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Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Our God Doesn’t Know How to Swim - MK Santoshi

Hamare Ishwar Ko Tairna Nahin Aata 
Hindi short-story written by
Translated into English by

Our God Doesn’t Know How to Swim

I believe that in life everyone should, at least, learn swimming and cycling. What the basis of this belief of mine is, I myself don’t know. Perhaps a man develops self-confidence from this.
          Both my children know swimming and cycling. Swimming they learnt in Kashmir itself, but cycling in Jammu after exodus. In Kashmir, it is an altogether different pleasure to ride a bicycle in the wet greenery. Despite being rough and rugged, the roads were not that merciless. Just keep pushing on the pedals and think of something beautiful or, upon seeing the approaching peasant girls, start humming a tune. Then all the beauty creates waves of fancy inside of you. The girls won’t look at you with city salaciousness. Their playful smiles will fill you with exhilaration and the surrounding atmosphere will become fragrant with their presence.
          In this charming climate of Kashmir sometimes it so happened that the entire atmosphere became tense. Mutual good faith is torn apart and distrust appears in the eyes. Even among close acquaintances and friends, tides of madness start rising. Once, I had told Maajid, “Individually you Kashmiri Mussulmans are very good, but…”
          “But what?” he had asked impatiently.
          “You become savages in a crowd,” I had said. Hearing this, he had become agitated. That day, as long as Maajid stayed with me, he said nothing at all. There was a contemptuous feeling against me in his eyes.
          Maajid and I often used to get into discussions over the history, literature and culture of Kashmir. Occasionally, these discussions of ours used to get sectarian. However, despite all these, no difference would occur in our friendship. That day, during our routine talking, I told Maajid—
          “You were also a Hindu once.” From ‘you’, I meant his ancestors.
          “Then how did we and you become so separate?” I teased again.
          “Separate indeed we have become.” There was hardness in his tone.
          “How?” I asked.
          “That we have adapted another faith.”
          “Has our history been separated by faith?”
          “It hasn’t separated, but because of us a new history of Kashmir started.”
          “A history of looting, of destroying temples, or else of forceful religious conversion?” There was aggression in my tone.
          “This is the disease with you Pandits! Always present the dark side of Islam! Ever try to understand Islam sometime!”
          I held myself back. I carefully said, “It is not like that, my friend! There is great respect in my heart towards Islam, but it is that we have never forgotten that saying…”
          “Which saying?” There was impatience in his tone.
          “The saying about only eleven Hindu homes surviving during Muslim rule…”
          “You wife's brother [1] Kashmiri Pandits, from the start you were runaways… you were cowards…!”
          I laughed at his word ‘coward’. While laughing, I did not forget to tell him that ‘friendship with a Pandit is like friendship with a python’. The hot and spicy aroma of cooking fish was wafting towards us from the kitchen. I was feeling a wonderful taste inside me because of that aroma.
          “It is a fish of the Lidder river?” I said between the Sufiana music playing in the room.
          “Yes, Qadir has caught them.”
          “Sometimes for us also some…”
          He did not allow me to finish the sentence.
          “Lidder is not a river of us Mussulmans only.” There was naughtiness in his tone.
          “What do you mean?” There was play-acting in my tone.
          “You also sometimes immerse yourself in the river’s cold water.”
          “What are you Mussulmans for?” I said with the intention of teasing.
          “Those days are gone, when we used to hold the reins of your horses and you used to put your foot on our shoulders to get down from the horse.”
          “Yes, truly those days are gone, now,” I said expressing sham sorrow.
          Appa had come from the other room having said her prayers. As soon as she came, she told Maajid, “Don’t let Pandit Joo leave. I have prepared his share of the rice also.” After saying this, she went to the cowshed. Maajid looked longingly at me and said, “What do you say?”
          I understood.
          “A half peg each?”
          “Where will we find it this time?”
          “I have quota.”
          We drank two pegs each of whiskey. Ate food. The combination of fish and radishes was unmatched. We enjoyed the taste of the fish till tears filled our eyes. Maajid came to see me off to the road outside. As soon as he came out into the courtyard, he started humming…

          Hangama hai kyon barpa, thoddi si jo pee hai.
          Ddaaka to nahin ddaala, chori to nahin kee hai.

          [That I drank a little, why this uproar over a trifling?
          It’s not as if I committed dacoity or stole anything]

          Maajid was a fan of Ghulam Ali. I have often heard him sing the latter’s ghazals.
          In our village, the population of Hindus and Mussulmans was almost the same. This proportion of population was nowhere else in Kashmir. That’s why in comparison with other places the feeling of insecurity among Hindus was less here. Whoever visited our village as a guest for a few days, would return with a sad mind. In just a couple of days he would mix well with the people here. He wouldn’t get this experience at all that he is any stranger.
          At this time, I am remembering the Ramleela [2] of our village. This is the story of those days when Doordarshan had not arrived in the village and Ramanand Sagar’s serial had not been aired. The days of the Ramleela were the peasants’ days of prosperity. The crops would already be harvested, the grains stored in the storehouses. The chill has come in the climate and the nights of sleeping under quilts have arrived. From the very first day of Ramleela do the women, children and male and female youth of Muslim households start coming. With each day their number would only increase. This number would increase beyond expectation till the war between Ram and Ravan. The artists with ape and demon masks would fully entertain the people with their acting. Those days the entertainment of the village happened through leelas like this. I used to think that the Muslim families would come to see Ramleela only with the objective of being entertained, thinking which was but natural. Later I started getting pleasantly surprised to see that they would get the mannat [3] they asked from the Ramleela stage announced and, once the wish is fulfilled, they would keep their promise of giving niyaaz [4] as well. The microphone-holding Prithvi Nath Sher would, like a professional announcer, take the names of such Muslim brothers and the people would clap. The arrival of Doordarshan has but made the village Ramleela vanish... The members of the Ramleela Committee formed small-small groups and started making freelance programmes on Doordarshan. When the days of Ramleela came now, there would be no excitement in the village like before.
          One day I also told Maajid, “How good the days were.”
          “Truly, how good they were... It was a unique pleasure watching Ramleela in the open shade of chinars.” Saying this, he had become sad.
          That day, how I had shocked Maajid.
          “How much mutual love we have,” I had said.
          “Yes, have,” Maajid had agreed.
          “But why do you vent your anger at our God?”
          “I didn’t understand?”
          “I will make you understand. Whenever any politically tense event happens in Kashmir, you vent your anger at our temples, set them on fire, so much so that you drag our gods and goddesses and throw them into the river...”
          Maajid had been lost in thoughts. He did not have any answer. The population of Hindus in Kashmir has been negligible. Any reaction from them has always been out of the question. Centuries of persecution had made us cowards to the limit of worthlessness. So much so that many jokes about our cowardliness are prevalent in Kashmir. It is said, once during the Pathan rule, a Pathan started raping a Hindu woman in the very presence of her husband. Before raping her, he had drawn a circle with his sword around her husband and had warned the Pandit Joo from coming out of the circle. Or else...
          After the Pathan went away, the husband had told his wife, “That sinful Pathan from somewhere! Was telling me, don’t come out from the circle! I came out from the circle three times...”
          I haven’t seen Muslims only but also Pandits themselves guffawing over this joke.
          Maajid had read our history. He knew several tales of massacre of our community. How could he deny the atrocities inflicted upon us in the name of religious conversion. I would take the name of Sikander Butshikan to tease him, and he would also say—“Zainulabideen too was a Muslim.”
          “Yes, was.” I would express agreement.
          “Did he not settle back the Hindus in Kashmir?”
          “Yes, settled.”
          “Then?” There would be pride in his tone.
          “He certainly settled us back, but for your benefit...”
          “For our benefit?” He would start asking in astonishment.
          “Had the Hindus not settled again in Kashmir, do you know what would have happened in Kashmir?”
          “What would have happened?”
          “Conflicts between the Shias and the Sunnis would have been happening from centuries here... Thousands and lakhs of people would have been dead...” He would be hurt by this historical perspective of mine. He would look at me with angry eyes. I would pay no regard to his anger and say, “As long as Hindus remain in Kashmir, no Shia-Sunni fights can happen in Kashmir... since we Hindus are here to vent your anger on...” He would refuse to listen any further. Thereafter for many days we would not see each others’ faces. One day suddenly he would come to my home. In the courtyard itself he would call out, “Where is the Jan Sanghi?” I would laugh after listening to his voice. After inquiring from my mother about her well-being, he would come into my room. And as soon he would enter the room, I would vent my fake anger, “Aren’t you ashamed to call me a Jan Sanghi. You have a problem calling me a Communist?” Slapping me lightly on my cheek, he would say, “Pandits are only opportunists.”
          “And you Mussulmans?” I would jab back.
          “Only jokers. We have created jokers in politics as well.” He would say in a jocular manner.
          “Don’t say this, lest you become a Kaafir.” [5] He would act like he is scared. We would both start laughing.
          He would always remain silent on the throwing of gods-goddesses in the river. I would understand his cleverness. After the riots in Anantnag in the year 1986, I had asked him once—“Now I have really started to be scared of you.”
          “Why?” There was an eagerness in his tone.
          “That you are a Mussulman.”
          “I wasn’t earlier also?”
          “Yes, were.”
          “This time I have seen the fanaticism within you with my eyes.”
          He laughed and said this much only in response—“Being scared is the birthright of you Pandits.”
          “And plundering and killing yours...” He had been very offended with my words and he had not met me for several days.
          Those days only digging work was going on in our village from the archaeological department. One day the news of finding a giant statue while digging spread. Mussulman labourers had dug it out of the soil with care. This was a broken statue of Bhagwan Shankar. As soon as the news spread, many people from the village came to see it. Despite being covered with the dust and soil of centuries, the statue was without match in its grandness and divinity. The elder people of the village wanted to take it in their custody, but the employees of the archaeological department had already decided to send it to the museum in Srinagar. The Hindus had been quite disappointed with this decision. A tense sort of feeling had been evoked over this statue in the Muslim community of the village. Some people had started believing it to be an ill-omen for Islam, some had developed an undesirable understanding of history and some were getting introduced to a curious state of mind over this statue.
          That evening I went to Maajid’s home. I wanted to have a discussion over the statue with him. While taking sips of noon chai, [6] I broached the topic—“Saw the statue?”
          “Yes, saw.”
          “How did you find it?”
          “When this was made, the sculptor would never have imagined its end will be like this.”
          “No sculptor at all knows the future of his statue...”
          “True! But those who broke this statue, how savage they must have been.”
          Maajid remained silent. He always used to defend himself by remaining silent.
          How I started being in love with Maajid’s cousin sister, I myself don’t know. This love of ours had sprouted in our eyes and then blossomed in our hearts, but our love had not revealed itself to others yet. Fear was that if the secret comes out into the open, a row will take place. In Kashmir, when any Mussulman loved a Hindu girl, then he would be very explicit, but a Hindu boy had to love a Mussulman girl in secret.
          One day in jest I expressed this wish of mine that I wanted to marry a Mussulman girl. He said—“Why not, but one condition.”
          “Which one?” I expressed eagerness.
          “You will have to become a Mussulman,” he had said becoming serious.
          “What is the relation between a marriage and religion?” I had said with antagonism in my tone.
          “Be there a relation or not, but any true Mussulman would give his daughter to you for marriage only on this condition.”
          “But if the daughter has already lost her heart to a Kaafir, then?”
          “She will be punished for this.”
          “But will you also support a punishment like this?” I had asked.
          “Yes, am I not a Mussulman?” Saying this, he had laughed, but unimpressed by his laughter, I wordlessly shouted in my heart that go and punish your cousin sister.
          There was a strange paradox in Maajid’s character. He used to respect Kashmiri Pandits very much. He was very impressed with their intellect. He loved their lifestyle, household and beautiful perceptions to the extent of jealousy, but he did not oppose them any less. He used to consider them sycophantic, opportunistic and selfish. He used to loathe them for their Indianness. Though he himself wasn’t a Pakistan supporter. I also was sold on to this non-hypocritical behaviour of his. That is why I never used to get offended by his words even a bit. Between us, there was only a play-acting of looking offended.
          Out of imitation only did the loudspeakers start blaring in our village from the masjids. Pandits had from earlier on started playing bhajan [7] cassettes on the loudspeakers. On holidays, the cassettes used to play for the entire day.  In this one-upmanship, a noise-pollution type of problem had grown in the calm environment of the village. Nobody was able to communicate this to any extent that the more silently prayers are said, the more effective they are. When my father came to know this, he scolded me for this anti-loudspeaker campaign and warned me that if I didn’t shun my atheism, I should leave home and get lost somewhere—Russia or China, anywhere! (In those days, the communists had to listen to these types of taunts in Kashmir.) I also inquired from Maajid and he said that he didn’t find the courage to open his mouth in front of Abba. Even before his joining Jamaat-e-Islami, Abba had been displeased with him. All his talk against the Pirs and Mullahs had already made Abba bitter towards me. This time, upon saying something about the loudspeakers, don’t know what he would have done in anger.
          My love for Maajid’s cousin sister was growing like the moon of the bright half of a lunar month. During those days only such an incident took place in the village that sort of wiped off the brightness from faces of the entire Pandit brotherhood. It so happened, Pandit Niranjan Nath Kaul’s daughter Susheela eloped with the son of one Wagay Mussulman home in the village. That Wagay family was quite well-off. The girl’s father had this accusation that the Wagay family had used the enticement of wealth to mislead his daughter. He was not ready to accept that his daughter had an affair going on with the Mussulman boy. Due to this incident, an agitation had grown among the Pandits. After conferring with each other, the Pandit elders made this decision that they would go to the Mussulman elders of the village and, after mutual reconciliation, hand over the girl back to her father, but the Muslim elders refused to intercede in this matter. A final decision was made to take the matter to the Deputy Commissioner and my father also got ready to accompany the deputation. I tried to stop my father from going with that deputation. “Why?” There was anger in his tone.
          “Pita Ji, there was lot of love between the two…”
          “Then what, marry the girl into a mlechchh [8] home,” my father said, interrupting me in the middle.
          “Pita Ji! You still think things like that?”
          “Go, get lost…” He rejected my opinion even before listening to me.
          It was meaningless to pursue the matter further. In my heart, I was secretly applauding Susheela’s guts.
          Autumn is the golden season of Kashmir. In this season, the chinars wield the redness of glowing embers on their leaves. Upon looking from far, it seems as if these leaves are holding fire on them. I have been attracted beyond measure to this season. On that autumn evening, Sara (Maajid’s cousin sister’s name was Sara only) met me near the chinar near her farm. I looked at the dusky and dark eyes of Sara and I saw a line of sadness rising in them. I felt as if she was caught in some dilemma.
          “What is the matter?” I asked.
          She remained silent for a while, then softly and slowly she started saying… “Abba is pursuing the matter of my marriage. Perhaps in a few days I will get engaged…”
          “Then you should be happy,” I said in a jocular tone.
          “You are always in a humorous mind, here my life is at risk…” I had become serious.
          “What will happen to our love?” She had said in a worried tone. I had remained silent. Seeing me silent, she had also remained silent for a while, but after a little of unwanted silence she told me this that had me startled—“Come, let us runaway.” Hearing this, I had lost my wits. From my mouth, only this much had come out, “What? Runaway?”
          “Yes. Wagay also ran Susheela away.”
          “His is a different matter,” I had said in a soft tone.
          “Is different?” It was as if she had woken up from sleep.
          “If we runaway, then your Mussulman brothers will spare my family members?”
          “You have superstition… Nothing will happen.”
          “No.” There was firmness in my tone.
          “You are a coward, timid…” Shouting softly in scorn, she returned to her home. That was the end of our love. Thereafter, whenever I went to Maajid’s home, she used to frown upon seeing me. One day she took such a revenge on me that I felt shame for my masculinity. I had never seen her in Maajid’s home before. One reason of this was that her and Maajid’s family members had some old feud. Now when I went there, it was feeling like that old feud had ended. The relation had once again revived. This time she only came to us with the samovar. As soon as she entered the room, she had addressed me and said, “Aadaab, bhai jaan.” [9]
          Hearing this deferential salutation, I was gripped with impotent anger. Through this new salutation, Sara had taken her entire revenge in one go. These were the days before our exodus.
          Niranjan Nath Kaul’s daughter Susheela had a proper nikaah. She embraced Islam. From Susheela, her name was changed to Haleema. [10] This incident had broken Niranjan Nath Kaul to this extent that he sold his property cheap and left Kashmir forever and ever.
          A sudden change had begun in circumstances. In masjids, now preaching would continue till late. Which was less religious and more political. Still, in the atmosphere there was no change in the feeling of co-existence. Though Prem Nath Bhat and Tikkalal Taploo had been killed with bullets right next to their homes. Still, it felt like things won’t go further. There was also faith in the presence of Indian soldiers. But all trust was broken in the January night. That night, the sky-piercing slogans of Azaadi [11] and Nizam-e-Mustafa [12] had broken even the chains of Pandit homes. Concealed inside their homes, people were waiting for their death. There was a communal clamour of loudspeakers from the masjids. It was clear from the slogans “O Kaafirs, leave this Kashmir” that our good days were over. In this night itself was ordained the moment of our exile. After this night itself people ran away to Jammu to save their lives. Till February, March and April, three-fourths of families had become refugees in Jammu.
          Our departure was still postponed. There were still a few Hindu families in the village. I was scared if perhaps I will be offered to Jihad for being a communist. I only am the reason my family had to dislocate.
          Before departing, I met Maajid. He insisted with us not to leave the village, but we had made the decision. After foreseeing our resolution, slapping me lightly on my cheek, he had said, “All you wife's brother Kashmir Pandits are cowards and timid.”
          “Yes, we all are cowards… Our God is also timid…” There was a strange sourness in my tone… no… weariness…
          “Absolutely right. Your God doesn’t even know how to swim.”
          I had remained silent. There was no time for debate. I gave a hug to Maajid. There were tears in his eyes.
          Reached home and the baggage was being loaded into a truck. I packed a few of my important books and put them in the truck. Then I went and picked up God’s statue from the tthakurdwara [13] of the house. I wrapped it in a cloth and, escaping in the darkness from everyone’s view, I went towards the Lidder River. As soon as I reached there, I threw God’s statue into the river. At that time, I felt as if I was relieved from some heavy burden. In the silence of the night, how soothing the flow of the river is… this I was experiencing for the first time. In this solitude, suddenly I started screaming—“Our God doesn't know how to swim.” And I kept repeating it again and again. Anyone hearing me screaming at that time would have considered me mad. It was getting colder. With light footsteps I was returning to my home. In the morning at 3 am, the truck was to leave for Jammu.


[1] 'Wife's brother' or saala = A common insult, implying that you are sleeping with the insulted person's sister. In everyday usage, however, nobody takes the meaning seriously.

[2] Ramleela = 'Ram’s leela or play', a dramatic folk re-enactment of the life of Lord Rama, ending up in ten day battle between Lord Rama and the demon king Ravana, as described in the Hindu religious epic, the Ramayana.

[3] mannat maangna = to vow to make an offering to a deity (on fulfillment of a wish).

[4] niyaaz = the offering made to a deity (on fulfillment of a wish).

[5] kaafir = In Islamic parlance, a word used to describe a person who rejects Islamic faith. In Islamic doctrinal sense, usually translated as unbeliever or disbeliever. In other words, a non-Muslim.

[6] noon chai = Kashmiri salt tea. 

[7] bhajan = a devotional song.

[8] mlechchh = in ancient times, an alien (invader) or a non-Aryan; now used to denote a lowly and unclean person or a non-Hindu (in a contemptuous sense).

[9] Aadaab, bhai jaan. = "Greeting, dear brother."

[10] Susheela and Haleema both mean Mild-mannered (female) in Sanskrit and Arabic respectively.

[11] azaadi = literally, freedom.

[12] Nizam-e-Mustafa = establishment of Mustafa's law or the Sharia as the only law of the land. Mustafa is an epithet of Prophet Muhammad that means Chosen One.

[13] tthakurdwara = temple.

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