The Opium Smokers
Several opium smokers were once seated
in their den. It occurred to one of them that for a long time they had not had
an outing and they decided to go to the Shalimar gardens the next Sunday. Those
days the boat was the only means of conveyance suited to those going to the
gardens on pleasure trips and the small fraternity of opium smokers decided to
go to the riverside wherefrom they could be transported across the Dal Lake.
They carried with them their rations and some utensils to cook their meals. It
was rather too early in the morning for any one to be transported over the Dal
and the opium smokers had to wait on the river bank for some time. The early
morning breeze was blowing and the friends felt cold. So they decided upon
enjoying a smoke and the pipe was filled with tobacco and opium and each of them
enjoyed the luxury of a puff.
Not long after one of them shouted:
"There you are! A boat is coming."
"Let us make ready," said
A third shouted, "Friends, you are
aware, I am always the first to step into a boat."
The next was eager to contest this assumed
right of his companion. There were arguments and appeals while the first opium
smoker shouted, "You accursed boatwoman! Why don't you make for this
"But where is she ?" asked one
of them who appeared to be comparatively sober.
The first smoker picked up a pebble and
saying, "Let this crush her silly head", hurled it at what he imagined
to be a boatwoman plying a boat but what was in reality a fly sitting on a stalk
of dried paddy grass. The pebble splashed into the water and the fly was
frightened away. "There! there !" said he, "the stone has done
away with that dirty woman and the boat is about to capsize."
After some time they managed to get a
boatman to take them across the lake to the Mughal gardens at the foot of the
hills flanking Srinagar on the east. The shikara, as the light boat used for
such pleasure trips over short distances is called, is a comfortable means of
conveyance and one sits in it perfectly at ease as in one's home. Such an
attitude develops the mood for smoking one's favourite pipe and, having taken a
day off, the fraternity of smokers amply fumigated their interior with opium, as
amply as only the divines do. Consequently the stars became visible to their
naked eyes, and the nymphs under water and the spirits of the air entertained
them with their minstrelsy.
In this atmosphere surcharged with gaiety
one of them felt a little heaviness in his throat and spat out into the water. A
shriek escaped the throat of another. "Oh !" he cried, "our
friend has spat his heart out." There was genuine concern among all of them
for their companion who spat into the water and even he came to believe that he
must have thrown away his heart. They laid him down, rubbed the soles of his
feet, fanned his face and heaved long drawn-out sighs till the influence of
opium lifted off his brain.
He sat up and consoled his friends:
"Don't grieve yourselves to death, brethren," he said, "my heart,
nay, not even my whole life is worth all the grieving. May I be your sacrifice!
Take comfort and be at peace."
They ultimately crossed the Dal Lake and
the boat landed. They picked up their things from the boat, utensils, rations,
sheets, pillows, etc., and the queen of them all, the smoking apparatus. It was
decided that they should cook their meals outside the garden and make a repast
of it on the flower-bestrewn lawns of the garden under a chinar by the fountains
The first step decided upon was to prepare
tea and to sip it leaning against the trunks of trees with their branches
outspread. While tea-leaves were being heated in the somavar, a mulberry dropped
from above and perched on the lip of the opium smoker who lay stretched on the
ground under the mulberry tree. They watched him rather enviously and expected
him to open his lips and eat the fruit. But he did no such thing and the
mulberry lay glued to the spot where it had fallen.
One of his companions could not resist
saying, "Look, a mulberry is fallen on your lips. If I were you I would
open my lips and swallow it."
The other replied, "It is all very
well for you to advise me to open my lips. But do you take it to be so easy a
job to move the heavy gates leading to the stomach and eat the mulberry. If I
were as young in years as you, as once I was, I could do so. But now it is too
exacting a job."
In the meantime the mulberry had slipped
into the mouth and the man quite enjoyed its taste.
Duties about the preparation of their
meals were allotted but it was decided to do everything without speaking a
single word. Whoever broke this golden rule of silence was to stand the others a
course of pilau. Consequently all of them set about discharging their duties in
absolute silence. One of them improvised an oven, another ignited fire while a
third put the pots on the oven. Not a word was spoken. At length the rice boiled
and gruel had to be drained off. In Kashmir, pots used for cooking rice are
wider at the bottom with a neck which is narrower and about one-third of the
size of the pot. The lid was put in place, a duster was tied round the mouth and
the pot was lifted to the edge of the water wherein it was intended to let the
excess of gruel drip.
As the man did all this quietly, his
glance turned in the direction of water where he saw the reflection of the pot.
Wider at the bottom and narrow at the mouth with a duster tied round, it had a
distant resemblance to a female form in the seated posture as viewed through the
befogged eye of an opium smoker and with a feeling of mild surprise he remarked,
"Hast thou come too?" He meant, of course, his wife in the
characteristic Kashmiri headgear. His companions who were eager for a break in
the spell of silence did not ask him how his wife had come but seized the
opportunity and shouted, '`He will stand us a course of pilaf." A good deal
of hilarity followed.
They spent their time in the garden,
lolling on the lawns. They did justice to the rations they had carried but more
so they smoked to their heart's delight. While one of them was nodding drowsily
after a heavy meal, a fly sat on his eyelid without his being aware of it. A
companion of his took it for no less dreadful a being than an eagle out to pick
his eyes out. Eager to save the nodding friend from harm he picked up one of the
shoes and shot it at the dangerous enemy perched on the tender organ of the man
who was nodding. The latter felt dazed and sparks flew out of his head but was
congratulated by the other: "I have saved you from inevitable ruin."
The sky was bright and blue and no one
amongst them was eager to go back home. The sun flushed the west and peeped from
the placid lake. Flocks of crows, starlings and sparrows flew across the sky,
lured by the blooming west. Before long the moon emerged from behind the Nishat
garden and in course of time everything was painted silver. Every vagrant
thought of his lair and even the opium smokers decided upon going home.
No boat was visible in the direction in
which they went. But it was silver, silver everywhere and who would need a boat
in such an atmosphere! When they reached near the edge of the water, only one of
them doubted that it was not a continuation of land. The others had no such
doubt and to reassure him that what they said was correct they lifted the thin
skull cap off his head and hurled it on the water ahead of them. The skull cap,
of course, floated on water which convinced the other that they were equally
safe. Two of them led the van and in a few moments they found themselves steeped
in water, especially the one loaded with pots. But the cold douche washed the
vapours of opium off their heads and they promptly retraced their steps and
saved themselves but could not salvage the pots!