community has its predilections and prepossessions. The American businessman
is preoccupied with the interest on his investments. The retired British
soldier bores his club-mates with anecdotes of his years in active service.
Waking or asleep, the Japanese manufacturer can never divert his attention
from how to lower costs of production and capture foreign markets. The
Indian peasant talks tirelessly not so much of his wife and children as
of his lands, his bullocks, his landlord and the money-lender. The average
Kashmiri of the past, on the other hand, regarded government service in
whatsoever capacity as the choicest profession. Times have changed considerably
since the age to which the following tale belongs and the new breezes have
blown lofty ambitions into the minds of men and women; nevertheless, many
Kashmiris still love to picture themselves living in an atmosphere of grade
promotions, privilege leave, clerical mischief and executive authority.
ago there was a young man of a respectable family. In those good old days
it was not necessary for all male members of a family to earn their living.
This particular young man, therefore, spared himself the discomfort of
burning midnight oil in pouring over his books or the toil of apprenticeship
in a profession. His family had inherited enough land for sustenance and
with a "devil-take-the-rest" air he felt that rudimentary literacy was
enough for his purpose. Nor did he have any occasion to resent his choice.
In course of
time he grew maturer in the fullness of experience. He realized that though
government employment carried very little by way of salaries or emoluments
it carried a great deal of prestige. People spoke to a government employee
much more respectfully than to one outside the pale of that privileged
circle, and with a little cleverness even the humblest of such employees
could earn a good deal without doing any serious harm to anybody. This
young man, therefore, made up his mind to seek government employment not
so much to make money as to command greater respect, to cut, as it were,
a figure in public who would say, "Here goes who wields considerable authority."
While he had
come to this conclusion independently, an incident occurred just about
that time which in his view made it imperative for him to seek employment
under the government. It appeared that his wife picked up a quarrel with
a neighbour whose husband was an accounts officer. This lady taunted her
adversary with the words that while her husband was a do-nothing drone
she was the wife of a respectable and trusted officer of the government
and added that she would realize the consequences of being discourteous
to her when her husband (the officer) would set into motion the machinery
of law and justice against her.
these! But the smaller wheels of law and justice somehow got into motion
and on several occasions her husband was asked to depose evidence or to
explain matters and it squared ill with his own notions of self-respect.
To secure a post in the State administration, therefore, became his greatest
made up his mind he set about currying favour with the high-ups of the
time. In those days of autocratic rule the modern practice of looking into
budget provisions and securing financial concurrence was entirely unknown
and the ruler, or his viceroy, could confer any office on anybody or give
the sack even to the highest minister. But most rulers were conservative
and therefore slow in accepting suits for offices. This young man made
use of a number of agencies with this end in view and when at last he was
able to make his request known to the ruler, the latter appeared to him
to be unreasonably strict. What he could gather was that there was no post
to which he could be appointed.
He waited and
renewed his prayer to the head of the provincial administration, but with
no better prospect. Meanwhile, both he and his wife were burning with the
feeling of humiliation which had been heaped upon their heads by their
neighbour.The cold sighs of his wife were unbearable to him but obviously
there was no help. At last he approached the high-ups once again and explained
that his intention was not to secure necessarily a lucrative job; all that
he wanted, he elucidated, was to command greater prestige and respect and
that he would be satisfied even with a post that carried no salary. The
authorities who wanted to satisfy this young man were well pleased with
his offer to work without a salary. He had, however, little experience
of working in offices and it was found desirable to entrust him with a
task where he would not be in a position to interfere with the working
of other government agencies. They gave some thought to the problem but
could come to no definite conclusion. The young man renewed his suit and
offered to do anything, even "to count ripples on the surface of the river"
if he had the patronage of the government. They jumped at the suggestion
and at last the young man was offered a situation: his duty was to count
ripples. He welcomed this opportunity of gaining a foothold in the
world of officialdom and was well-satisfied for his pains.
When the offer
was first made it was done with the intention of filling his mind with
disgust. Who had ever heard of any gainful employment which comprised counting
ripples? And yet so eager was the seeker that he welcomed the offer. The
nature of his employment did not seem to dampen his enthusiasm even though
wags made fun of the nature of "august duties" entrusted to him. They roared
with laughter. "We have heard of star gazers," they admitted, "but 'counting
ripples' is an addition to the tasks of a civil government." Among those
who made ironical references to the new officer was his neighbour of the
this the young man assumed his duties seriously. Armed with a warrant of
appointment bearing the royal seal and equipped with a ledger and an encased
pen-tray-cum-inks/and (qalamdan) he posted himself in a doonga. In
those good old days the only conveyances on the roads were the pony or
the palanquin. Those who make use of cars or tongas today had their
own shikaras and the river was the main thoroughfare of traffic.
The young man, therefore. moored his boat near a bridge at the busiest
centre of this traffic, and he began to "count ripples."
In a few days
this news spread all over the valley. His business of "counting ripples"
was wildly talked of and People were left guessing as to the purpose behind
it. Meanwhile, the particular official felt his stock rising and began
to command greater respect. His wife at home regarded herself as respectable
as her neighbour. To this extent the mission of securing government employment
was fruitful. He recorded his observations in his books in the manner of
all clerks. But his ingenuity encouraged him to extend his authority to
fields about which his charter of appointment was silent. He urged all
boatmen to propel slowly without "disturbing the ripples." This was something
which they had never learnt all their lives, and they propitiated him,
for obviously he could get the movements of their boats stopped for quite
some time on the pretext of recording correct observations. Soon he found
that though his post carried no salary he was no loser. In fact, he made
a tight little sum every month and thanked the stars that made him "count
Then came his
turn to flaunt his official authority in the face of his overweening neighbour.The
latter was proceeding along with his wife and children in a shikara to
participate in a wedding. They were dressed in their finest and the "counter
of ripples" got a brain wave to pay them in their own coin. When this particular
within hailing distance of the bridge, he had it stopped.
"What is the
trouble?" the accounts officer puckered his brow.
replied the other, "only that I want to discharge my duties correctly."
counting ripples and recording his counts; recounting, checking and rechecking.
He took a really long time and yet his urgent government duty was not over.
He could not allow any boat to move and the wedding guests were hard put
to it. Time was galloping fast for the accounts officer, for both he and
his wife had to attend to important ceremonials at the wedding.
however, was it for the other officer to make correct observations and
the nature of his duties would not brook the least disturbance of the surface
of water! The wedding guest here beat his breast. Ultimately, however,
he saw into the whole business of counting ripples at that particular moment.
Both he and his wife took leave of their vanity, made up their differences
with their neighbour and lived at peace with the "counter of ripples."