Once while Mahadev was
sitting amongst his friends who belonged to the same trade as he,
the conversation centered on the peculiarities of dress among
different people. The Kashmiris never weary of the loose tunic
pherans which keep them warm. The people of Jammu, both men and
women, have preferred for ages trousers fitting very tight on
their legs. These trousers are pretty long and the wrinkles can be
made to add grace and give an artistic appearance to the wearer's
The degree of tightness of
the trousers was being discussed with some amount of earnestness
when somebody hazarded the opinion that no pickpocket could steal
a valuable if hidden inside trousers of this kind. Though the
general opinion was more or less favourable to such a view,
Mahadev's vanity was hurt and he desired the remark to be
qualified with an exception in his favour. The company was not
prepared to concede it, and thereby provoked Mahadev to contest it
"The test of your
ability, Mahadev," said a veteran comrade, "to pull a
thing out of one of the wrinkles of the trousers lies in your hand
reaching the object without the wearer being aware of it. Do you
say it is possible?"
The company laughed, and but
for his reputation would have ridiculed Mahadev for subscribing to
such a view. Mahadev, however, was not put out. He put forth a new
theory: "If your hand can't reach the object, what prevents
you from pulling the trousers out quietly?"
This was regarded to be
equally absurd, considering that the garment is close to the leg
almost as another layer of skin. Mahadev was challenged to
demonstrate it, for nothing short of that could satisfy his
comrades. The test of the operation lay in accomplishing it
quietly without disturbing the man wearing it.
"You may, for ought we
know, draw it out of a man at the point of the knife," said
"How could such a
possibility be obviated?" Yes, it flashed across somebody's
mind: the ruler himself wore such trousers.
"Mahadev, you will have
to prove it by pulling the trousers out of the legs of no less a
person than His Highness himself," said they.
"And the wager?"
"I'll surrender my
leadership, shave off my moustaches and pick up a new trade."
Anecdotes of thieves
breaking into the palace of a ruling sovereign, though rather
rare, are not entirely unheard of; but there is perhaps no
instance of a ruler being deprived of his trousers while asleep.
It was an impossible task that Mahadev had undertaken; at least
some of his comrades felt so and they were looking forward to the
day when Mahadev would surrender his leadership on oath and expose
himself to the banter of his comrades on the loss of his
moustaches. Was it a joke to enter into the bedroom of His
Highness while all the guards were alert with their rifles and
their bayonets? According to the proverb, even birds are afraid to
fly over the residence of a ruler, and who was Mahadev, after all?
Probably even Mahadev
himself had no idea of the gravity of the task he had volunteered
to accomplish, for he found no key to the problem for several
weeks. He eagerly pursued the task as an intellectual rather than
a physical problem. His task was particularly difficult because
the whole retinue of His Highness consisted of his own clansmen of
Jammu and others had no access
to his private chambers.
Mahadev was found by his comrades frequenting the surroundings of
the palatial residence of the ruler and they would exchange a
significant wink as much as to say, "where are you with your
There was a long and narrow
street which led to one of the palace entrances. Guards and other
retainers of the ruler who lived in the servants' quarters of the
palace usually passed along this street to and fro, and a few
shops had been set up there to meet their requirements. When off
their duty, these retainers would usually come to these shops in
business, have long-drawn pulls at the narela or the bigger bubble
bubble, give their teeth exercise with gram coated with jaggery
and exchange gossip. Among these was a class of servants engaged
for massaging the body of His Highness, and gently pressing his
limbs before he went to sleep.
Members of the unofficial
guild to which Mahadev belonged possess sharp intelligence, quick
judgement and a well-developed faculty to win the sympathies of
most people. By cultivating these retainers on these shops Mahadev
stored his sharp mind with the usual trend of events inside the
palace: the time His Highness ate or slept or enjoyed the company
of his friends; what upset his temper or what humoured him; how he
spent his day and his night. He carried a small narela and a pouch
of tobacco, and the offer of a pull at its tube would easily draw
out of these simple hill people their knowledge of the palace.
The ruler was devoted to his
faith in the orthodox fashion. It was soon given out that he was
proceeding to the shrine called Khir Bhawani so well-known in
Kashmir. This shrine was situated on the bank of a tributary of
the river Sindh which joined the Jhelum at Shadipur, twelve miles
below Srinagar. His Highness' camp moved to the shrine by
houseboats, doongas, etc. He freely gave in charity on this
occasion and fed every one who came to his kitchen. Having
observed a fast and offered worship on the due date, i.e., the
eighth day of the bright fortnight of Jeth, and having exercised
his charity to his heart's content, His Highness proceeded down
the Sindh towards Srinagar. However, it was usual with him to camp
at Shadipur for a few days on his return, and on the occasion to
which the story refers, he did not let slip this opportunity for
enjoying a little respite from his strenuous duties in the
Mahadev was equally
unstinting in showing himself off as a devout follower of his
faith and people said that though his means of earning his
livelihood were despicable, he seemed to have the heart of a
devotee. He fasted on the eighth day at the shrine of Khir Bhawani
and even served pudding, milk and fruit to the hungry, and this
made something of a stir at the sacred spot. He greeted his
acquaintances among His Highness' staff with a smiling face.
The next day his boat also
halted at Shadipur. The vast State camping ground was covered with
many tents pitched for His Highness over whom the majestic chinars
stood guard. The ruler here renewed his acquaintance with many of
his subjects of this region who came to pay their respects to him
and honoured many others by asking their names and other
particulars. His subjects were surprised at his sharp memory, for
he remembered the names of many of them and, in several cases, of
their fathers too. Of course, there were perfect police
arrangements, but he was rather friendly, unassuming and merciful,
and his camp never developed the "hush-hush" atmosphere.
He gave large sums by way of charity and bakhshees.
Mahadev felt at home among
the retainers of the ruler and even he came to the camp to offer
his respects. He invited one of them to his boat where meat dishes
were cooked, the ruler being a strict vegetarian. The man ate to
his heart's content.
It was the duty of this man
on this particular day to massage His Highness' limbs and lull him
to sleep. Mahadev secured a set of the garments worn by the
retainers with a turban dyed in bright yellow saffron colour.
Boldly and cleverly Mahadev managed to slip past the sentries in
the disguise of a retainer and got into His Highness' tent when
the latter was already dozing. He began to press his limbs so
tenderly that the ruler did not feel any difference in the hands
or their movements. He was soon fast asleep.
The servant whose place
Mahadev had taken had had a full repast with his friends. To avoid
the envy of his comrades he had kept the invitation and its
consummation a secret. But soon his mind became deliciously
befogged and before he was aware of it, he fell sound asleep. As
no need of his service was felt by His Highness, he continued in
the earthly abode of bliss for several hours.
Meanwhile, Mahadev made sure
that His Highness was fast asleep and that nobody had suspected
his presence there. He quietly unpacked a small piece of a wooden
tube and directing one end towards the ankles of the august
sleeper, one by one, gently blew into it. Several ants who lay
imprisoned inside the tube found a welcome release into the tight
fitting trousers of the ruler and gradually made their way into
the warm interior. They ran up and down the legs, and who can
sleep so sound as not to be disturbed and irritated by such
movements? "Damn these misbegotten insects", said the
ruler scratching his legs with his toes, "pull out the
Mahadev, his life in his
hands, was waiting for this golden moment. Smoothly and artfully
he pulled the trousers off His Highness' legs. The august sleeper
was once again soothed and lulled to deep sleep. Being reassured
of his safety, Mahadev slipped out with the prize. His Highness
changed clothes every day. The servant who had fallen asleep
marked the absence of the trousers but did not report the matter
to the high-ups lest his absence from duty be brought to light.
Mahadev went triumphantly to
his comrades with the prize. His Highness' trousers were
identified, and the outstanding leadership of Mahadev was