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 19

The Fugitive Fawn

The village was within the forest area. There were ancient trees all around it, and rich luscious undergrowth invaded the village itself. Clearings of the forest were cultivated with maize and barley. A stream flowed down through the village and helped the lumbering trade.

The forest was also a rakh or game preserve and no one could enter it without a permit. A beast straying into the boundaries of the rakh would at once be impounded; and unless the owner redeemed it early it found itself with the auctioneer and the proceeds were deposited in the treasury. A man spotted there had to pay exorbitant fines for trespassing over prohibited area if he failed to propitiate the watchers. The status of the beasts in the rakh was higher in comparison with that of an individual villager, though occasionally they ran the risk of being shot at by people fond of spiker.

Man in the village and beast in the rakh were, however, neighbours and all the enactments on the bluebooks could not prevent the settled facts of their neighbourliness. Sometimes, while men were away at home, the beasts came down into their farms and had their fill with maize or any other crop; or men were led into the rakh in search of strayed domestic animals. Often parties out on shikar passed through the village, engaged village boys and loaded them with bakhshish, and sometimes the cops came from the district headquarters to hold inquiries into the natural death of a quadruped belonging to the game preserve. On the whole the villagers regarded the game preserve as a nuisance and would have it done away with. But they knew that it enjoyed the patronage of the ruler himself who seemed to be even fonder of a horned beast than of a minister of State and if ever he took pains personally for anything, it was for the welfare of the horned beasts in the rakh.

Once it so happened that a fawn was led astray from the rakh and drifted towards the village habitation at dusk. Ordinarily the villagers would drive it again to the rakh and the matter would end there. On this occasion, however, the little beast was spotted by a young man of uncommonly high spirits who had an eye for adventure. He sat quietly till the fawn covered several hundred yards towards a grove of trees near the edge of a fountain. The man moved quietly and unobtrusively towards the grove, took the animal unawares and caught it. It was a feat unheard of before within living memory in the village.

So far so good. But what was the young man going to do with the prize? He could not keep it chained at home, convert his home into a museum and let himself be dragged into prison under the game preservation regulations. Nor was it feasible to kill the animal secretly and throw a feast to his friends because the truth was bound to trickle out one day with a tremendous bang. He took a couple of elderly neighbours in his confidence who, much against his expectation, did not applaud his skill or commend his velour but painted a bleak picture of the possible consequences of the act and led him to the headman of the village.

The matter alerted the whole village and people thronged to the house of the headman to have a look at the beautiful little fawn or to know how this unique visitant was to be disposed of. Many were tempted by the prospect of a community dinner and taste of venison, and urged the headman to bury the matter along with the horns and skin of the deer.

But he was firm. "Experience has taught me that the murder of a man or a fawn will be out, whatever care we take to bury the horns," he said. "For me," he continued, "there is only one way open and that is to lead the animal back to the rakh." He added, "there is, however, another alternative," and he paused for effect.

"What's it?" shouted a few.

"I'll tell you only if the elders promise to stand by me for the honour of this village," he replied.

"We are with you," said one.

"Tell us what you want," added a few more.

He gave them the plan. He wanted them to go down to the capital city, seek audience of the ruler and present the prize to him. "He is to reward us," said the headman with some emotion, "either by remitting the grazing tax, or reducing the rent on land."

The novelty of the plan swept the villagers almost off their heavy feet. The elders appreciated the wisdom of which the plan was born and the more youthful ones claimed their representation in the party that was to lead the fawn to the capital. Preparations were made swiftly and early next morning a party of eleven—a propitious number—left the village under the leadership of the headman, escorting the little fawn.

They passed over dry tableland or grassy meadows through villages or dusty roads, but wherever they went they took the onlookers by surprise; and every one praised the wisdom of the headman. They never felt choked with the dust or oppressed with the hot sun. The sun was shining vertically above their heads when they reached the river. Finishing their lunch by the river bank they embarked a ferryboat and with high spirits and large expectations took their way to the capital. The waves were alive with their songs.

Early next morning they reached the outskirts of the city. The boat stopped as usual at the octroi post and their difficulties began. Every head of animals was charged a tax. But in the long experience of the clerk a deer had never been led into the city and he could not say what he was to charge. The headman claimed tax free entrance of the "royal beast" into the city which the clerk would not concede in the interests of the State revenue. Ultimately the headman deposited a sum of money with the clerk in expectation of obtaining royal commands for its refund and probably of an order of dismissal for the clerk. This suited the latter as he would seek the advice of his superiors regarding the exact amount of tax to be charged.

The party directed their steps towards the palace. They and the little antler felt somewhat shy of treading over the tarred road, smooth, clean and polished. Sighting the palace gates they shouted at their loudest: Maharaj ki jai (victory to the Maharaja), etc. and people from the neighbouring houses came to stare at them and the little captive quadruped whom they were dragging along. "Is it a village circus?" they asked. The sentinels on duty at the gates, not knowing the intentions of the people, alerted themselves and the procession was stopped a hundred yards away from the palace gate and the guards asked them what they wanted.

The ruler known to be an arch-aristocrat in the city passed many times through their village and talked to the inhabitants in their own language. The headman had often chatted with him with a degree of informality. He, therefore, told the guards that they wanted to talk to the ruler. They did not condescend to let the guards know any more about their mission. But the latter knew the formalities at the palace and would not let them in. The corporal asked them what they were going to make of the deer and very reluctantly the headman gave him to understand that it was to be presented to the ruler. The corporal conveyed the intelligence to the captain and the captain passed it on to the private secretary of the ruler.

The small crowd was waiting at a little distance from the palace gate. Every moment they expected the ruler to send for them and to receive them in open-hearted glee. They had seen him extremely fond of these antlers in the rakh and he had often preferred to go without meals rather than miss the chance of giving them a chase. They cried themselves hoarse with shouts wishing victory, health and happiness to their ruler down to his seventh generation.

A quarter of an hour passed and they were still waiting at the same spot with the palace gates closed against them and the palace roads untrodden by them. The sentinels on guard who gradually gathered all details from them told them that the private secretary was about to bring the matter to the notice of His Highness. Their faces beamed when an A.D.C. came to the gate and told them that since His Highness was not feeling well he had asked his prime minister to attend to them and that they should approach him.

They again raised shouts of joy though less loudly and disappointment was visible on the faces of a few of them. However, the headman led them enthusiastically to the prime minister. The latter was completely taken by surprise, for His Highness was so ill that he had not informed him. The prime minister was an experienced and intelligent man who had risen from the ranks. He had had no time to spare from his duties to attend to sports like hunting. He shuddered to think that he would ever be led to kill a peace-loving animal far away in the forest, let apart doing so for pleasure. He was pleased to look at the comely animal and he remembered quite a few lines about its kind from Shakuntala he had read long long ago. But apart from that the matter touched no sympathetic chord in his mind. Forests, rakes, and villages were in the portfolio of his cabinet colleague the minister for revenue and he directed the villagers to wait upon him.

Disappointment was now writ large on every face. The headman was burning with rage in the heart of his hearts, but did not think it discreet to express it. "I must make something out of this bad bargain," thought he, "otherwise my prestige as the headman is washed in the blind alley that we have come to." He spoke a few cheering words and they met the minister for revenue. Here was another genius at the files and the decorum of red tape. He never bothered his head about such petty matters as game laws in the State but remembered many cases of international law and, of course, his Cuthbertson.

"Won't you give me the little beastie to ride, papa dear?" shouted a little girl, Dresumably his grand-daughter, who was watching the village folk from a first floor window.

He could not help the villagers in any way as he had never poked his nose into the game preserves which interested His Highness and his guests. In all such matters he was guided by the advice of the collector. He referred the processionists to the collector as a matter of course.

From His Highness to the collector, what a big fall it was! The headman spat on the ground, trying to clear his mouth of the bitter viscous saliva. His fellows and he were hungry and beaten with the callousness they found everywhere.

"My dear men' by ill luck His Highness is unwell, otherwise each one of these should have tried to seek your pleasure. We have amongst us probably a sinner whose presence has led us from bad to worse. But men are born to face odds, and who amongst men is hardier or more courageous than we who are constantly at war with nature and her ferocious beasts?"

There was no response from the throng and the villagers followed in his wake famished, disheartened and broken, to the collector.

The last mentioned officer was the only one familiar with local conditions in most parts of the State and he could at once visualize what it meant for the villagers to have come to the capital from the distant village bordering on the rakh. He felt pity for them and gave them a little money to enable them to have something to eat. Beyond that he was bound by the laws. He consulted the warden of game preserves who gave him to understand that the villagers would incur severe punishment if he were to take official notice of the presence amongst them of the little fawn. He, however, was inclined to take a lenient view of the matter and disregard the offense.. The generosity of the collector had won for him well-merited appreciation in the minds of the villagers and they looked up to him for some more favours. He had only to explain to them in detail what the warden had communicated to him. "The best course for you," he said, "is to go home quietly and set the fawn free in the game preserve."

The villagers stepped into the boat that had brought them to the city. They were poorer by the amount deposited with the clerk at the octroi post who having heard the story of their ill-fated expedition refused to part with the deposit which he considered well-earned. The boat pushed of I, was pulled upstream and the villagers experienced a feeling of relief, their faces away from the city. The breeze was cool and they felt refreshed as they lost sight of the far-famed metropolis, and they sang in chorus, unburdening their hearts of the feelings by no means enviable.

The refrain of the song was: "hanglo karyo lola mate lad" (O deer, may I fondle and caress thee!)

 
 

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