Sarda - A Memoir
By Nirmal Kusum Kachru
(Translated from Original
Hindi by Dr. R.K. Tamiri)
story is about Muzaffarabad, Domel. That day when Papa returned home he looked a
little perturbed. Neither did he
caress my face nor called 'Jai
Ramji', as used to be his daily wont.
Straightway, he went to
Palne. My younger brother was
asleep. Father took the chair
lying close by and seemed quite
Mother was busy
overturning washed clothes, put on a
rope on the Verandah. She
called father, "Have you come?". Mother informed Santu, "Sahib has come." She could feel that
something was amiss that day. May be there was some wrangle
in the office, she presumed.
Mother did not speak anything but
engaged herself in diversionary
Santu brought the
hubble-bubble and took off the shoes of father. I rushed to the
kitchen to ask Santu to make tea. He
had already begun
preparations. I came back quickly. It
disturbed me why my father did not
shower affection on me that day.
Mother put the plate of snacks on the Teapoy.
Giving a pat she asked me to sit
besides her. I took it as a hint
not to speak anything that would
disturb Papa. Mother was a strict
disciplinarian but never imposed this on us. I have never seen
her raising voice, what to talk of
scolding or giving us physical punishment. Her day to day
life served as inspiration. A
mere hint was enough for us.
Mother was courageous as well as wise. Tall,
handsome, fair-complexioned she had an aura around her personality.
She would never sit idle but
keep herself busy with knitting,
embroidery work, reading or teaching and telling stories to us.
Mother was a good singer too. Her
repertoire of songs included Kashmiri Leelas, Bhajans
of Mira and a prayer to Lord
Sankara in Persian-
Bood-Shabshahe Ke Manh Deedam'
Papa was disturbed on
account of his transfer from Muzaffarabad to Sarda. We
were four siblings, I being the
eldest. My age could have been 6
or 7 years. The year was
probably 1936 or 1937.
Why do you feel worried? Your transfer is otherwise
also due in 6-7 months from
now. Let it be now, Mother tried
to console Papa.
He argued, Muna is just a toddler. It has hardly
been a month since we returned
from Calcutta. Then travelling....I
was thinking of putting the
children to school".
"What is going to come out of worrying? God will take
care. After all, we are going to
be at Mother Sarda's feet. The
children can study for a year or
two at home, Mother tried to
Mother had her schooling
in Mission School. She had
read upto 8th standard. She
used to tell us lot about her
headmistress, Ms Churchill Taylor.
Mother would heap praises on her.
In fact, she had learnt the
art of knitting from her. Ms Taylor had gifted mother a pair of
knitting needles, which she had preserved as a souvenir.
Mother had also imbibed
the scientific way of teaching
from Ms Taylor. She put it to
good use when she started
teaching us. On well-cut pieces of
cardboard mother would draw
alphabets and numerals to make us learn these in a style
that was non-boring. At other times
she would encourage us to
write with fingers on sand. Besides
stories from newspapers/magazines
and Puranas she would narrate tales - 'Gul
She was a master
storey-teller, creating vivid images in her narration. This talent
of hers was realised by me only
when I myself turned to
story-writing. How I wish I had inherited
even a fraction of this talent!
Mossy had to undergo
surgery. Mother had gone to
Calcutta from Muzaffarabad for nursing. On her return
1½-2 months later she had
carried along a new born kitten of
their pet cat. This white-coloured
kitten had been named
Mother did not want to
liked separation from us
nor did we want to leave her.
Gopala too had great attachment with
the kitten. He agreed to take
care of 'Pussy'.
brought Gopala from Srinagar to
serve as cook.
Our problem was how to
We had brought it from Calcutta in a basket. The
latter provided good ventilation
and the animal was also young.
We had done the journey
partly by train and partly by Bus.
This time we had to walk in open,
either on horse or on foot. Soon a
way was found. The little 'Pussy'
reached Sarda with us.
Journey to Sarda:
The journey was long, the destination looked
distant. We passed by dense forests,
verdant hills, different water
spots - waterfalls, torrents, nullahs (rills) and expanses of streams.
We were seated on horses. My
three brothers had been put on
the backs of coolies, called
in local parlance as
I too had the experience of riding 'Pithus'
in Kishtwar-Paddar region.
In this mode the kids are
fastened on to the backs of coolies
and legs being kept out. I
never enjoyed it but would insist on
taking horse with Papa. This time
I was making the journey on
horse in the company of Papa.
Kishen Ganga Valley:
The path was quite narrow
at places, with gorges down
below. As we entered Kishen Ganga Valley the greenery and
the multihued wild flowers welcomed us. Hills had encircled the
Valley. Spread out lofty mountains
- standing and at times
placed so obliquely as if crouching,
these were either snow-laden or
concealed by the Deodar-Pine trees. Every now and then we
witnessed the spectre of streams - gushing out of the
mountains, making splashing noise,
taking the form of cascades or
torrents, rolling over or even
The streams presented
different spectacles - at times quite
restless, then roaring with laughter or appearing to be
colliding, at other times flowing simply
with serenic tranquility. Our horses/ponies also moved over snow-covered tracks. These beasts of
burden were sure-footed. While
making a beeline on the narrow
track they kept their gaze fixed straight. No wonder, they
never missed the step. While
moving on such tracks the
caution riders not to look sideways. They advise to
follow the road only. An incident
is worth recalling, which
remains etched in my memory to
We had carried lot of
luggage, nearby 50 items - items of
domestic use, kitchen-hold goods, utensils and allied
things, clothing, first-aid kit, folding
chairs/tables etc. On travels we
also used to carry a cot for
taking rest. It could be folded and
unfolded within two minutes.
The luggage had been put
on 7-8 mules. It included
boxes, beddings, bags etc. One of
the mules lost its foothold at
a spot where the track was too
narrow. It rolled down below. This
mule was carrying a bag,
containing kitchen goods on one side,
while on the other a box had
been loaded. Probably, the load
had not been balanced well.
The bag contained a small pitcher,
filled with citrus pickles. It
broke down, with oil seeping
through the bag. The box had got
stuck on one side. This new box
had been carried by my mother
from Calcutta. It carried
mother's new sarees, nice frocks
purchased for me from Calcutta and
little fire works for children. The
pickles had been put without
Papa's consent. Gopala felt a little embarrassed on being caught. He was afraid lest Papa lose his temper. Papa just smiled at him. Gopala heaved a sigh of relief, with his eyes drooping down.
Fortunately, the place where the rolling mule had stopped had
habitation - a village with agricultural
fields all around. Though the name of
the village has faded from my memory, yet I still
remember how the village Numberdar
alongwith 2-3 villagers brought a substitute mule. We rested
for the night here. The
villagers lavished good hospitality.
wanted to come along with injured mule
but was restrained by Papa. He did
not want the injured animal to
carry the load. Papa was very compassionate. He paid
charges to the Ponywalla and asked
him to come after the mule got
He asked the Numberdar to
make the arrangements. The Ponywalla was reluctant to
take the money. The scene-the Ponywalla invoking
blessings for us stands before my
eyes even today.
The onward journey, in
which the track played hide and
seek with us, saw us pass
through beautiful natural scenery.
The dense green forests had
different varieties of trees and
bushes. Mountains were all around
and the sloppy meadows were
full with multi-coloured
flowers decorating them.
We were to witness yet
another enchanting scene - Horses grazing,
standing on hind legs and eating
leaves of the bushes. It was
enhanced further by fields in full
There were nomadic Gujjars
with their flock of cattle.
They were carrying maize flour
stuffed in bags of sheepskin. In rope
bags these families carried
pots, plates and cups of German Silver.
They were tending their flock
with great care, carrying the
newborn of sheep/goats on their
backs the way they would carry
their own offsprings. We also
saw them preparing maize-bread
on make-shift hearth, made of stones. They ate the bread
with salt, onion, jaggery (Gud)
Gujjar bellies, with
velvety face but dressed in shabby clothes, were carrying
sticks to shout at their flock of
cattle. Some had newborns tied to
their backs. Mules of nomads
carried luggage and at times sick
and old people We heard nomads sing and shouting at their herd in
melodious style, which reflected
more of concern and
affection - saying
Va Va Har Aa Ho Kane
The sounds of the cattle also
added colour. This created a
magical spell. The silence of
desolate forests was disrupted by the sound produced by
waterfall/cascades or high-velocity winds. I
have no words to describe the
thrill of this experience.
We passed through
villages, crossing many desolate
places. There were fields with
different patterns, some terraced.
These grew maize, paddy, Same (a
vegetable), cucumber, pumpkin (with creepers), etc.
The village houses were
mud huts, with sloppy thatched
roofs. Occasionally, there were
two-storeyed houses made of wood and clay. In some villages the
huts had clay-roofs and
No sooner we entered Sarda range a Ponywalla drew
attention of Papa, "Sahib, can you
see that forest bungalow? We have
to get there." We could see a
two-storeyed wooden house, which looked more like barrack.
The house was surrounded by
hills on all sides. On one side
the hills looked a little distant.
After turning a few bends we reached
near the village. The village
Sometimes, the Kishenganga was flowing quite close to
the road, while at other times
far away from it. The rice
fields were in full bloom. There were
one or two shops. These did not
look like shops but the
villagers called these so.
After a little ascent we
could see the wooden fence of
the bungalow. The entire
front view was inside the fence but
the barrack-like quarter looked above the fence. A small stream
was flowing down alongside the track on which we were
The entry gate which was
on the left side was open. The
staff of the Forest
department - forester, guard, clerk, peon etc.
had assembled to receive us. A
village lad Ismail had already reached the quarter to
inform the staff about the arrival of
The mules were resting
outside the gate. The ascending track leading to the fence
was studded with stones. On
the other side of the fence
the hills looked little taller. The
green hills were bedecked with white
and yellow flowers. A cascade
was flowing through the centre
of one of the hills. Its
outlet opened into a wooden pipe. The
water was crystal clear. Another
channel after circuiting round the fence flowed down along a corner of the garden.
On the other side of the
hill were blooming fields of
maize and Same crops. Two mud
huts adjacent to each other
stood in the upper portion in the
fields. A little above these huts
were grooves of Pine and Budlu
(Fir) trees. One of the huts
belonged to the potter. He used to
make clay utensils for the
The other hut was that of
the tailor. 7-8 people who lived in
the two huts had come out on
the hill slope to watch us.
We were on the Verandah, looking intently at the
quarter. The luggage had been offloaded. The quarter had
two portions. The right
portion was to be our residential
On the Ist floor on the
left side was the office. The
groundfloor on the office side had
kitchen, store plus two rooms-one
for servants and the other was
the store. The groundfloor was interlinked as well. On
the 1st floor 3-4 steps on one
side joined 3-4 steps on the
other to link office with
residence. The office staff had separate
staircase as well. The verandah at
the first floor had two rooms
at the front. Mother's puja room
cum store was a small room in
The Verandah was quite
spacious. We used to sit daily here, bring chairs and the
table, to watch the splendour of
Close to the house on one
side was a ravine. It was full
of multihued wild flowers. The ground floor had two big rooms
and a big good bathroom. During
winters we used to stay in the
rooms on the ground-floor. Both
the rooms had wall stoves (Bukharis). Later, the
other room on the ground-floor was
given to us to serve as study
room. It was the time when only
myself and my 2½ year old brother
had started studies. Mother
was our teacher. Infront of the
courtyard was a big sloppy space, on which Raghu Kaka had grown Same, brinjal and chillies.
Later, Papa planted different
vegetables - Ladyfinger, Cauliflower, potato, Cucumber and 2-3
varieties of flowers, including
My mother and myself would also tend to the garden alongwith Gopala. There
were also few trees and some
thorny bushes close to the fence.
A little away from the
bathroom at the start of the
courtyard there were two covered toilets. These had been constructed in such a way
that there was no need for
cleaning these. The toilets opened
into a deep ditch down below. At
the edge of the courtyard and
in front of the toilets was a
three-room shed, more like a stable.
One day a cow accompanied
by a cute calf landed at our quarter. This created hustle-bustle in the
premises. Mother felt happy that she would have an opportunity to catch glimpse
of the holy cow daily. The cow was named 'Gauri' and the Calf as 'Nandi'.
In the beginning we would be a little hesitant to come near the cow.
Gradually, this hesitancy was overcome. We would make the cow eat grass with our
hands and caress by stroking her skin.
Once Papa returned home,
riding a stout, good-looking horse. Without dismounting the horse he entered the
gate. The usual practice was that he would get down from the horse outside the
gate. The horse would then return alongwith its owner. No sooner he dismounted
the horse Gopala and me ran up to see him. We started gazing curiously at the
horse and Papa.
Papa disclosed, "this
horse belongs to us now. How is it?" Our eyes brimmed with joy. We replied,
"Very beautiful". My brother who too came running said," Papa, we will also ride
Mother was witnessing the
scene from the Verandah, with Muna in her lap.
The new saddle on the
horse looked dazzling. It was bright brown in colour, with a long linear white
spot in the Centre. By now Raghu Kaka had also joined us. He moved forward and
put the two children on the horse back. Patting and stroking the back and the
neck of the horse Raghu Kaka took the horse around the courtyard for 1-2 rounds.
I too desired to have a ride but didn't express. After dismounting Billoo and
Nanhe from the horse Raghu Kaka called me, "Come dear, you also have a ride on
the new horse".
Raghu Kaka was a peon in
the department. It took him little time to become part of our family. He had
lost his wife. His two married sons, their families and an unmarried daughter
lived in a village, 8-9 miles from Sarda. In deference to his age the office
staff used to call him as Raghu Kaka. Once he fell sick due to fever and cough
and grew too weak. On Papa's instructions Raghu Kaka's food too started coming
from our kitchen.
Shortly before snowfall
Raghu Kaka and Gopala would dig a ditch in a corner of the courtyard. Then Grass
would be laid. In one portion Potato-Shakarkandi (Molasses) and in the other
Reddish-Turnip would be stored. Another layer of grass was then spread over the
stored vegetables. These would remain unspoilt and fresh till the onset of
summer. This used to be nature's Fridge those days. Vegetables would remain in
good condition for months together. When I grew of age I learnt that this
practice of storing Potato, Reddish, Turnip and other vegetables underground was
prevalent during winters in Srinagar and other places as well. The local term
for this practice was 'Khav'.
When Beans-Turnip was the
menu Gopala would put lot of turnip into it. It would be put on the hearth quite
early in the day. By evening these would be ready. At the time of supper Gopala
would complain, "I had put lot many turnips. Where have these gone?" Mother
would try to reason out," These might have got dissolved". Gopala would not be
convinced and blame, "Surely, Raghu Kaka might have gulped these". Raghu Kaka
and Gopala shared good relationship, with Gopala according fatherly respect due
to him. They cared well for each other. Occasionally, they would enter into a
Sometime later, a teacher
named Arjun Singh was engaged for us by Papa. He was normal-trained and did not
have any knowledge of Hindi. The teacher would teach me Urdu, English and Math
Tables. My younger brother was being taught alphabet and numerals. Two younger
brothers were yet to come out of mother's shadow.
By temperament the teacher
was simple and humble. Being the lone teacher of the village school he had to
attend to every work - opening and closing of the school, conducting prayers,
ringing the bell, teaching and attending to the accounts etc. Students from few neighbouring villages also attended the school. The teacher would handle
multiple tasks at the same time quite competently. One class would be busy
writing Takhties (wooden boards), another would be busy playing, yet another
would be reciting numerals or tables. While the teacher taught one class,
another would join gymnastics game.
It was the talent in
teacher that attracted Papa to engage him as our tutor. The teacher lived in a
village called Goos in Machipur area. This is little what I can
recollect. Papa had been to this area on Inspection tours many a times. We also
visited the area once in the company of Masterji. The school had closed down for
vacations. We stayed for 2-3 nights there. Masterji had taken us to his home
also. The way to his house lay through fields. His house, made of wood was a
good one. In one portion the family had grown pumpkin, cucumber etc., while in
the other beds looked full with green-leafy vegetables. Dry bushes surrounded
the house on all sides but the courtyard was neat and clean. The cowshed and the
paddy store of theirs, like most of the houses in the village, had thatched
The parents and the elder
brother of Masterji, Amar Singh received us with warm affection. The shop was
located near the house of elder brother. It had all the provisions of daily use.
Mother purchased few items here. That evening the family had hosted a dinner for
We went around the
village, playing games of Kabbadi and hide and seek. Masterji had informed
mother, "There is also a Sarda shrine here. Those who cannot make it to Sarda
temple located higher up, can pay obeisance to the Goddess here and have her
darsana". Papa's actual purpose in bringing us here was to take us to this
shrine. He had kept Raghu Kaka for our company, while he himself went on
inspection tour. Masterji and his mother also remained with us.
The shrine was not too far
and was a small one. Few Purohit families lived there. The road to the shrine
lay through dense groove of walnut trees. There were lot many Chinars as well.
Masterji had told us that these chinars were very old.
The sanctum sanctorum of
the temple housed well sculpted little idols. Fresh flowers had been put on
these idols. Ghee lamp was also burning. After the puja tea (Kahwa) and rice
bread (Childasa) was brought for us from the house of purohits. Some ladies and
children also came to meet us. They had brought walnut, apples, maize and sattu.
Mother was hesitant to accept these. Her dilemma was how could she refuse
something that reflected affection.
At home we children spent
half the time within residential premises and the rest outside, Everybody in
the family would wake up at 5 AM. By 6 O'clock
breakfast would be served. Soon thereafter, we would begin our studies. At I or
10 o'clock we would take lunch. Papa would take lunch at 9.30 AM.
He would be in his office by 10 AM. After the lunch I
would take my brother along while going out. Sometimes we would go up a nearby
hill or play with flowing water making dummy bridges on small water- outlets or
'houses' on banks. We would also prepare mock vegetables/bread etc. 2-3 children
from two houses in the neighbourhood would also join us. One of them, who was of
my age, was tailor's son. He used to read in Masterji's school. He would return
home by noon,
with Takhti hanging around his shoulders, and join us for playing.
Occasionally my brother,
me and Ismail would go towards the downhill slope. We would climb small hills,
move across nullahs, run on green velvety grass and cross on our way grazing
cows and galloping horses. We would pluck flowers and take little ripe fruit of
the shrubs, besides meeting the hilly children. Initially, the latter would feel
shy. For sometime we would gaze silently at each other. Then they would mix up
with us and converse, play and share joyous moments. At times, we would wonder
why they should giving us so much respect. Was it because we wore clean clothes
or had fair complexion? But they too had fair complexion. Sometimes they would
pluck jujube fruit for us or get small pears called 'Sadiyan' in Pahari
parlance. We would enjoy their company. On occasions they would feel alarmed on
getting rebuke from Isamil. We would not like this.
Among them was a cute
girl, Kulsuma, lean and beautiful, with big watery eyes, long black hair strung
into small bunches - resting like a net on her back. At times I would drag her to
my home. Mother would display affection by serving snacks to her and giving
clothes. Kulsuma's mother used to bring us milk and grass for cow and horse. I
would play the game of dolls with Kulsuma. Mother would make dolls at home.
Later I also learnt this art. I would like stitching clothes for dolls and
decorating them. I vividly recollect how I once forgot to make the neck while
preparing sweater for the doll. It could not be put on the doll. I laugh at my
mistake, for later I had to use scissors to cut the neck for the doll.
Our daily routine was to
play around small nullahs, climb trees, enjoy swings, make dummy watermills
around nullahs. We would fashion a thin trickle of water on a stone in such a
way that it would start moving We had been trained in this technique by Ismail.
He could do many variations of this. Ismail would also make good pellet bows for
us and teach us how to take sharp aim.
Nature was bountiful here.
Different varieties of trees, vegetables, herbs etc. were seen at every step.
Ismail would acquaint us with their local names-Cholai Ka Sag, Bathua (a pot
herb), (Big leafed sour sag), Hund, Palhaq, Vena, BunFasha, Ajwain, Kisrode
etc. Wild roses were in abundance in the area. We would select Bunfasha flowers
Ismail, son of Ibrahim
Gujar was favourite servant of Papa. He was smart and Jack of all trades. He
would remain busy most of the time - putting fodder to the horse in the stable or
giving it bath and making its feet rough, uneven; milking the cow, sweeping the
courtyard, helping movement of papers in the office, putting tobacco in the hubble bubble, ferrying things down from Ist floor, laying bedding etc. Ismail
would also play with children and narrate stories. His father had given up
nomadic life to lead a settled one in the village, a little away from Sarda,
down below. He was engaged in agriculture. Few cattle which this family had were
taken care of by his wife and daughter.
We had free access to
fields of Tailor and Potter. Their ladies would get roasted maize or Jaggery-Walnuts
for us. At the outer limit of their field a raised area could be seen. In the
Centre of this natural platform was a big apple tree. This year it had borne
good fruit. At the request of Tailor and Potter Papa had purchased the tree for
this season. They got money and we the fruit. In addition to domestic work
Ismail would also take care of the apple tree as well. Frankly speaking, there
was no need of care. People living in the vicinity were down to earth honest
people. The tree bore abundant fruit, yielding many boxes. One of these was sent
by Papa to his boss, DFO. We had also distributed the fruit among Tailor,
Potter, the staff of the department, Ismail, Kulsuma and others. The apples
tasted very well. Mother had also prepared a jar full of jam.
Another incident of those
days that comes to my mind is how we played Badminton game by pitching two poles
for the net in the courtyard in front of office. At times Papa would also join
us. The two shuttlecocks gave away after heavy use. We had to improvise one by
putting 1-2 feather of a cock into the Cob. This invention made us happy as game
started again. Its fall-out was that our rackets got worn out sooner, stopping
the game altogether. However, this did not deter us from inventing new games.
Writing on wooden boards (Takhtis)
was in vogue. It was considered compulsory for developing good handwriting.
Gopala had been given the assignment for imparting this training to us. Everyday
we had to write twice Hindi and Urdu numerals separately. Those days wooden
boards having glazed lines were not available. Soot was smeared on a simple
After drying shine was
imparted to it by rubbing with a glass bottle. This practice used to be called
'application of Mohra'. We would use reed pens to write on the 'Takhti',
using particular clay called Khadia Miti (white clay) as the ink. Gopala used to
apply soot, while I would myself do the shining part, because younger brother
was still a novice in doing this task. In Muzaffarabad Gachni (yellow hard clay)
was used for smearing the Takthi. Ink used was black in colour.
Mattoo Sahib Visits:
After 'Takhti' work
mother would ask me to write 1-2 pages of English alphabet on four-line
notebook. There used to be a particular G-nib holder for this. In this context
an anecdote comes to my mind. While we were in Sarda we were visited by an
uncle, who was my father's elder brother. He had come on a private visit from
Model Town, Lahore, where he was posted as a high official. Sporting long
flowing beard he had a strong demeanour--stern face, tall, stout and handsome.
He wore a white turban and used to be called Matoo Sahib. My parents would give
him good respect and hold him in reverence. They would not dare to take even
minor liberty and remain in sphinxed-like posture before him. He had brought for
us few calligraphy notebooks and G-nibs. We used to call him Dada while our
parents would address him as 'Bhai Sahib'.
On seeing him our horse 'Rustam'
ran away. Our uncle had chosen the horse for moving around Sarda. On the first
day when uncle tried to mount the horse, it blazed with rage. The horse came out
of the fenced area and fled towards the nearby hillock. Dada and Papa ran after
him, but Rustam did not stop. Ismail was busy milking the cow. We all had
assembled on the verandah. The horse ran away, trampling the maize fields.
Feeling exasperated, Dada
gave up the chase and asked Papa, "How unruly is the Horse? Haven't you tamed it
as yet? A day has gone waste. Arrange another horse". Papa stood motionless as
if struck with guilt, like a student. The horse stood neighing on the hillock
straight across the Potter's hut. Meanwhile, Ismail came to Papa after handing
over the milk to Gopala. He said to Papa, "Sir, the horse has lost its cool
after seeing the new rider. I would tame it just now". Smiling Ismail went out
from the gate.
In a loud but affectionate
voice Ismail begam shouting 'Rustam, O'Rustam'. The horse stopped neighing and
began tracking the voice. Ismail showered affection on the horse. He caressed
the horse, patting it and rubbed his face with neck of the horse, while holding
reins in his hands. Ismail exclaimed, "Sir, the animal too demands affection".
Dada and Papa were watching this in amazement.
Papa's tours in Sarda
range were quite hectic. He would stay away from home for a week or ten days at
a stretch or even longer. This time he had gone for a even longer tour. Reports
had come that Kuth smugglers were on the prowl at a place I cannot recollect
now. This much I remember that Papa and his staff had done their homework well
before embarking on this tour. Some warders of Sarda fort had also joined them.
Mother had suggested caution and regular communication to the family at home.
Whenever Papa's messenger
would drop in with some message or letter mother would pamper him by extending
lavish hospitality. Mother had religious disposition but I never found her to be
an obscurantist. She would adjust with the changing times. To me she was a
compassionate mother, who harboured love for everybody. In a particular season
Ismail would develop fever with rigours and chills every two days. She would
call him and cover with a blanket. Mother would herself get medicines and give
it to Ismail. She would check temperature with thermometer regularly and remain
restless till Ismail got well. Mother would serve Ismail with tea, milk at
regular intervals. Villagers called this particular seasonal fever as 'Fever
Shrimad Bhagwat Week:
Yes, Mother had strong
religious propensities and used to perform Puja daily without a fail. For a long
time she had been desirous of conducting 'Shrimad Bhagwat Week'.
Raghu Kaka had informed her about a Purohit family, which lived in Sarda.
She had felt happy that Katha would be conducted in accordance with religious
texts. But when a message was sent it was learnt that the Purohit had gone to
Rangvor village and was likely to stay there for a month. Purohit's son was too
young to conduct Katha.
Mother had already made up
her mind. As the week began mother assumed the twin job-as a narrator as well as
listener. Puja room was prepared with great care. A message was sent to Papa
also. Due to his hectic schedule he could not come but decided to attend the
concluding day function.
For the week Gopala took
charge of looking after the household and the kitchen. Ismail would bring
flowers in abundance for Puja. I too looked after my younger brothers. Those
days outdoor games were put to stop. I would play with brothers the game of
Dolls (Gudda-Guddi) and teacheress at home only.
During the days of Katha
Pussy would not play much with us. She would steal her entry into mother's Puja
room, even when the door had been properly closed. She would sit quietly as if
in deep contemplation. Mother would close the door only for her lest she spoil
puja items or put her mouth into amrit (Prasad) prepared with
milk, curds etc.
Mother would be at a loss
to understand how Pussy made her entry into Puja room. Intensive search yielded
a small crevice in the door. Mother exlaimed to Gopala, "She is able to manage
her entry through such a small crevice!" We all stood amazed. When Gopala picked
up Pussy he found a huge abrasion on her back.
Papa had returned home on
the concluding day of Katha. 'Shrimad Bhagwat' had been weighed in
dry fruit-walnut, almonds, coconut etc. Purohit of Sarda temple had not returned
as yet. His son had been called and given alms after serving him Prasadam. Raghu
Kaka had worked hard that day. He had returned from tour with Papa only.
Pussy did not sit for long
on the concluding day function. After sitting for a while it left. On the 3rd
day after the function was over Pussy suddenly passed away. Neither had she been
sick nor did experience any pain. In her grief we didn't cook our meals that
day. Everybody in the family felt sad. Mother stood dazed. Listening to
Bhagwat Katha, in rapt attention, remaining careful not to spoil or
disturb Puja items, making entry through a crevice and then suddenly departing
from this world on the 3rd day after the function was over and that too without
any illness or pain--all this seemed a phenomenon situation to Gopala. Later,
when shradha ceremony for Pitrs (departed ancestors) was conducted on the bank
of Sangam below the Sarda Temple, mother had given dan (gifts) in Pussy's name
Papa as Doctor:
Another anecdote that I
can recollect is about an event which made Papa famous as the doctor of the
village. It was a cold wintry day. The dusk had set in and the room Bukhari was
lit. Our chanting of bhajans was disturbed by a hard knock at the door. A couple
holding a baby in their hands had come and looked quite perturbed over the
child's illness. Ismail, who had accompanied them, intervened to say to father,
"Sir, the child is quite sick. Give him some medicine". Expressing helplessness
father replied, "My dear, How can I treat him? I am not a doctor." In
desperation the father of sick child said, "Sir, for doctor we have to go to
another village .The Vaid of this place is not available. He has gone
Papa cast a look on the
child, who was running high temperature. The child's chest was rattling with
cough. It lay listless in mother's lap. Papa took out some medicines from the
First-Aid Box and pulverised it. He packed the divided doses in wrapper himself
served a dose of medicine to the child with a spoon. Papa asked mother to bring
some camphor oil and applied a little on the child's chest and back. He gave to
the couple the medicine packed in wrappers and a bottle containing little
camphor oil. Instructing them to apply the lukewarm camphor oil to child's chest
and back Papa asked them to serve milk/or with sago to the child.
Papa was of the view that
the child had contracted Pneumonia. Next morning. Ismail brought the news that
the child's fever had come down and the baby had taken a little milk also. My
parents heaved a sigh of relief. Accompanied by Ismail Papa visited the child.
This episode spread Papa's fame as doctor and the people would regularly come
to him for treatment. He would treat little problems like pain but invariably
refer patients to the doctor. Even then the stock of medicines continued to pile
up. Aspirin, Quinine, Amritdhara, Balm and a host of other unani medicines would
remain available all the time.
--(To be concluded)