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 3

Just a Nickname

When all is said and done a nickname is a name, a concrete appellation standing like an unshakable rock in an angry ocean which demolishes and engulfs reputations. Think of such names as William Rufus or Single Speech Hamilton! The nickname enables us not only to pin-point the particular man from among the billions of the dead but also unrolls for our perusal the whole record of his character. What a great boon it, therefore, is for the unknowing!

Nicknames have had a glorious career in Kashmir. They were invented and applied owing to an inherent necessity of spotting out men and women, or families. With the exception of a few cases what are family names today were but nicknames once. These nicknames have gradually come into their own and attained respectability quite at par with the original family surnames. Surnames like Trambhu (meaning pock marked), Braru (a cat), Dand (a bull), Tak (an earthenware plate), Alma (unbaked), Kotru (pigeon), Kantru (a male sparrow), Khar (an ass), are proudly professed by hundreds of families today. The list could be multiplied a thousand fold. Human deformities like Loung (lame), Shanglu (with six fingers), Kana (with a deformed ear) give rise to many family names today, while other bodily characteristics are responsible for many more like Mota (corpulent one), Nika (a slender one) Chhot (a pygmy), Dandan (one with teeth dropped), Khosa (a beardless one), Khor (one with scabies). These families are regarded to be as proud and good as any, and yet nicknames have made many a person miserable.

There was once a peasant in a Kashmir village. He had not much of land and was obliged to spend several months of the year in the city as a domestic servant in one family or another. It was by no means a pleasant experience for him to be at the mercy of his employer and his numerous encumbrances including an aunt, two wives i. and an indistinguishable brood of children. Getting up early in the morning he, to use his own words, would "get . into the harness like the pony dragging a cart." Sweeping the house, several speedy trips to the market, the usual drudgery in the scullery, tending the children, cleaning utensils, washing clothes, making beds, and quite a good deal more was his usual routine. And all the time he had had no tidings from his wife and children throughout the long winter months.

Is it surprising that he complained of his unenviable lot to many? Among these latter was a shopkeeper from whom this peasant-cum-domestic servant would make purchases for the household of his master. He seemed to be a sympathetic man and offered the other the tube of his bubble bubble at which he would give a few pulls with his ample lungs. "Will you take my advice if I place an inexpensive plan before you of supplementing your meagre income?" said the shopkeeper once. The other jumped at the idea as he was in need of nothing else more earnestly than the means to get rid of the drudgery of domestic service. "All that you need do," said the shopkeeper, "is to buy a hen. She can be fed with a few crumbs and will lay eggs. I undertake to make the sale of your eggs for a nominal commission."

The idea of raising poultry was nothing novel for the peasant but he always found it difficult to negotiate a.: price for the produce. The village shopkeeper got eggs almost for nothing from unsophisticated peasants. Therefore, though rearing of poultry did not cost anything, it meant a lot of bother for little gain, and hence the hesitation in the mind of the peasant to undertake it.

As the shopkeeper promised the peasant to arrange the sale of the produce, the biggest stile in the way of this new undertaking was overcome. Though he had no ready cash he managed to borrow some money to purchase a hen. In due course of time the hen laid eggs and brought a little sum to the peasant. The peasant invested the proceeds in the same business and added to his stock of poultry. His business expanded steadily till by the next fall of winter the peasant felt that he could manage to live without having to go to the city in search of service. It was such a blessing to be spared the drudgery of a domestic servant and the shame of it. The peasant was grateful to his stock of poultry and particularly the first hen with which he made a start.

The first hen happened to be whitish in colour. It was not bright dazzling white but rather the faint pale white left after the other colours had been washed out. The peasant regarded this hen as the harbinger of good fortune to him and wherever he went or whomever he talked to, he had something to say about his white hen, how it started crowing early in the morning, how it would sometimes strut or cut a graceful caper.... Never did he miss an occasion to say something about the white hen. In course of time the white hen became the talk of the village and the surrounding ones too.

The next stage was to identify the peasant as the owner of the white hen: "M --- has been responsible for such and such an act."

"Which M --- ?"

"The one who owns the white hen."

Not long after, however, they omitted to mention the ownership entirely and called him by this very name, the "white hen." This name spread like wild fire in the manner of all nicknames which are always catching. Urchins in the streets and old men near the bank of the stream began to call him by this very name, and this was very irritating. Every time he heard the urchins shouting"white hen" he felt provoked and angry. He was easily put out and wished to crush them to a jelly and retorted with abuse and vituperation. This tickled the urchins and encouraged them to further fire works. Even the grown-ups felt a peculiar pleasure in provoking him.

His susceptibility to excitement on account of the nickname increased tenfold. If he saw two men talking together he suspected that they were plotting to shout "the white hen" behind his back. If he saw people smiling he ran to the conclusion that they were doing so at his expense. This gave people opportunities more and more to fling the nickname at him either in his face or behind his back.

This excitement affected his nerves. "They are bent upon driving me mad," he would blurt out now and then.

"Look here," a good friend would tell him, "you are a grown-up man, you should exercise self-restraint and not get upset like a girl of sixteen."

"Self-restraint! Do you talk of self-restraint? Who can exercise it to a greater degree than I do? But how long can I exercise self-restraint when they are bent upon downright abuse? Didn't your hear them shouting 'the white hen'? Rascals. I'll make an example of them," and down he would rush with a stone in his hand against an imaginary foe raising the provocative slogan.

A simple matter took thus a grave and tragic turn. Several times in the day he would imagine people shouting the nickname and out of his house he rushed, set upon "teaching the rogues a lesson." Physicians and sane men came to only one conclusion and that was that a change in the environment alone could save him. He was advised to go out of the village again for some time.

He could have gone to the city to his former employer. But he preferred to go to the plains beyond the mountain walls encircling the valley. He joined one of the gangs of peasants who go out to the plains in the winter to supplement their earning on their lands. He earned a pretty little sum everyday which pleased his heart. But, above all, he was happy because no one in the plains knew the nickname which had almost driven him mad. Those terrible moods of excitement, moments of temporary insanity or depression became a matter of the past and he came almost to believe that life was not so bad.

Several winters passed. In the plains the idea of his former nickname had practically disappeared from his mind, what with the change in the environment and the savings from his wages which had accumulated. The thought of returning home began to stir his heart. This craving became stronger every day till he could no longer resist it. He decided to visit home.

The return journey was quicker and easier, for he could afford to come in a bus. Money was jingling in his pockets. He came to the road crossing whence his village was but a couple of miles distant. He saw several men going to the surrounding villages and they fell a talking.

"Hello! I seem to have seen you and known you but can't place you," said one.

"Indeed so do I. But methinks I saw him several years back," joined another.

"Sure enough, for I am coming from the plains after several years."

"I used to know a fellow who couldn't stand a nickname and left the village. Your face very much reminds me of him. .... Are you by any means the same fellow whom they nicknamed 'The white hen'? He has been missing for many a year now."

"Lord! they are starting it with a vengeance," he thought "Good friends," he told them, "yes, I am the man who could not stand the nickname 'the white hen' and slipped out to the plains. The craving for my home brought me back. You have restarted the game right now when I have not even stepped into my village. I will go back to the plains and I wish you joy of your homes. Such a place is not for me."

He retraced his steps right then and came back to the plains. And the nickname "the white hen" languished and died.



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