Kashmiri Pandits' Association, Mumbai, India

Milchar

Lalla-Ded Educational and Welfare Trust

  Kashmiri Pandits' Association, Mumbai, India

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Milchar
January-March 2002 issue

Lalla-Ded Educational and Welfare Trust

Table of Contents

Koshur Music

An Introduction to Spoken Kashmiri

  To Slavery Born
... Bansi Nirdosh

(Last year saw some talented members of the community left us. One of them has been Bansi Lal Wali - Nirdosh. He has been contributing in a big way in Kashmiri prose during last forty years. We are reproducing the English translation by Dr. Neerja Mattoo, of one of his short stories.  - Editor.)

Bansi Lal NirdoshThis was the last day. After forty years of slavery, Sansar Chand would be free. He had been beaten hollow. The pulp gone, only the shell remained. And he did not want the shell to receive more beatings.

How he had waited for the day when his son, Kundanji, would get a job.  That would mark the dawn of his own freedom. Unemployed for three years after graduation, Kundanji had finally found a job in the Accountant General's Office. Sansar Chand felt like a king. Joy overflowed from his heart as if his son had not just become a clerk but scaled some hitherto unconquered peak of glory. The day his son received the letter of appointment, he gave a month's notice to his employer, the city merchant. He would quit at the end of the month. God had heeded his prayer - his son had found employment with a salary of six hundred rupees. With his own pension of two hundred, it would add up to eight hundred, quite enough for the family of four : the old couple and their two sons. He had already married off his eldest child, a daughter, around the time of his retirement from Government service, six years ago. Since then he had been working at the shop along with the rest of us. He did not call it 'work', he called it 'servitude'. Not that he had anything against private service. For him, life itself had been never-ending slavery. He would often say, “Look at me - a born slave! I began life as the Government’s slave and now I am the Seth’s slave. I was a drudge then and I am a drudge now - the yoke has never been lifted.”

 But now at last he was convinced that the days of his slavery had ended - his son had found a job and he had nothing to worry about any more! 

 Today was the last day of the month. Sansar Chand was happier than he had ever been in his life. His son Kundanji was bringing home his first pay packet - six hundred rupees. He himself had been paid four hundred by the Seth, and with his pension of two hundred, it too added up to 600. But the six hundred his son would bring home seemed an enormous sum to him - more like 6000 or even 6,00,000! I can not believe that he could have felt as elated at the sight of his own first pay as he did today at the thought of his son’s. My own pay was not more than Sansar Chand’s - just about four hundred but I felt rich - I could spend it just as I pleased. The house was run by my father and elder brother. Since I wasn’t married yet, hardly any responsibilities burdened me. There was a world of difference between my situation and that of Sansar Chand. In spite of a hand-to-mouth existence, he had given his daughter not only a substantial dowry, but fulfilled every demand put forth by her in-laws. He had even got into debt to ensure her happiness.

 In order to run his house, educate his two sons and feel somewhat secure economically, he had been forced to work for the Seth.  But now, after years of running between pillar and post, appeasing God only knows how many devils, one of his sons had found employment. This was the moment Sansar Chand had been waiting for all these years, during which he must have told me at least seven thousand times, “Do you hear, Majid Bhai, the day Kundanji gets a job, will be the day of my release - too long have I been nothing but somebody’s slave.

 Sansar Chand was very good at his work. Our Seth had never got along with those of his employees who understood the business of accounting, but Sansar Chand had been able to win his trust. In spite of having become well acquainted with all his business dealings - black and white - he quietly followed all instructions, keeping the accounts without questioning Sethji’s ethics. He would justify it thus: “The Seth is responsible for his own sins. I only follow orders. We just happen to be his employees, no better than slaves and therefore already serving a sentence of penal servitude. Aren’t Want and Slavery punishment enough? How we cringe and bow before the Sales Tax and Income Tax Officers, begging them to overlook discrepancies - and that too not for our own sake, but only to provide comfort and cheer to the Seth - is this not a curse? Are we not serving a sentence rigorous enough? And what do we get for all this? Just four hundred rupees on the seventh of every month.

 But on the seventh of the month, he would still touch his eyes with the four hundred rupee pay packet, kiss it and put it in his pocket, saying, “Majid Bhai, why don’t you plead with your God to let my Kundanji find a job fast? And then I shall stretch my limbs and relax to my hearts content. I have never had a night’s peaceful sleep, even after my retirement. First it used to be the fear of reaching the office late and annoying the Boss and now I keep awake with the worry that the shop must have opened - the Seth must have left his home . . . .”

 I knew that tonight for the first time Sansar Chand would sleep through the night, in peace, in freedom. Now he was nobody’s slave. I myself had no experience of working for the Government, but I agreed with Sansar Chand that private employment, particularly working for the Seth, was certainly worse than slavery, with any ‘rights’ existing only in the imagination. The employee is not supposed to be an individual, his only identity lies in the fact that he belongs to the Seth, body and soul - not only he, but all his ancestors, his family, even his neighborhood - all must consider themselves the bonded slaves of the Seth. Throughout the day, he is subjected all sorts of humiliations, forced to listen to remarks questioning his pedigree, character, ability - “Where the hell have you sprung from? Don’t you have the least sense of how to deal with a customer? You eat enough for two or three, but your output? Zero! Which dumb mohalla bears you as its curse? Good for nothing! Fit for nothing at all!”

 But to tell the truth, our Seth was not that bad. He did not ill-treat his employees all the time. He was a much-travelled man and once or even twice every month, he would take a trip to Delhi, Bombay or Calcutta. He had a broader outlook than most others, but even then he thought nothing of putting the employees at his shop on domestic chores: collecting the ration, fetching the gas cylinder, escorting his children to school and back, paying his electricity and water bills. It was having to do these household errands for the Seth that I hated the most - it was like death. But the others at the shop did it willingly. Sansar Chand too. He used to say that once you become the Seth’s servant, how did it matter whether you worked at his shop or his house? If there was no work in the shop, he would extract it elsewhere.

 It was winter, cold and frosty, a drab heavy atmosphere, under a brooding sky. The roads were puddles of snow and water, the bazaars empty like people’s pockets. There was nothing fresh to be seen anywhere, no new face, hardly anything to distinguish one face from another. Their heads bound in helmetlike woolen caps, clad in thick pherans or coats and overcoats, everyone looked tired, weary, worn-out - just like Sansar Chand. But no, he looked different. For the past one month, Sansar Chand’s face had acquired a glow - the month since his son Kundanji had got the job. In his son’s job, he had seen mirrored the dreams of a secure, happy old age and now they were about to become a concrete reality. Today was his last day at the shop. My heart felt somewhat heavy. During the past few years, a strange bond had been forged between the two of us. But at the same time, I was rather happy too: at last he was going to be free. How long could he have dragged his old body thus? For the past forty years, it had been one long tale of drudgery. Surely he deserved rest. If his son did not provide it, who would? Sansar Chand met all his fellow employees, bade them good-bye and left.
 “Sansar Chandji, do keep in touch and drop in occasionally, will you?”, I said and walked with him up to the main road. God knows whether we would ever meet again, I wondered for a long time that night before I went to sleep.

 Sansar Chand turned up at the shop as usual the next morning, creating a flutter of surprise among us all. He went up to the Seth straightway and said, “Sir, I want to withdraw my notice.” All the employees were pleased - the seth most of all. But I Wasn’t. Taking Sansar Chand aside, I asked, “But Sansar Chandji, you were going to rest and enjoy your leisure. Didn’t you have to make up for all those forty years of toil? Didn’t you say that you wanted freedom from this servitude? Then what happened? Didn’t Kundanji get his pay?”

 “Oh yes, he got it alright”, the words seemed to be drawn from him with some effort. “So then?” “Well, he did get his pay. But before reaching home he spent it all. On his clothes, shoes and other stuff. What he said was quite right though. In my selfishness, it is I who had lost a sense of proportion.”

 “But what did he say?” I asked impatiently. “He said that he also had his needs, his personal expenses, his own commitments and why couldn’t the house run as it had all these years, without his pay?” I found it hard to meet Sansar Chand’s eyes. Shame suffused my whole being. I could hardly say a thing.

 On the seventh of the month when I received my pay packet, I handed every paisa to my father. He could hardly believe his eyes - he almost collapsed at the sight of the money. 
 
 

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