This story takes the reader to a village on the bank of the Wular, one of the
largest fresh water lakes in India. Many years ago the only approach to
the village was over mountain tracks or across the lake which though alluring
to the eye when placid is impassable when otherwise. Consequently the village
was practically cut off and no outsider visited it unless it was absolutely
indispensable for him to do so. Nor were the villagers very curious about
the rest of the world. God had given them enough land to grow maize, pulses,
and a few vegetables and the lake supplied them fish and water-nuts (caltrops),
the kernels of which formed their staple diet. There were the old shops
exchanging salt and cloth for dried fish, caltrops, maize and ghee, and
currency was hardly necessary. Coins were not in circulation in this remote
corner, and if ever they were, they were mostly of copper, or other lower
denominations. It was an age when even government officials were paid their
salaries mostly in kind, in terms of khirwars (ass-loads) of cereals. In
short, nobody in the village had ever seen the silver rupee with the effigy
of Victoria, Queen of Britain and Empress of India.
It so happened
that by some mysterious process a silver rupee of the above description
found its way into the village. It caused a great sensation there and everybody
was eager to have a sight of it. Before long the matter came to the notice
of the nambardar,
the headman, and the coin was handed over to him
for safe custody till he decided how to deal with this novelty. He pondered
over it for a day and a night, a pretty long day and a dark sleepless night,
and announced his decision the next morning.
he said, "this is the first coin of the kind that has ever been seen by
any one of us. It is stamped with the figure of our most respected ruler.
(At this his hand went involuntarily to his forehead by way of saluting
the ruler, listeners following suit.) God grant our ruler prosperity and
victory always, and humiliation to our enemies! It is most befitting that
we make a present of this respected and honoured token to His Highness
in person.... "
was no sooner made than accepted. The headman of the village was regarded
as the wisest man. He gave them full details as to how such a present should
be placed before the ruler for his acceptance. The gift was to be placed
in a palanquin carried by six worthy elders of the village whom he nominated.
They got a really dainty palanquin and decorated it with whatever choice
cloth they could get. Spreading a finely woven blanket inside they covered
it with a piece of silk that somebody possessed. The headman then called
all the village elders to the palanquin. Young men and little urchins were
there already. In the presence of such an august gathering they placed
the rupee inside the palanquin and drew the curtains as if it carried a
delicate bride on her way to her husband's home. The capital was to be
reached by boat. A doongha stood ready at the quay equipped with
all requirements for the journey. The palanquin was lifted to the accompaniment
of delightful songs, portending success, sung by village women and deposited
gently in the doongha. The boatman pushed off and made for the south
where the capital lay, the villagers shouted their good wishes after it
and the headman gesticulated au revoir when the boat reached the
mouth of the river.
It is a tiresome
journey going upstream. The palanquin was given a seat of honour and nobody
could sit or stand with his back to it. At night they lit a lamp and kept
it alight till the dawn, and took their turns at the watch. Whoever asked
them the purpose of their journey south was told that they were carrying
a precious present for His Highness. They did not reveal the nature of
it at all.
On the morning
of the third day when they came to the outskirts of the capital they decided
to dispense with the boat and carry the palanquin on their shoulders. Barefoot,
with legs wrapped tightly with woollen puttees, and their backs
with cotton scarves in the manner of ancient courtiers, four of them lifted
the palanquin on their shoulders while one preceded it with a flag. The
headman walked humbly behind. They were all merry as befitted a deputation
waiting upon the ruler with a precious present and impressed every passerby
with their festive appearance. At the octroi-post the tax-collectors wanted
to have a look into the palanquin but the headman protested, saying, "Nobody
except His Highness will cast a look inside"; and the guards gave in.
The small procession
had to pass through the principal streets of the capital before they could
reach Shergarhi, the palatial residence of the ruler, built on the left
bank of the Jhelum. The news had spread fairly quick throughout the city
and many people were curious to know what precious gift it was that had
brought these doughty folk over such a long distance. The village folk
reached the palace gate and made their purpose known to the guards. The
captain of the guards got orders from His Highness to admit them within
and to show utmost hospitality. With loud shouts wishing victory and prosperity
to His Highness the little procession entered the gate of the palace. They
felt amply recompensed when treated as the guests of their ruler.
palace premises they, of course, displayed greater solicitude in according
respect and obeisance to the precious but secret gift inside the palanquin.
The guards and other palace officials were highly intrigued about the secret
but dared not ask them for fear of offending their sense of etiquette.
Meanwhile, the villagers fully basked in the lavish sunshine of the ruler's
hospitality and were keenly conscious of the honour which had schuss fallen
to their lot. "What reward will His Highness feel too high for us when
he receives us in audience and accepts the gift ?" whispered the headman
into the ears of the gratified elders.
In the afternoon
His Highness got up from his siesta and: desired the elders to be admitted
to his presence. The -minister-in-waiting, the prime minister and other
dignitaries of the State were in attendance. The headman entered barefoot
and made obeisance. He was followed-':: by the elders bearing the palanquin.
"Sire !" began the headman "this humble servant who has the signal honour
of standing before his ruler and father is the nambardark of the
village...on the bank of the Wular lake, famous for its fish, caltrops
and deadly waves. Along with these men -who are worthy elders of the said
village this loyal servant has covered the distance with a happy heart
on account of the pleasant and honourable duty before us. We crave your
permission, our liege and father, to place this nazar at your Highness'
"Our good men,"
returned the ruler, "we are touched hype your affection and loyalty which
prompted you to come from such a distant place to offer your nazar.
desire that it be placed before us."
drew the curtain and thrust his hand into the palanquin. He appeared to
be somewhat perplexed) and raised all the four curtains. Whispers were
exchanged by all the elders who began to fumble in the folds of theft blanket
and rummage into the corners of the palanquin) The nazar was not
forthcoming. Quite a few minuted passed thus while the villagers completed
a thorough search for the coin inside the palanquin. The primp minister
said, "Be quick rustics, His Highness has urgent matters of State to attend
to." But the rustics could not help the matter. In their rustic hilarity
they had so carried the palanquin as to suffer the precious gift to slip
somewhere. It was too late now to mend their folly and the headman made
the submission: "Our liege and father, we have unfortunately dropped the
thus took a serious turn. The ministers were of one mind in looking upon
the incident as an insult to the person and throne of the ruler. Punishment
could easily be awarded for such an act. "What astounds me," declared the
prime minister, "is the daring of these uncouth rustics. To come right
to the august presence of His Highness and try to cover their crime under
the frivolous excuse that they had dropped the nazar somewhere!
Your Highness, let them be taken to the prison and dealt with according
to law," he submitted.
elders looked like sheep at the gate of the shambles though the headman
bore this sorrow with exemplary fortitude. "My head upon your Highness'
feet!" declared the headman turning towards the ruler, "make but a gesture
and this humble servant will offer his heart for you to feed upon. Who
is there so unworthy of his salt as to harbour anything but esteem, honour
and affection for our lord, liege and father! Who can be so daring as to
put his head into the mouth of a lion! Our Holy Book says that God Almighty
is Karim (merciful). I invoke your mercy, our respected father,
and seek permission to explain the whole case."
The ruler was
gifted with a good deal of commonsense. He saw at once that they were simple
but good-natured folk who had come from a remote village and meant nothing
but loyalty and affection. On the insistence of his councillors he devised
a plan to test their intentions. The villagers were placed in a cell and
were supplied with all requirements to enable them to cook their food.
Instead of being given a burning faggot or live coal they were given a
box of safety matches. They did not know what a match stick was and could
not cook their meal. They ate part of the rations raw and the rest was
When the ruler
heard this news through the captain of the guards he was convinced of their
innocence. He called the villagers, heard the whole story and had a hearty
laugh at their simple faith. He assured the headman that the gift was as
good as accepted. In fact he gave them a rupee and received it back as
villagers felt highly gratified. Further, they were treated as guests once
again and dismissed the next morning with suitable gifts. In addition,
the land rent in their village was reduced. The villagers departed merrily
shouting slogans. Back in the village they narrated the tale about how
they had been saved from the very brink of destruction. The tale spread
to neighbouring villages and to remote ones till it was imprinted on the
minds of men.