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Sunday, 18 November 2012

"Akanandun" - A short-story by M. K. Santoshi

English translation by SUALEH KEEN of the Hindi short-story “Akanandun” written by MAHARAJ KRISHAN SANTOSHI, which featured in his short-story collection Hamare Ishwar Ko Tairna Nahin Aata.


In Kashmir there will be no mother who hasn’t shed tears after listening to the folktale Akanandun. In childhood, I would have heard this story several times from my mother. Each time my mother’s cheeks would get wet. One time I had asked my mother this:
        “Mother, what is it in this story that you cry?”
        “When you will have your children, you will understand on your own,” mother had straightforwardly answered. Today, I am a father of two children. Due to my affection towards my children I was now getting to understand the poignancy of this story.
        In the folktale, when after twelve years the Yogi [1] arrives, mother would start becoming sad. She would feel like it is her own son that the Yogi has come to snatch away from her. She would curse that moment when she had accepted the Yogi’s condition. Those times the mother was childless and was desperately yearning for a son. The Yogi had blessed her with son-bearing and with that he had set one condition too.
        “What condition?” mother had asked.
        “You son will remain with you for twelve years only...”
        “And after that?” There was apprehension in mother’s tone.
        “After that he will have to be returned to me.”
        Mother’s countenance had become lacklustre and father too had become off-colour. Both were vacillating between ‘Yes’ and ‘No’.
        “We accept,” after a long pause, a synchronous note of their acceptance had wafted together in the air.
        Mother liked to listen to the Akanandun epic song a lot. Ghulam Mohammad Dar had sung this in his sweet voice. Every now and then, mother would ask me to write a request letter to Radio Kashmir. Whenever that epic was broadcast from the radio, she would leave aside all her work to listen to it with engrossed attention. Sometimes I would also be with her. During those times, she would truly become the mother of Akanandun and I also would become Akanandun in my imagination.
        “Mother, the Yogi has come,” I would say.
        “You hide somewhere, Akanandun! I will tell the Yogi that you have gone to visit your maternal grandparents’ home.” There would be turbulence in mother’s tone.
        “Why so, mother?” I would ask in surprise.
        “I cannot tell... (aside) No, no, I will not hand you over to the Yogi!”
        Here, the Yogi was making appeal upon appeal.
        “Where is Akanandun? Call him... quickly...”
        Mother would become helpless. She, along with her husband and Akanandun, would come out. The Yogi would pull Akanandun towards him.
        “Feeling hungry,” the Yogi would say.
        “Vegetable rice is ready, Yogi Maharaj.”
        “No, I want meat.”
        “Please forgive, Yogi Maharaj. From where will we get meat this time?”
        “Not of some animal; I want the meat of your son.”
        “Trahi! Trahi! [2] What is this you are saying, Maharaj!” The tone of the mother drowned in grief would be perturbed.
        It is written in the folktale that the mother-father under compulsion killed their son. Cooked his meat in a big pot. Then it was served in four plates. One plate for the Yogi. Two plates for the mother-father. The fourth plate for Akanandun.
        “Go, call Akanandun from the window,” the Yogi would with a commanding voice tell the mother.
        “Akanandun! Akanandun!” the mother would call with an uneasy throat.
        “Coming, mother...” Akanandun’s voice would resound back. The mother would get tangled in the Yogi’s magic. When she would turn around to look, neither would the Yogi be anywhere, nor could the plates served be seen.

After exodus, mother had forgotten even Akanandun. In the strange city with its step-sunshine, it was as if her tender spots had dried up. Wherever, in whichever direction she looked, only dust, smoke, sand and thorny bushes could be seen. The mother, habituated to looking out from the windows of a four-storey house, during these days had been made helpless by looking from the window. Whenever she would look out of the window, she would start trembling. Only upon seeing this condition of hers had I forbidden her to look outside from the window.
        One day I told mother:
        “Come, mother, today let me tell you Akanandun’s story.”
        “Want to make mother cry,” laughingly mother had said.
        “No, mother. It is not like that.”
        “I was joking. Okay, come tell. Let me see if you know the art of storytelling or not.”
        And I started the story. Mother laid down a bit on the takhtposh. [3]
        “Mother, this time it so happened that before the Yogi’s return only Akanandun was killed. He had gone to the market to buy few things for his twelfth birthday. Perhaps some envelopes from the post-office. To whom those letters were to be written, know not. It could be that these he had to write to those friends who had migrated away. Killed was Akanandun. On the road a hand-grenade had exploded, which took away his life. That hand-grenade had been thrown by an identical some other Akanandun at the security forces. Weep a lot did Akanandun’s mother. In just a few days the Yogi was coming. What will she then tell the Yogi. How will she return what was entrusted to her. No, no, she would not be able to show the Yogi her face. She will go somewhere... and hide, now who of hers was here. Husband had already gone his way. Now not even the son. No, no, now she will not live here. Tying a stone to herself, she will drown in the river. After that where Akanandun’s mother went, nobody knows.
        “Hand-grenades were customarily exploding in the city. Place to place, soldiers were deployed. On the roads, the hustle-bustle was not as it used to be. Twelve years ago when the Yogi had come to this city, how peaceful it had been then and how shining, how much purity, how much good will. Silver smiles used to be always shining on people’s faces. The rivers, the weather, the greenery: how beautiful they used to seem. Now, upon glancing at the rivers, one gets scared of one’s own reflection. From the amazing weather and greenery a stench of rotten meat emanates. The Yogi was wearing a khadao, [4] even then he was walking with a brisk pace. When he reached Akanandun’s home, he was surprised to see a padlock hanging from the door. Until today such a thing had never happened in the folktale. Some inauspicious thing had surely happened. The atmosphere of the city was looking suspicious right from the start. Passing through the city, it was appearing as if it had become the capital of mourning. Houses empty, desolate they were appearing. The number of half-burnt houses was no less. So, has some demon come to the city that has caused so much destruction? Has Akanandun’s family also been devastated in this destruction? But the padlock on the door was giving this suggestion that the people of the house had fled away out of fear somewhere.
        “The Yogi had come walking a long distance. The need for a little rest was felt by him. He started walking towards some place of rest. In the nearby chinar grove, he lay down on the little surviving green cover. As soon as he lay down, he fell asleep. He would have continued sleeping for a long while had he not felt some hard object jabbing into his body. He got up in an agitated state. He saw a few soldiers. One soldier among them was pressing the barrel of a gun and asking: ‘Who are you and what are you doing here?’
        “‘I am a Yogi.’
        “‘If Yogi you are, what is your work in this terror city?’
        “‘I have come here after twelve years, I don’t know anything more.’
        “‘Then you go back, Yogi Maharaj,’ one soldier said in a mock reverence.
        “‘Where shall I go? How shall I go? Until Akanandun does not return home.’ There was pity in the Yogi’s voice.
        “‘Then stay in a prison until that time. We will help you reach there.’ On these words, all soldiers guffawed together. Amid this sound of collective laughter, one soldier’s commanding voice rang out:
        “‘The morning is coming. You find your shelter, Yogi.’
        “‘Shelter! Shelter!’ He laughed a lot on this word of the soldier. So much power emerged from his laughter that the soldiers left without arguing further.
        “During the night the Yogi returned to Akanandun’s home. The padlock on the door was as it was. A weak light was straining out from the nearby houses. He came near the door and, shaking the padlock, he started calling: ‘Akanandun! My Akanandun! Where are you?’ He continued calling for a long time but not even a window opened. It was a moonlit night and in this moonlight he saw the face of a woman through a window. With her hands she beckoned the Yogi to come close to her house.
        “‘Shut up, Yogi. My Akanandun is sleeping. Today itself after two years he has been released from jail. Just now my Akanandun fell asleep. You don’t wake him up with your hue and cry. I request you, Yogi. You go away from here.’ There was water in that woman’s eyes and wetness in her voice.
        “‘But my Akanandun?’ said the Yogi in a pitiable tone.
        “‘Your Akanandun has been killed. Now he will never come back.’
        “‘And his family?’
        “‘Don’t know. Now, Yogi, you go away,’ there was irritation in that woman's tone. The Yogi respected the feelings of that mother and moved from there. In the morning on the lake-shore his dead body was found.
        “You are listening, aren’t you, mother?”
        “Poor Yogi...”

© Translation, Sualeh Keen

Translation notes:

[1] Yogi = an ascetic, a mendicant; also called ‘jogi’ (used in the Hindi original).

[2] Trahi! = An interjection (Hindu) meaning “Save me!” “Deliver me!” or “Mercy!”

[3] Takht-posh = a low, wooden, table-like platform on which people sit, often cross-legged; a divan; a piece of couch-like sitting furniture.

[4] Khadao = a wood sandal or slippers worn (mostly) by sages since ancient times; called khraav in Kashmiri.

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