The boat was formerly the most
convenient means of transport in Kashmir. Once a large family of priests was
proceeding in a boat to a holy shrine at a village on the river bank. The
boatmen use the paddle, the punt and the rope in propelling the boat over long
distances. The boatman and the boatwoman take their turns at the stern and both
of them are equally skilled in steering. The one who propels the boat from the
bow with either the punt or the paddle carefully observes the depth of water
underneath and wishing to avoid reefs, shoals or sandbanks warns the steerer to
push off or close, to steer right or left.
On this occasion the bowman wanting to
avoid shallow water shouted to his wife at the stern to steer to the right. The
word "right" in Kashmir has the same sound as the word for an offering
of monetary gift to priests after a religious ritual. The word is coveted by
priests as much as a "brief" is by a lawyer. The priests in the boat
had, therefore, a feeling that somebody was offering money to them and
involuntarily they rushed to the bow in a body. The equilibrium of the boat was
upset and it capsized.
A priest and his son were seated side by
side on the occasion of a thanksgiving dinner in the house of a layman to which
they were invited. Choice dishes were in front of them and they relished the
fare highly. While they were having dinner the son felt thirsty and drank water.
The father looked at him ferociously and nudged him with his elbow. The son felt
that he had been guilty of some breach of etiquette. When both of them reached
home, with great humility the son asked the father where he had been guilty of a
breach of etiquette. The latter was once again infuriated and gave his son
several blows. This seemed to take the edge off his fury and he advised his son
that when a member of the priestly class is invited to dinner by the laity, he
should not drench himself with water but take as much of the delicious viands as
he can. "Water, is always available at my home but good dishes, sonny, are
not in our destiny."
The son realizing the point of his
father's advice, rejoined, "But father, if we take a little water it whets
our appetite and increases our capacity to take more food. When we take our
meals at home we should not take water along, but when we dine out it is in our
own interest to take a little water in between morsels."
The father once more lost his temper. He
pounced upon his son and gave him a few more blows. The son was in utter
confusion till the father added, "Why did you not tell me so earlier. I
could have done greater justice to the meal."
One day a man called upon a priest. The
latter was sitting in his study. The visitor submitted his problem to the priest
for his verdict: "Two neighbours own an ox each. One of the animals kills
the other. Should the owner of the ox killed be entitled to compensation from
the owner of the surviving ox?" The priest pondered over the matter,
analyzed all its facts and came to the conclusion that his visitor was obviously
the master of the ox possessed of greater animality and bellicosity. But he
wanted to be cocksure and asked the visitor his profession.
"I am an oilman, sir," replied
"There you are," said the priest
to himself, "his ox had too much of oilcake, hence his extraordinary
Now he was as sure of the case as he could
be and pronounced his verdict: "A very foul offense has been committed by
the oilman's ox grown overweeningly fat on oilcake. The owner should offer the
victim an ox for the killed besides an indemnity of ten rupees."
"Worthy sir," said the oilman,
"your ox has killed my ox. May I request you to compensate me?"
"Is that so? Let me make sure of the
law that has been laid down precisely for such an offense," replied the
other. He began to turn the pages of a book and pour over them. His face was
once again invested with self confidence and he declared, "The particular
ox had come to the end of the span of its existence and was bound to meet death
anyhow. Death, like life, is in the hands of the Almighty. The other ox was only
the instrument of Destiny. No compensation is indicated or justifiable."
A householder once invited his
family priest to his house to supervise the recitation of prayers. Ordinarily
the householder never bothered himself about such functions and even earned some
notoriety by calling it a waste of time and money. But on this occasion he was
persuaded by his womenfolk to suffer himself to go through the ordeal of this
ceremony because his son had been ailing for a pretty long time and the
physicians had not been able to bring him round despite their best efforts.
The priest was a shrewd man and was
convinced that the householder could not have approached him but for some dire
necessity. He was, however, glad that the scoffer had come to pray. When the
religious ceremony was over, the invitees were served a meal and the priest was
happy enough at this increase in his clientele. At the end of the function the
householder was expected to present a monetary gift to the priest by way of his
"fee" before wishing him goodbye and the gift offered was
insignificantly smaller than the priest expected even from a man of heterodox
practices like his host. The priest objected, and to it the householder replied,
"This is more than enough for a priest for reciting a few verses."
The priest realized that the householder
had learnt nothing and forgotten nothing. He wanted to bring home to him that he
could hit back and even at the risk of using language which he considered
impolite and vulgar he replied, "Yes, this is enough, more so because the
priest led the service without making ablutions befittingly."
Several hundred years ago a holy man lived
in Kashmir. He is credited with having performed many miracles and a large
number of people frequently surrounded him. He did not live a retired life like
anchorites but performed all the duties as a citizen and householder. He was
gifted with scholarship and wit and commanded considerable influence with the
The State makes a handmaiden of the Church
wherever it can. It tries to control the thought processes of the people by all
means at its disposal even by winning over and cleverly brainwashing influential
leaders whether religious or secular. A nobleman sought to win over this holy
man and cultivated his friendship. This was perhaps to serve as a weapon in his
armoury for feathering his own nest and the holy man who understood the subtle
plan did not apparently discourage him. In course of time the nobleman gained
some popularity on account of his association with the holy man. To command
greater stature in the eyes of the people he once invited the holy man to dinner
at his own residence and, surprisingly enough, the latter agreed. He knew that
his friendship was being sought to serve the nobleman as a handle and not for
love or holiness.
The holy man proceeded to the nobleman's
house on the particular day. The doorkeeper was familiar with the associates and
guests of the nobleman who arrived in proper attire. They wore starched turbans,
precious shawls, golden ornaments and embroidered footwear. They were attended
by servants or equerries. As a complete contrast here was this beggar in a
skull-cap, an all too short Reran with sleeves exposing his forearms. How could
he claim the honour of the dinner-table along with other august company?
"Begone, sirrah, or you will receive
a kick on your hip. Your sleeves cannot cover your elbows and yet you claim to
be a guest in this house" they told him. Several guests were witness to
this incident but they had no inclination to interfere.
Soon after the holy man returned. His
beard was well-combed, his turban high, his pheran was starch-white and his
sleeves were long enough to reach his knees in keeping with the fashion. He wore
rings and a fine shawl. He was saluted by the doorkeeper as he passed into the
hall where he was given the seat meant for the chief guest. Dinner was served
and everybody was looking to the chief guest to say grace.
The chief guest, however, did no such
thing. He produced his sleeves and said, "Sleeves eat, do justice to the
dinner." Everybody was surprised, but the holy man repeated the address to
the sleeves. The host felt embarrassed and begged him to excuse any lapse on his
part. The holy man explained what had happened adding that only his dress, his
sleeves, deserved the honour of the dinner. The nobleman wanted to chastize the
doorkeeper to satisfy the guest but the latter forbade it saying that the
servant was not the chief sinner in the house. The lesson went home to the
nobleman and the holy man left without touching the food.
Before germicides and disinfectants were
known, the number of people suffering from fungi of the hair, scabies or
excessive scruff was large enough. Their number was larger in a cold country
like Kashmir. Such people did not enj oy growth of hair on the head and felt
embarrassed in company. They never uncovered their heads for fear of earning the
appellation "copper" which, with reference to the context, applied to
the head covered with scabies or excessive scruff
Once there was a man with a so-called
"copper" head. He had many friends and enjoyed their company but was
extremely sensitive to a reference to hair. He would blush and expose his
intense embarrassment. His friends wanted to cure him of it but did not succeed.
Once he uncovers his head," they
said, "he will gradually get over that maidenly shyness. But how to get him
lift his turban?"
They framed a plan. The
"copper"-head was extremely fond of indoor games like chess and dice.
One day, while he was busy playing, one of his friends quietly placed on his
turban a live-coal. The live-coal burnt several folds of his turban from which
wisps of smoke rose. His friends knew everything about it and expected him to
throw off his turban in alarm and thus expose his head. But the
"copper"-head was not easily perturbed. He sensed the mischief and
quietly left the room to remove his turban in the passage. The friends felt that
their plan had come to naught and that he had singly outwitted all of them. They
came to the brink of disappointment.
One of them had a brain wave. Taking
advantage of the weakness of the man for chess he shouted, "Look how easily
you have been checkmated." The man was in an embarrassing situation of the
worst kind, i.e. bare-headed he was extinguishing the smoldering embers of his
turban. But the word "checkmate" produced in him a reflex action and
he rushed into the room to see how he had been affected adversely. The moment
his friends saw his bare head, they burst out into loud laughter and the man
understood their trick. He lost some of that hypersensitiveness and the friends
did nothing to cause him any embarrassment.
Marriages in most parts of India are
arranged even now by the parents of the bride and the bride-groom. In the past
it was entirely the responsibility of the parents. Men with any physical
deformity found it difficult to seek the approval of the father of a maid. Maids
being regarded beyond the pale of the application of law, the prospective
father-in-law thoroughly satisfied himself though only indirectly that the
candidate for the hand of his daughter was physically fit. Where a rumour
existed as to a physical or other defect in the would-be-groom, the scrutiny was
more searching, though still indirect. Not that men with a physical defect were
always condemned to bachelorhood. Far from that, but they had to seek a bride
several degrees below them in the social hierarchy.
Once upon a time a young man with a limp
in his foot was being considered for the hand of a young maid. The go-between
had conveyed it to her father that the young man was perfectly normal and
invited him to observe the man for himself. The aspirant for marriage had
assured the go-between that he could artfully ape the gait of a man with a
perfect pair of feet. An appointment was fixed upon. The father of the bride
took his position at a place on the roadside and the young man was asked to pass
that way unmindful of the observer.
The prospective bridegroom appeared in the
street in a shawl so artfully draped as to cover the limping foot to the very
toes. The observer, even though he had concealed his identity, could get no
direct evidence of the limp for the moment. Next, he very successfully aped the
gait of a normal man by subjecting the toe to some heavier strain. Thus he
expected to hoodwink the father of the bride.
The man had hardly walked a few steps in
the street when an old friend accosted him. They met after a pretty long time
and their hearts swelled with genuine pleasure. They talked for many minutes
there and then and parted only reluctantly because the friend was going on an
urgent business. The meeting, however, led to bitter consequences because in the
joy of friendship the young man had forgotten the mission which led him out of
his house. He began to walk with the habitual limp quite long enough to be
caught by the secretly placed observer. He attempted the
"sleight-of-foot" again but it was too late; for he had already
exposed his club-foot.
It so happened that an officer in public
administration exposed a bad social and personal foible, viz., his inveterate
stammer. The more he came into touch with his officers or members of the public,
the more this weakness came to the forefront. Whenever he was asked to explain
something verbally to his superior officers or elucidate anything for the
benefit of those subordinate to him, he cut a sorry figure, and the feeling of
this deficiency worried him a great deal. He was otherwise very capable and
earned the esteem of his officers. To spare himself the mental torture on this
account he got himself transferred to an out of the way station where his duties
as the captain of a fortress did not expose him to any contact with the public.
He was happy indeed at this voluntary exile
Years rolled by. The old ruler died and
was succeeded by another. Ministers and officers changed places but the captain
was uniformly happy. One day his fortress was inspected by a new head of the
army who was also the younger brother of the ruler. A fitting welcome was to be
accorded to the distinguished visitor.
In keeping with the accepted protocol the
captain invited the headmen of villages and other distinguished people of the
locality to a reception held under a grand shamiana. A detachment of troops
stood phalanxed and guns were fired to welcome and salute the prince. In a few
moments the visitor took his seat of honour and the captain stood by him in
respect and awe. The captain was called upon to conduct the deliberations of the
reception and to explain to the distinguished audience the significance of the
visit of the prince. It was an ordeal for him but he had to shoulder this
exacting task. He began, and at the very fifth word he stammered and stuttered.
He made an effort to steer clear but how could he help the habit of a life-time.
Hardly had he spoken a couple of sentences when the prince frowned, beckoned to
one of his aides and motioned to him to handcuff the stammering captain.
The commands of so distinguished a man as
the army chief were carried out instantaneously. The captain, handcuffed and
chained, was cast into prison in one of the subterranean cells of the fortress.
The captain was fairly popular at his headquarters and the people who had come
for the reception took amiss the treatment accorded to him, but "mum"
was the word. The situation was tense and the function came to a premature end,
but nobody knew why the captain was thus incarcerated. Some hazarded the guess
that it was because of disloyalty, others thought he was hatching a conspiracy,
but no one could say anything with confidence. All the same, everybody was
extremely sorry for the fate of the captain.
The personal staff of the captain who
waited on the prince felt equally sad. One of them, a man of commonsense and
imagination who performed odd jobs for the prince, soon made a guess. He
discovered that the prince was a stammerer himself and that the captain was
punished because he was suspected, most probably, of feigning stammering. To his
mind this fact had injured the amour propre of the prince and if he could be
convinced that the foible in the tongue was native to the captain, he might be
These people sought the intercession of
some aged headmen and venerable priests of the locality and the subject was
broached first to the lieutenants of the army chief and later to him direct. The
chief never suspected that the humble captain suffered from the same defect as
he, an august prince, himself. He, therefore, had concluded that the captain
aimed at insulting him by feigning to stammer and the wages for the deed was
incarceration. The evidence of these disinterested people convinced the visiting
dignitary of the innocence of the captain and he was once again given the
command of the fortress.
There lived a poet in Kashmir about a
hundred years ago. tie was very popular for he entertained one and all with his
spontaneous verses, humorous or satiric, full of sparkling wit and repartee. Men
of means willingly extended their patronage to him, partly out of their love for
the muse and partly out of an apprehension lest the poet's battery of sarcasm
may otherwise be directed against them. Feudal lords gave him grants of paddy in
return for which he sometimes recited panegyrics in their honour.
Once upon a time he called on a nobleman
who was a big landlord and held an eminent appointment in public administration.
Having been informed of the poet's arrival the nobleman received him in his
audience chamber. The poet as usual entertained the nobleman with the creation
of his fancy which was sparkling with wit, sarcasm and humour. His felicity of
epithet and diction was appreciated.
After the intellectual repast was over the
poet said, "Last night I had a dream, my lord."
"What was it about?"
"I had the honour of meeting my lord,
your late departed father."
"And what did the nobleman tell
"He told me that I should get from
your lordship thirty kbirwars of paddy. I have come here to convey his commands
to your lordship and to request you to carry it out," said the poet.
There was an outburst of laughter. Even
the nobleman could not help laughing, though the joke was obviously against him.
Trying to be even with the poet, however, he said, "I also saw him in a
dream last night."
"And what was his pleasure?"
asked the poet.
"He commanded me to have thirty
lashes given on your bare back," retorted the nobleman with obvious glee.
There was once again loud laughter and the
nobleman was almost hilarious for having put the poet in the wrong. But the
latter was not to be outdone. He was nothing if not a past master in repartee.
He retorted, "Is that so my lord? I am surprised that he continues to be a
double-dealer, pretending to be friendly to everyone but true to none. How else
is it that what he told me is contrary to the instructions given to you?"
The nobleman lost the contest in wit and
the poet had the last laugh.
is a reunion of cousins of several removes on the occasion of a wedding or
bereavement, the feelings of envy and rivalry are always uppermost in one's mind
against one's fellow-collaterals, cousins descended from the same paternal
grandfather, great-grandfather and great great-grandfather. An idea of the
intensity and bitterness of these feelings can be gauged from one or two maxims
current about the theme: "If you drop a cousin into a well with his head
downwards he will still express his enmity for you with his legs." "If
your cousin is so small in stature as not to be able to hit you on any vital
part of the body, he will still manage to scratch and injure your legs."
Harming a collateral in any form always gives a subtle satisfaction.
In a village lived two brothers. One of
them died unexpectedly before they had divided their ancestral property and the
moral duty of looking after his brother's children fell upon the surviving
uncle. He proved to be a typical "uncle" and his nephews had to put up
with harsh treatment at his hands. When they grew up to be young men and could
dispense with the officious attention of their so-called guardian, he imposed
many obstacles in the way of the division of the ancestral property. He managed
to retain a slice of their land for himself. The nephews reconciled themselves
to this loss in the hope that they would be able to live a life free from the
Once they were free from their uncle's
clutches, he invented fresh means of persecution. By this time the nephews also
had imbibed the spirit of "cousinhood" and they also retaliated as far
as they could, but the uncle was a past master in this art and had the finesse.
It was a regular "cat and mice" life discussed all over the village.
In course of time the uncle grew old. He
had seen enough of life and was pretty well satisfied with the role he had been
able to play. But he had obviously not satiated his heart with the sadistic
persecution of his immediate nearest collaterals, the children of his brother.
He wanted to do something really topping. Some time
later he fell seriously ill and he felt
that he would not survive that illness. He would not mind his death but his
yearning was still not quite satisfied. He thought of a plan and executed it.
He called his nephews and heaving a deep
sigh addressed them thus: "Children of my dear brother who is treading the
path of truth! I have not been fair to you. It weighs heavily upon my heart that
you suffered at my hands. Would you be so good as to forgive me?"
The nephews were overcome with emotion and
said, "Dear uncle, let bygones be bygones. We don't want you to feel that
you did us any wrong."
"No", he said, "nothing
will give me relief until you do something by way of vengeance to be reckoned
against you in the eyes of God. I would count it a favour if you drag me by the
feet on the bare ground."
The nephews were nonplussed but he
importuned them and they were persuaded to oblige their old uncle. He was
already counting his last breaths and the strain in being dragged by the feet
proved to be the last straw on the camel's back. The old uncle gave up his ghost
and the nephews felt they had made peace with their uncle. But their
satisfaction was short-lived, for the police soon persecuted them on the charge
of culpable homicide. The people said that the uncle had at last done something
really topping and bagged the highest prize.