a lawyer's clerk in a district town he came into contact with all sorts
of people: big landholders and petty tenants, shopkeepers and businessmen,
judicial officers and public men, and he knew practically all their innermost
secrets. It pleased him to relate to those who collected in his study at
home, anecdotes about men and their affairs which he learnt in his professional
capacity. Of course, he never mentioned names but his narratives were all
the more interesting in spite of that because he was an unconscious artist
in story-telling. But he was at his best when he related a Story of his
own creation. In that process the limitations of the three dimensional
world ceased to stand in his way and time and space could dissolve at his
bidding. He was a child, pure and simple, and was so absorbed in the child's
play of his fancy that people really envied him. While he was narrating
a tale, usually with himself as the central figure, scepticism disappeared.
It was not
easy to provoke him to start his pet hare. But one Sunday when he was at
perfect leisure he was in a favourable state of mind to regale his friends
with "laughter holding both his sides." He would be drawn out by a simple
statement made deliberately but with all innocence.
"Saw son of
the other day. Though so young, he was galloping with the speed of wind."
This would come almost as a red rag to the bull and the lawyer's clerk
would not stand it. '`Tush, tush!" he would say, "don't talk in hyperboles.
I can know a good horseman from bad. Must I tell you what it is to gallop
with the speed of wind? Listen." The child set about building castles in
ago when I was a younger man, my boy attended the school. The teacher introduced
a new book and asked the boys to do certain sums from it. The boy asked
me to get him the book but it was not available locally. I said I would
go to Srinagar and get it. I was extremely busy and could not keep my promise.
Then one morning the boy came to me at about eight and began sobbing, 'The
teacher will beat me black and blue if I don't show him the sums.' I could
stand his sobbing no longer. My pony was saddled in a moment and off I
galloped in the direction of Srinagar. Towns and villages flitted by in
a few moments and I was duly in Srinagar. At Amirakadal I met an old friend
with whom I talked for a couple of minutes and shared a cigarette. Getting
the book from the book-seller I galloped on my return without wasting time
anywhere. Back here I gave the boy his book. You may be sure that he did
the sums and trotted to his school in time. His teacher was highly pleased
with him for he was the only boy to have got the book and done the sums."
Being gay in
mood and light in spirit the hero took his associates into confidence and
related another adventure.
"I had gone
to a village in the foot hills. Dense and dark forests abound in the vicinity.
One night we heard an unusual sound. It was the whining of the fox. In
that part of the country it is an alarming signal, for it means that the
leopard is stalking in its wake. Sure as anything there was a panic as
cottage after village cottage shouted that the cattle were in danger. Before
they could take all measures about the safety of their cattle, the wild
beast had already claimed one or two victims. The household where I was
staying was still fumbling and hesitant about the steps to be taken to
safeguard their cattle. But the royal beast was on the spot. They were
too late. Many of them were funky. They cried or shouted. It was a strange
spectacle of spinelessness.
"I was perhaps
the only one who was not unnerved. I foresaw that the cattleshed would
come in for the special attention of the beast. I took my position near
the entrance to the shed, the trunk of a tree providing me cover. The leopard
was in the attempt of pushing open the door of the shed when I sprang up
from behind my cover, was astride its back and grasped its ears even before
it was aware of what had happened. I twisted, tweaked and twitched its
ears with such vigour that it turned its head away from the shed even as
the elephant responds to the spike of the mahout. The leopard was soon
turned into a cousin of the lamb. The onlookers who were taken by surprise
came rushing with ropes and chains. A halter was put round the jaws and
head of the leopard, its legs were bound in chains and ultimately the leopard
became an inmate of the zoo in Srinagar."
exploit of the man beats all else in its originality and boldness of conception.
In handling this theme all accepted conventions, scientific laws and propriety
have been thrown to the winds. Here is the narrative in brief.
"I was strolling
along the road early one morning when I saw a car coming in the distance.
In a minute or so I realized that it was the Maharaja's car and when it
came close to me, sure enough it stopped. Even before I could salute the
Maharaja he had recognized me and asked the chauffeur to apply the brake.
He betokened me to get in and the car ran once again at full speed. We
talked informally as usual and I learnt that the Maharaja was being awaited
by several friends in his favourite game-preserve. He invited me to keep
him company in a bear hunt. I gave my assent.
"I had never
handled a rifle so far but I had confidence in my ability to pick up the
fundamentals of the art the moment I was confronted with the situation.
When we reached the shooting lodge I at once grasped a rifle without in
the least betraying my ignorance which the Maharaja never suspected. The shikaris
already chalked out the plans for us. We went deeper into the forest, and
were surrounded by lofty grass and undergrowth. Various members of the
party went in different directions but I kept close to the Maharaja. In
an hour or so we detected traces of bears and before we could really expect
them they were already upon us. The beaters, the shikaris, the aides
and the Maharaja all got into frantic activity. They took position under
cover and some of them betrayed nervousness. At last the Maharaja fired.
The bullet missed the aim, for by that time the two bears had shifted their
positions. The shikaris and the aides were excited now because of
the concern they felt for the Maharaja. I felt that unless I took a careful
aim, the situation might get out of hand. Taking cover behind a stone I
fired in the name of the Almighty. Two bullets whizzed at once out of the
double-barrel gun. For some distance the twin bullets kept pace together.
Getting close to the bears the two bullets bifurcated and penetrated the
hearts of the two bears. In a few moments the bears collapsed even before
my eyes and I emerged as a hunter. 'Thank you,' said the Maharaj a. 'Glory
be to your Highness,' I replied. . . "
* * *
was an institution of hoary antiquity in the Indian village set-up. He
commanded high prestige in the village and he was the liaison between the
administration and the people. His duties included communication of intelligence
of an extraordinary nature and realization of land tax.
headman served as a liaison and enjoyed the support of the administration
he commanded obedience from the common people. Nobody dared disobey him
and sometimes when he merely raised his eyebrows it was taken as an admonition
by the simpler among the villagers. But it was not always roses. Occasionally
he found it difficult to realize land revenue from the villagers and then
the tehsildar took him to task. If he was haughty and vain he usually
made an example of the headman. Indignities were loaded upon him.
Once upon a
time the tehsildar called the headman of a village to the headquarters.
In Kashmir the State also undertook to supply rations in paddy to the citizens
of Srinagar at fixed rates. For this purpose it imposed upon the cultivators
a levy in grains which the tehsildar and finally the headman collected
from them. That year resulted in a drought and the people of the city became
panicky owing to the poor harvest. They raised a hue and cry and the State
administration, fearing the British Resident, set its machinery into motion
to collect the levy. To allay the panic tehsildars were directed
to. collect the levy much ahead of the usual schedule.
At the tehsil headquarters
the village headman represented the difficulties of the cultivators. Their
harvest was poor and they could not part with the grains because they were
afraid their own families would starve. They looked to the State to come
to their aid in that lean period. All these were common grievances but
the headman of the village above referred to was the first to ventilate
them. Other headmen who had also been summoned endorsed these views and
the tehsildar felt himself landed in a mess. But he was bold and
sagacious. He did not want to punish everybody. He decided to make an example
of the first headman and thus to overawe everyone else. He had the turban
taken off the headman and dismantled. Under his orders the headman was
caned and finally he was dragged by the feet on the earth for nearly twenty
yards. These usual weapons in the armoury of petty administrators overawed
who had thus been subjected to these grave indignities left for his village.
The news of the rough treatment he had received had already reached the
village and the villagers were touched by the stout courage with which
he had stood for their point of view. Many of them came to him to express
their sympathy with him. The gathering was tense with a good deal of resentment
against the tehsildar. But the headman had not lost his sense of humour. When one of his sympathizers said, "We are grieved to learn, sir,
that the inhuman tehsildar put you to indignity," he replied:
indignity to the devil. Not the least of it."
sir," said another, "we are shocked to learn that your turban was demolished."
Who told you it was so? Do you think I would leave them alive? It was only
a turn or two of the turban that they undid."
were surprised at this complacence on the part of the headman. Another
man put the next question to him.
"Is it a fact,
sir, that they caned you?"
the headman. "Who the devil? What rumours some people spread and others
believe! They no more could cane me than count the stars in the day. All
that happened was that I received just one or two lashes and they were
as light as the touch of Now ers."
did they drag you by the feet on the earth?"
"Not at all,
not at all. Dragging me by the feet! Think of it. Not even their grandfathers
could dare to do so. Do you take your headman to be so cheap? It was only
over two or three yards that I was made to slip!"
The dense clouds
of tension had already lifted and now the whole company burst into laughter.
"By God," said the villagers to the headman, "you are a rare gem."