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 27

The 'Drone'

Most housewives have a general grievance against their husbands that while they are overworked, the bread-winning husband lives a life of ease and comfort. That, at any rate, was the feeling of the housewife who played the leading role in this tale. It is difficult to say how far her lot was heavier than that of other women of her class living in the town, but there is no doubt that her husband had much less to exert than other men. He was a man without a vocation. When other men went every morning to their offices, shops or places of business to earn their daily bread, this man would be found lolling on a worn-out carpet reading a romantic tale, reclining against his soiled pillow with the pipe of his smoking apparatus in his mouth, or playing dice with men of his like. The housewife, on the other hand, had a ceaseless routine of physical labour, brooming floors, scrubbing utensils, cooking meals, washing clothes, husking paddy, looking after children and what not. She hardly ever got respite from these tasks. Little wonder, therefore, that she complained to her husband of her hard lot and called him a drone.

As a matter of fact that epithet nearly suited his calling. He was an absentee landlord. One of his energetic and ambitious ancestors had somehow been able to acquire a good deal of farm land which had brought to the family wealth, social status and a name. The present head of the family inherited neither the energy nor the ambition of his great ancestor, but a portion of the ancestral land did come to him inevitably, and the tenants of his lands delivered into his hands every year

corn enough to keep his body and soul together. He was convinced that God had created the ancestor to free him from the crushing necessity of working for his living. He blessed his soul and thanked the tenants for sparing him any pains or efforts in looking after the lands.

Not that he was good for nothing. Being the scion of a land-owning family he neither had the inclination nor the necessity to go in for the profession of an artisan, a petty wage-earner. It would compromise the social status and reputation of his family and his relations. Shopkeeping, the profession of a petty retail-seller went against his grain as one's success depended upon using a false balance or weights. He had once succeeded in seeking state employment as a petty clerk but it involved his being posted at a distant place against which, even if he were prepared, his wife protested. He had, therefore, to forego the appointment. Eventually he came to be a gentleman at large. Even so, he had provided everything to his family. All their needs were satisfied and he was considered a well-to-do man independent of the vagaries of the weather and commerce which dogged most wage-earners who were either artisans or shopkeepers.

What his wife grumbled of was something quite different. In the first instance she was rather jealous of her husband's life which implied absence of toil and his independence. While every other bread-winner had to look up to his boss or employer or even clients, her husband was perhaps the only person not bossed-over ordinarily. She would have been happy indeed if she could share part of this independence, but that was, of course, impossible. On the other hand, she had more than her share of domestic toil. Some of her neighbours were not so well off but they enjoyed other amenities. One of them who was working under the public administration in a humble capacity was frequently approached by people for favours and they offered him presents in kind like woollen blankets, quantities of oil and clarified butter, cases of fruit or finer qualities of rice. A gift for which no monetary or material price has to be paid is craved by most people and this housewife always heaved a sigh wistfully whenever her neighbour sent her a pound of pulses, by way of sharing the presents, with the usual: "You might fancy a dish of pulses. Somebody presented it to my husband." "Nobody makes a present of anything to my drone," she would say to herself and involuntarily nurse a grudge against her husband for her frustration and inferiority complex.

Some other neighbours of her's enjoyed other privileges at the expense of the public administration and they boasted of it. This housewife could never boast of anything of this sort which could add an ell to her social prestige. No doubt, they enjoyed a unique status in that her husband had not to acknowledge anyone as his boss, but in a society where everybody was bossed-over nobody regarded it as an advantage. So the housewife felt frustrated and depressed and gave frequently a demonstration of it to her husband.

Not infrequently did she call him a drone in a voice audible to him and gave expression to her frustration on this account, comparing her "hard" lot with that of her privileged neighbours. Often he took no notice of these darts of her tongue which were sharp and piercing, but sometimes his patience was exhausted and he protested. But that only added fuel to the fire and gave spurs to the barbed tongue of the housewife. The house was then turned into a camp of belligerents. Charges and counter-charges were hurled not only on those alive but on the ancestors to several generations on each side and, of course, several skeletons in each cupboard were exposed. Sometimes it led to blows, but when that was not so, the housewife rattled doors and windows violently and severely beat up her children. That was the last straw and beyond that he showed the white feather. He felt crushed and this put a sharper edge on the tongue of the housewife which never showed signs of weariness or flagging. But by that time a neighbour or two arrived on the scene, hostilities were formally ended for the time being and an armed truce patched up.

The days following such outbursts showed the parties at the lowest point of morale. They appeared to be physically exhausted. They did not relinquish their respective duties, but each appeared to dread the very shadow of the other. The housewife frequently heaved a deep sigh and referred to her good-for-nothing husband. "Look," she would say, "how the others flourish. They work hard and provide comfort to their wives. My man squats all the time. I am on my legs nearly the whole day and yet he has the heart to abuse me. But for the children I would have given him up long back and I would have been rather living as a maid-servant in my brother's house than as a housewife in this wretched hole."

On his own part the husband was not to be caught napping. He ventilated his mind thus, "Oh ! the evil day when I was yoked to this witch ! She has eaten my very life out of me." And cautiously he would ask the second person to close the window lest his wife got wind of what he said. "Do you think I am afraid of her tantrums? Not the least. I am more than a match for her, only I do not like to come down to her level. And think of it ! She threatens to desert me ! Would that she conferred that good fortune on me ! It would be a jolly good riddance. But it is an empty boast; I know it is...."

In spite of the timely precaution the wife heard the words. She felt provoked and left the house under formal intimation to the husband. No sooner did he get the intimation than he was in jitters. Out he rushed, offered a thousand apologies and touched her feet. He felt completely demoralized. She pretended not to heed his entreaties. Once again the neighbours intervened and begged of her on his behalf and on behalf of her children not to leave her house. Then only was she moved to retrace her steps and consented to enter her home. He was haunted by a dread and his nerves were all tense till she once again resumed her domestic duties.

Gradually tension was allayed and they settled down to a quiet life till there was another outburst. On the sly the husband made the empty boast to his relatives or friends, "Don't be mistaken that I am afraid of her tantrums. I am only being generous."

Such outbursts occurred once almost every year and the various scenes and acts of this drama were well-known n the neighbourhood. Sometimes the neighbours even enacted this drama privately by way of entertaining one another.

One day, an old uncle of the husband in whom he confided gave him advice which he seemed to fancy. He made it clear to him that he embodied all the characteristics of what the ancients called a "hen-pecked" husband. But, he told him, "you need not be so for ever. A man was afraid of his shadow and ran away. The shadow only pursued him and dogged his steps. But then the man turned round and lo ! the shadow was verily at his mercy."

It appeared to the husband to be a very sound piece of advice and he decided to act UD to it to the last letter In fact the likelihood of his turning the tables on his wife developed in him an arrogance which led to another domestic crisis. The uncle was no longer at hand to advise him on all details and he had to depend upon his own wits to tide over the crisis with flying colours. He framed his plan and chalked out his strategy: "Before she steps out I must seize a pretext and leave the house in a pet under the pretension of never coming back to the fold."

As the head of the family he laboured under the delusion that the house could not exist for five minutes without him and that he was indispensable. He expected that the moment he threatened to leave the house his wife would supplicate to him not to forsake her not to leave.

So when a domestic crisis came next he gave an ultimatum that he was going to leave the family for good. He expected immediate but favourable reaction. There was none. "She doesn't believe that I could ever be so callous as to leave her," he thought. "To make my victory undisputed let me assure her that I am quite capable of it.... Let me turn round upon the shadow." He actually put on his shoes with the conviction that before he came to the foot of the staircase his wife would prostrate herself before him. He descended the steps one after another but not a whiff of air was heard, nor a mouse stirred. He actually slowed his movement to give time to his wife to come and throw herself at his feet. In spite of this firm belief that this strategy of his would utterly deflate the enemy, there was no sign of the wife taking the same line of thought. Reluctantly he stepped into the lane. "Now she will come to her senses?" he imagined. "She will beat her breast and tear her hair," he fancied. "Let her do so for a while," he loved to think.

The lane led to a road, the main thoroughfare of the town with numerous shops. The husband was even now convinced that before he would reach the road he would be persuaded to come back and bless the family with his presence. He even imagined the words he would hear,

"Promise me, my lord, that you will never forsake us...." However? his progress towards the thoroughfare continued and nothing happened. He proceeded further and yet nobody called him. He was highly embarrassed and did not know how to meet the situation. At last he decided to sit on a shop-front. The shopkeeper was known to him and he thought it a good change to spend some time in the company of the shopman.

Minutes passed and formed an hour and yet nobody approached him to excuse his wife. The hour grew into two and every minute of this period was full of tension for him. He seemed to get an apprehension that his strategy had miscarried. "May be," his hope revived, "she is in my search but does not know that I am here." Soon he managed to convey the intelligence of his position to his wife through a passerby and added, "Don't tell her I told you to do so." This passing hope sustained his spirit for sometime. But how long could it be? When he had been sitting on the shop-front for almost three hours, his eyes met a sight for which he would have paid a hundred prewar rupees. He saw his wife actually stepping out on the road. What more convincing proof was needed of the success of his plan? Had he not succeeded in making the "shadow" turn round and had she not come out in her anxiety to persuade him to return?

She had looked in his direction, had seen him and it appeared to him, had even looked at him with a feeling of relief. Then she turned in the opposite direction. He watched her with baited breath. "Perhaps she has not seen me seated here," he thought, "let me allay her fears and meet her half-way in her predicament," and involuntarily he shouted, "Are you looking for me? I am sitting here." She did not even turn round in the direction of the voice. She purchased milk, cream and cakes from a neighbouring shop and went back without heeding what he said.

This was an experience never even dreamt of by him. He felt defeated and he had exposed his weakness to several people including the shopman. He did not know how to face the situation. "Women are callous," he came to think. At last he went to his house with heavy feet and a heart in trepidation. He opened the door and tried to make peace with his wife. All that she said was, "Being fit for nothing outside, the brazen-faced has come back," and he quietly pocketed it.

 
 

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