs so tenderly that the ruler did not feel any difference in the hands or their movements. He was soon fast asleep.

The servant whose place Mahadev had taken had had a full repast with his friends. To avoid the envy of his comrades he had kept the invitation and its consummation a secret. But soon his mind became deliciously befogged and before he was aware of it, he fell sound asleep. As no need of his service was felt by His Highness, he continued in the earthly abode of bliss for several hours.

Meanwhile, Mahadev made sure that His Highness was fast asleep and that nobody had suspected his presence there. He quietly unpacked a small piece of a wooden tube and directing one end towards the ankles of the august sleeper, one by one, gently blew into it. Several ants who lay imprisoned inside the tube found a welcome release into the tight fitting trousers of the ruler and gradually made their way into the warm interior. They ran up and down the legs, and who can sleep so sound as not to be disturbed and irritated by such movements? "Damn these misbegotten insects", said the ruler scratching his legs with his toes, "pull out the trousers".

Mahadev, his life in his hands, was waiting for this golden moment. Smoothly and artfully he pulled the trousers off His Highness' legs. The august sleeper was once again soothed and lulled to deep sleep. Being reassured of his safety, Mahadev slipped out with the prize. His Highness changed clothes every day. The servant who had fallen asleep marked the absence of the trousers but did not report the matter to the high-ups lest his absence from duty be brought to light.

Mahadev went triumphantly to his comrades with the prize. His Highness' trousers were identified, and the outstanding leadership of Mahadev was re-affirmed.



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