from the ocean the sailor is never in his element. He falls a prey to the
sharp practices of swindlers and city sharks; he becomes the laughing stock
of the townsmen. Likewise is the peasant when he is off his land. Clever
people exploit his simplicity, his ingenuousness and his capacity to work.
He may be made the butt of many a jest, or the victim of a practical joke,
and he bears his cross on his ample shoulders patiently.
Owing to the
rigour of the climate in Kashmir, the peasant has to pass through a period
of unemployment for nearly five months in a year. The well-to-do farmers
can afford to enjoy this enforced rest, consuming cooked rice, lentils,
turnips and pickled knol-kohl to their hearts' content. Those who are not
so well-off supplement their slender incomes by working on cottage looms
arid turning out woollen blankets. Others, standing at the lowest rung
of the ladder, hire themselves out as domestic servants in the larger towns,
or the metropolis of Srinagar. Aziz Buth belonged to this last class.
years ago when the corn was abundant to the extent of superfluity, Aziz
Buth could not stretch his harvest so far as to cover the needs of the
family all the year round. He was the father of two children, and in spite
of the labours of the whole family—even the elder child would sometimes
contribute his mite—he ran into debt. He was, therefore, compelled to drift
towards the city in search of temporary employment as a domestic servant.
the ways of the world as he was, he did not think it would be easy for
him to find some employment in the city. He spent the first night in a
mosque wrapped in a blanket, for he knew of no secular habitation where
he could obtain shelter. He feasted on a couple of dry loaves and sincere
prayers rose from his heart. The next morning had a pleasant surprise for
him, for he met an acquaintance—a rare experience for him. The man belonged
to a village in the neighbourhood of his own, and they knew each other
moderately well. Aziz Buth considered his night well-spent when his acquaintance
promised to get him the sort of employment he was after.
was as good as his word. Aziz Buth was taken to the house of a man who
appeared to be very prosperous. There were already a couple of servants
in the house and Aziz Buth made the third. Khwaja Saheb, that is how the
head of the house was designated, called him to his presence and said,
"Many people proudly seek my service for the consideration of free board
and lodging. Will that satisfy you?"
Aziz Buth was
so overawed by the manner of the Khwaja in his costly shawl and turban
that he found words missing from his tongue. With difficulty he seemed
to stammer out: "Noble sir, I am a poor man having left little ones in
was thereupon pleased to fix half-anass load of paddy as his monthly wages
besides the privilege of free board and lodging. "But, mind you, if ever
one of my servants is not able to complete a task given to him, he is subjected
to a fine," said he, half in jest and half in seriousness. Aziz Buth's
companion only laughed "ha! ha" by way of taking the sting out of these
words and he himself grinned bashfully.
was on and Aziz Buth gave his best to the employer Late at night before
he went to his bed Aziza had the privilege of being admitted to the bed
chamber of his employer. He was asked to massage the legs of the Khwaja
with his strong muscular hands, for he found sleep evading him until he
was subjected to this process. Early in the morning, sometimes even before
the cock crew, the Khwaja would shout "Aziza" and the latter was expected
to be ready with the hubble-bubble, refilled with fresh water from the
river, with tobacco and live coal to enable his employer to fumigate his
interior to his fill. He was the favourite of the harem in so far as he
would be entrusted with all tasks requiring personal attention. His colleagues—the
fellow servants in the house—encouraged him in this belief, for otherwise
such tasks would fall to their own lot. This encouragement lightened their
own tasks, for Aziza could easily be got into the right frame of mind so
as to volunteer to undertake what all shirked.
turned out to be extra severe. Householders, who could afford to do so,
avoided leaving their homes as far as possible. But domestics like Aziza
had no choice in matters like these. In fact the comforts available in
the home of the Khwaja Saheb depended a great deal upon the exertions of
men like Aziza, and the latter was modestly proud of the part he played
in this respect.
At the end
of a period of about four months Aziza thought of going home. He had not
seen his family all the while and soon his farm would claim his attention.
He made a request to the great Khwaja, the first of its kind. The latter
did not seem to relish it, and with a face beaming with a mischievous smile
he said, "Aziza ! I shall certainly pay all your dues. But before I do
so, go to the market and get me two things, wy (eh!) and wai (oh!). Your
wages will be paid to you only when you get the things." "Eh and Oh!" ejaculated
Aziza in utter amazement, for he had never heard of such things. However,
he had not the face to articulate his suspicions lest it be only his ignorance.
So he set out.
Long he roamed
and far, but never did any shopkeeper seem to deal in these substances.
Some laughed outright, others pricked their ears while some came to regard
him light in the head. "Should I fail in this last task?" cried he. "All
these months I worked to the utter satisfaction of everybody' arid now
this last straw seems to be too much for me And the big man will probably
eat up my wages if I fail to satisfy him.... "
He was walking
abstractedly, with these thoughts pressing upon his mind. He went from
shop to shop. At the seventh or the seventeenth shop he met with a different
response to his inquiry. 'And what do you require them for, my good man?"
asked the shopkeeper, an oldish man with a rich stubble on his face. Aziza
told his tale.
"And if you
fail to place them before him you won't get our pay, your hard-earned dues,
is that it?"
is what the man threatens me with."
The old man
soon found out that the Khwaja was trading upon the simplicity of the peasant.
He was himself something of a sport and he thought of playing the game
for the fun of it.
"I can give
it to you provided you hand it over directly to the Khwaja himself without
showing it to any one else. Do you agree?"
"It is meant
for Khwaja Saheb. Do not spoil it by examining it yourself or fingering
it," the shopkeeper insisted.
"Not at all,
sir; and God bless you for coming to my rescue. I went over from shop to
shop but nobody seems to stock it," said Aziza with a feeling of relief.
things are not found with every grocer. Even I keep it in a godown. You
will wait here for me."
after half-an-hour and gave Aziza a package covered in an old newspaper
bound with a dried weed. He got eight annas for his pains and Aziza was
glad that he could now keep his head high in the presence of all the other
servants in that he had not failed in his errand.
expected Aziza to return and report failure and crave his mercy, for when
God created this universe out of His bounty, he forgot to give a corporeal
frame to "eh!" and "oh !". According to the verbal agreement which, of
course, was morally binding upon Aziza the latter's failure to work up
to the satisfaction of the master would result in forfeiting his wages.
The Khwaja was thus looking forward to a lot of fun: his verdict that Aziza
was no longer entitled to his wages would bring Aziza prostrate before
him, but that he would stick to his word till ultimately he would condescend
to release part of the amount....
was in a very rosy mood when Aziza appeared before him. The tube of the hubble-bubble passed from one mouth to another. Seeing Aziza he simulated
an angry mood. "Where, in the name of God Almighty, have you been all this
while," he shouted. "I sent you on a little errand and you seem to have
been lazing at your grandmother's. How fat you have grown eating my cooked
sir, I have been roaming from street to street in search of it and my legs
are aching with the fatigue," replied Aziza.
"If your legs
are so delicate, why did you take the trouble of coming over here for employment?
Did you not get the thing?"
sir, I have got it," submitted Aziza.
relaxed as he now expected to fill the little assembly with theatrical
laughter by declaring what Aziza had got as spurious. "What have you got?
Let me see it," he said in an over-weening tone.
the little package. The whole gathering was intrigued. The outer chord
of dry weed was unfastened and the wrapping removed. Two small earthenware
receptacles, no bigger than a medium sized ink pot, were discovered. Each
had a wide mouth closed over with a piece of paper pasted with gum. Their
inquisitiveness was piqued.
The paper covering
of one of the vessels was broken through and the Khwaja peered into it.
It appeared to be empty. While he was about to throw it away out came a
bee which buzzed along the hand of the Khwaja who could not help crying
"oh!" So far so good.
The paper lid
of the other vessel was broken through. But before the Khwaja could say
anything, from its interior darted a wasp who perched directly on his brow
and involuntarily a painful "oh!" escaped from his lips.
realized that Aziza had after all not failed to get the rare commodity!