Folk Tales from Kashmir

Table of Contents

  Index
  About the Author
  Foreword
  Preface
  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 ...
  Shabrang
  Counting Ripples
  The Fugitive Fawn
  Akanandun
  The Mortal Utensils
  The Hydra-Headed
  The Physician's Son
  The Professional Wedding ...
  The Village Teacher
  The Opium Smokers
  The Drone
  Telltale Narration
  Mahadev
  Snippets
  Glossary
  Download Book

Koshur Music

An Introduction to Spoken Kashmiri

Panun Kashmir

Milchar

Symbol of Unity

 
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Chapter 17

Shabrang

In the long past a king of Kashmir one day went out hunting. The chase was long and the quarry eluded his arrows. He missed his way in pursuit of it and came to a garden where he saw a lovely maiden. No longer able to restrain himself he approached the maiden thus without knowing who she was:


"How beautiful you are! You are fit to adorn a palace and will make a pretty queen for me."

The maiden did not feel embarrassed in the least on being complimented thus. She retorted, "Yes, I too should like to marry someone like you and then my son will marry your daughter."

The king was intrigued by this answer and did not know how to deal with her as he was obviously outwitted.

Soon after he returned to his capital, but he could not shake the image of the maiden from his mind, nor indeed the words she had spoken. He sent men round to trace her out and learnt that she was a princess. He sent match-makers to her father proposing his own suit and prayed to him to assent to the princess becoming his queen. After due deliberation her father communicated his acceptance of the match. The date was set for the marriage which was later celebrated befittingly with illumination and feasting, music and dancing.

. The princess came to live in the palace right royally and was attended upon by a suite of pages and maid servants. But she was never visited by the king, her husband, nor did he ever talk to her. The princess felt disgusted in a few weeks and made an excuse to visit her father after a couple of months. She did not report her

secret to any one except her mother. The latter was very much grieved but as no remedy suggested itself to her she advised her daughter to wait patiently.

Two or three years passed and yet the king did not even make a presence of remembering his wife. Not to speak of visiting her personally, he did not even send a messenger to ask after her welfare. But the princess expressed no surprise nor made any complaint.

One day, however, she begged her father to grant her a boon to travel beyond his own State. "I am now fully grown up and yet," she said, "I know so little about the world. Travelling abroad will add to my knowledge of the world and of the marvels of creation."

Her father gave some thought to what she said but declined the permission. "You are not a man," he observed, "and I cannot make sufficient arrangements for your protection outside my principality."

But the princess insisted and expressed her resolve to go unescorted, all alone, if he did not grant her boon. Hard pressed thus, her father made all arrangements for her journey, appointing wise and gallant men to escort her.

The princess's sojourn was leisurely. She was well-provided with money and travelled in a befitting state in different directions. At last she reached the borders of her husband's State. She sent word to him that a princess from a distant land had arrived and wanted to make her obeisance to His Highness. The king was so highly impressed with the wording of her letter and the etiquette of her plenipotentiary that he came personally to receive her. She was, of course, in disguise and the king failed to recognize his wife. Overwhelmed, however, with the beauty of her looks and with the charm of her personality he invited her to live as his guest in his palace which she graciously agreed to.

This was the plan of the princess herself. She used all her cards—and her arts—so well that the king lost his heart to her. She too professed to have fallen in love with the king and they developed an intimacy. After a couple of months the princess sought his leave which he was very reluctant to give. Ultimately, before she took her departure the princess got from him his ring and his handkerchief besides many valuable presents.

Within a few months of her reaching her father's palace the princess gave birth to a son. Her father was furious and said that his daughter had made him lose his face and slash his nose. But the princess explained everything to her mother and her parents admired her cleverness. The child was dark in complexion and was named Shabrang which means "of the colour of night."

As the child grew up he was given instruction in various arts befitting his station. But his mother wanted him to learn all the tricks of a thief. She, therefore, asked a clever and experienced thief to train him up in his trade. After some time the thief reported the successful completion of his assignment.

The princess wanted to assure herself that it was so and set him a couple of tests. In the first instance she asked him to get an egg from the nest of an eagle without disturbing the king of birds. Shabrang went nimbly up the massive trunk of an ancient chinar. He put his hand into the nest while the eagle was in and came away with an egg so neatly that the bird was not at all aware of the loss. His mother was satisfied with his training when he came out with flying colours from another stiffer test.

"Now you are fit for the task for which I have got you trained," said his mother to Shabrang. 'All these years," she added, "I have been smarting under an insult and humiliation I have suffered at the hands of your father. It is now for you to avenge it."

Then she explained in as delicate a manner as possible that her husband had slighted and deserted her. She directed him to the State of her husband and asked him to commit daring burglaries til] the king, out of helplessness,

would be compelled to win over the captain of the thieves by offering him his daughter in marriage. "When this stage is reached you should send for me before accepting the offer," she concluded.

Shabrang reached Kashmir. His dark complexion marked him out to be an uncommon man. His well-developed physique, his sharp looks, his agile body and his polished and courteous address created a good impression wherever he went. He made friends with the captain of the palace guards and in a few days he was himself offered a situation on the bodyguard of the king. He made a survey of the capital, took note of the important and well to-do people, and studied the situation of important thoroughfares, canals and bridges. Within a couple of months of his employment he committed the first burglary and hid the stolen property in a hole under a tree in the fields. The news of the burglary spread everywhere. Though people felt concerned, they could not help admiring the unknown thief for his daring and his cleverness.

This burglary was followed in the next few days by several others, each surpassing the previous one in astounding cleverness and daring. The citizens had never been harassed thus and the guardians of law never knew a time when they had been similarly teamed. When the king heard of these outrages he reprimanded the kotwal and charged him to be on watch and patrol the streets personally. That same night the kotwal went round the city but not a mouse was stirring. He saw a woman drawing water from a well in a vegetable garden.

"Who are you?" he asked.

"I am a poor woman working here on this vegetable farm and came here to draw water," she replied.

"Why couldn't you do so earlier?"

"My baby is ill and was crying all through the day It has just gone to sleep and I rushed here."

"Did you happen to see any thief?"

"Yes, he came here last night to steal my turnips and threatened to smother me if I raised any alarm. He is likely to come again tonight."

"Then I may keep watch here and seize him," said the kotwal who vividly remembered the admonition that had been administered to him earlier that day.

"By all means," said the woman, "but he is hardly expected to come here when he sees you in your uniform. You had better exchange your clothes with mine and sit perched on the pole aloft to avoid detection."

The kotwal accepted the advice which appeared to be sound. Dressed as a farmer's wife he sat on the heavy end of the shaft. The woman pulled down the rope to raise him up and tied it to a peg on the ground. "I'll let you down," she said, "the moment he appears", and went towards her mud hut in a corner.

Early in the morning the king received the news of other burglaries during the night. He sent for the kotwal but he was nowhere to be seen. The report gained currency all round that the kotwal was missing, for he had not been seen since the previous evening. Search parties were sent round and the whole city was combed. The kotwal was finally discovered perched on the shaft which lifted water out of the well. He was overcome with shame and mortification at his gullibility and the predicament in which he was found. All his prestige was gone into dust. "Sir !" he addressed the king broken hearted, "I deserve to be whinged and imprisoned for my folly." The king, however, consoled him and asked the wozir to take in hand the arrangements for the next night's watch.

The wasir confident of his wisdom and experience set about his task in all earnestness. He patrolled the streets and found everything in order. Going towards the outskirts of the city he heard a grinding sound and saw a dim light coming out of a doorway. On reaching the spot he saw an old woman grinding corn.

"Why are you working so late?" he asked.

"What else can we do, protector of the weak?" she replied. "I should have been asleep in bed had not that incarnation of the devil come and beat me. He gave me this corn to grind and threatened to kill me if I do not finish it by the time he returns this way."

The wazir could not let go this opportunity and decided to change places with the old woman. "But your clothes?" said the old woman as she accepted the proposal of the wazir, "your clothes will at once scare him away. He will come later and beat me." Accordingly the wazir exchanged his clothes with the old woman and started grinding corn.

Meanwhile, having donned the wozir's garments Shabrang committed more startling burglaries. In the morning reports were again made to the king about the thief. He sent for the wozir but he was nowhere to be seen. Inquiries were made, search parties were sent round and the wozir was found disguised as an old woman in a state of utter mortification. "Sire," he said to the king, "time was when people considered me wise and clever enough for the exalted post at the feet of your majesty. It no longer holds true now, for obviously I have been baffled, outwitted and defeated. The humble prayer of your worthless servant is to relieve him of this charge and to appoint a really wise man in my place who can rid the state of this pestilence."

The king, of course, realized that the wozir was speaking under the stress of his humiliation and tried to comfort him. He consulted other wise and venerable citizens as to how the menace could be countered. They offered various suggestions but the king was not inclined to accept any. "This is an extraordinary emergency," he said, "and can be tackled in an extraordinary way." He said that it could not be a common thief or cut-throat who had set the police and magistracy at defiance and given an affront even to the illustrious wazir himself. He suggested an unorthodox plan the novelty of which staggered the whole assembly: it was to be made known by the beat of the drum that he would give his daughter in marriage to the thief if he surrendered himself and took an oath to abstain from such deeds subsequently.

Accordingly the State was agog with excitement on hearing this startling news. Kashmir has a fertile soil for rumours which have a substratum of truth and wildest fantasies were built on the proclamation which spread all over the State in no time. "Who is the thief?" "Will he accept the offer?" "He is surely some foreign prince," was what the people asked and said.

The king held a public audience on the third day in accordance with his proclamation and awaited the hero of the burglaries to make his appearance public. On both sides of the king were seated his courtiers and the wise men of his realm. The atmosphere was tense with expectation and for some time it appeared as if the thief had spurned the offer.

The public crier once again renewed the offer on behalf of the king. There was a stir at the gate and walking past the guards Shabrang stepped forward and made obeisance to the king. "What could this foreigner have to say to his majesty on this occasion?" thought the prince. In the meantime Shabrang stood erect gracefully and declared in all solemnity that he was responsible for all the burglaries. It was as startling a piece of news as any of the exploits he had been responsible for and nobody could have associated him with a theft. But such is the love of people for taking credit for prophecies that everybody began to whisper into the ear of his neighbour. "Did I not say that this young man appeared suspect?" "Did I not say that only a foreigner could have done it?"

The king himself was surprised and when he demanded proof Shabrang took him to the spot where all his booty was sat ely buried. Everything stolen was recovered including the uniform of the police kotwal and the robes of the wazir. The king was satisfied and made an offer of the hand of his daughter in marriage to Shabrang. The latter declared that his purpose was now fully served and no more burglaries would occur. The citizens heaved a sigh of relief and the kotwal and wazir gave gifts to the poor and the holy by way of thanksgiving.

Shabrang now sent for his mother intimating to her every detail. She was accorded a warm reception due to the would-be mother-in-law of the royal princess and was lodged in the palace. In due course the king, true to his proclamation, came to pay a call on his female guest and made an offer of his daughter in marriage to Shabrang. She said that she would have accepted the offer gladly but that could not be. "Shabrang can no more marry the princess," she said, "than a brother can take his sister for a wife."

The king was puzzled by this answer and frankly confessed it. Shabrang's mother then produced the ring and handkerchief that she had got from the king when she visited him in disguise before Shabrang's birth. She also reminded him of the occasion when they first met in a garden and the words they had exchanged then. What had appeared as a puzzle then had actually happened now and the king felt that he had really been outwitted by the clever lady. The king and his queen were reconciled to each other and Shabrang was acknowledged not as the king's son-in-law but as the heir-apparent.

 
 

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