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Thursday, 8 November 2012

“Womb” – A short-story by M. K. Santoshi

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

"For the sake of saying, these three were quite different women, but the pain of their womb was one."

Those three women exited the Sufi shrine together. Looking at them it seemed that they had wept a lot in front of their peer. [1] They had worn an ordinary dress of Musalmaan women: pheran [2] and a kasaaba [3] on head. Their social status was being revealed by the pheran. Outside the shrine, there were several small shops. A lot of business used to happen in them. Not a day passed when some hundred hundred-fifty people did not come here. This shrine had a big name in the nearby villages. A lot of amulets used to be sold here in the name of the peer. From the birth of a son to the cow yielding more milk, all types of amulets were available here.
         These three women purchased amulets from three different shops and started returning home. Seeing them walking in the same direction, it could be easily guessed that they resided in adjacent villages.
         Today the sunlight was a bit harsh. Usually there is a lot of humidity in the sunlight of Kashmir, but today it seemed like someone had squeezed out this humidity. The earth also looked a bit hard... like the expressions of people. After walking a little distance, two women among them stopped together to rest quite near to each other. That third woman who was walking behind them sat a little distance away from the two to rest.
         “What is your name?” One among the two women sitting near each other said.
         “Saajida. And yours?”
         The two moved a little closer to each other.
         “Where do you live?” asked Saajida.
         “In the village across the river.”
         “I live this side of the river only. In the street of Pathans,” said Saajida on her own.
         “Are you a Pathan?” asked Taahira in a suppressed tone.
         “No, we are farmers,” she got on reply.
         There was a time when Pathans were not looked at with respect in Kashmir. They were mockingly even called ‘Khar-Pathan’. [4] But now dare anyone say this!
         “Want to eat an apple?” asked Saajida.
         “No, I don’t feel like it,” said Taahira in a sad tone.
         Saajida put the knife back into the pocket of her pheran. A little time passed away silently. But Saajida did not like this silence at all. She wanted to talk. She wanted to say something, hear something.
         “Who else is in your home?” she asked with the intention of hearing something.
         “Now nobody.” Saying this, Taahira took in a cold breath.
         “What do you mean?” It was as if Saajida’s heart sunk.
         “Husband, he had become the beloved of Allah a long time ago already. Had a son, he too...”
         “What happened to him?” Saajaida was really feeling panicky.
         Tears were flowing from Taahira’s eyes unabated. Wiping her tears with her tippet, she started saying:

“My son — may Allah grant him Paradise — used to work at the house of a khoja. [5] That khoja had apple orchards whose entire responsibility was on my son. My son was very hardworking and faithful towards salt. [6] When the winds of terror started blowing in Kashmir, the Mujahedeen started troubling the khoja a lot. A lot of wealth they used to extort away. They used to say that they want to buy guns for Azadi. The khoja was content that his and his family’s lives are saved.
         “One day the Mujahedeen came along with a Mullah and told the khoja that he must offer his daughter in nikaah to their commander. It was as if the earth was pulled away from below the khoja’s feet. A typhoon blew inside him that he was unable to stand anywhere. But he was quite experienced and wise.
         “‘Why not. You are the brave soldiers of our Azadi. Such great sacrifices you all are giving. I will be quite happy with this nikaah. But I have a request,’ he was saying with great mildness and patience.
         “‘What kind of request,’ one of them asked.
         “‘I wish to ask my daughter for her consent once. I am confident that she will not go against my word.’
         “‘Fair enough, but if you do some hanky-panky, you will be barbecued by bullets,’ a bearded Mujahid warned him, pressing him with the barrel of his gun. They all returned along with the Mullah.
         “There was no alternative left for the khoja other than to abandon his house. He entrusted all the keys to his house with my son and himself, with his family, he started living with his relatives in a city far away from the village.
         “Out here, the Mujahedeen took out all their rage regarding the khoja’s escape on my son. I do not know what tortures they devised for him. When I received the dead body of my son, his entire body was bloody all over. A note wet with blood was found stuck to his shirt on which was written with blood: ‘Mukhbir’.” [7]

         Taahira started crying. Seeing her thus, Saajida too started crying. Now who will wipe whose tears. Finally, Taahira wiped her tears with the sleeves of her pheran. But Saajida was still weeping. Her white hair seemed to tremble in the wind.
         “I too had a son...,” Saajida said in a breaking voice. “Was a soldier in the police department. Used to live in the city with his family. Used to visit me every week. Used to love me a lot. Used to say, ‘I will surely make you do Hajj.’ And one day the news of the death of my Hajj-making son came. The entire village was filled with grief. Such mourning had never shrouded our village before. Even the trees looked black. After three days his body reached the village in a police vehicle. How many holes had been made in his body by the merciless. Even the shroud was getting wet with the blood. Which leader was my son. Which big officer was that poor boy. The uniform was his employment; which other mistake was of my that son...”
         And she started crying in loud bursts. Like she was washing the red-red stains off her son’s shroud with her tears.
         In the middle of this, the third woman who was sitting a little distance away from them came near. Instead of sympathy, it seemed as if her eyes were radiating rage. As soon as she came near, she seemed to pounce upon the two.
         “Your sons only have taken the life of my son! Your son only became a mukhbir and got my Mujahid son arrested and the gun of your soldier son only killed my son! Oh, alas, my princely son! So many dreams I had regarding him! Everything has been finished!”
         Saying this, she passed out and fell on those two women. Both women carefully laid her down on fresh green grass. Made her drink water. Fanned her. Both rubbed the soles of her feet. When she regained consciousness, all the rage had vanished. Now these three women were standing in the same circle of sorrow.
         For the sake of saying, these three were quite different women, but the pain of their womb was one. Time was passing in impersonal empathy. The third woman, whose name was Khursheeda, suddenly stood up and started saying:
         “Come, let us go back to the shrine.”
         “But for what now?” asked the two women together.
         “In the shrine let us ask that big peer if some son of his has also died...”

© Translation, Sualeh Keen

Translation notes:

[1] peer = a saint (Muslim), a holy man.

[2] pheran = A kind of dress, the usual garment worn by Kashmiris, in shape like a night-gown with wide sleeves, and worn both by men and women (the only difference being that that worn by women has wider sleeves). From the Persian word pairahan (dress).

[3] kasaaba = A small turban type cap — often red — worn by Muslim women. The kasaaba, the height of which once used to reveal the social status of Kashmiri women, is now regarded as outdated.

[4] ‘Khar-Pathan’ = In Kashmiri, khar means a donkey, and therefore ‘Khar-Pathan’ means a ‘Donkey-Pathan’. The horse-riding Pathans earned this insult during the cruel Afghan rule in Kashmir. It is said that the Pathan horsemen used to pillage the poor Kashmiri peasants of the valley often, as a result of which the villagers made the entrances to their houses small lest some Pathan comes riding into the house and takes their valuables and women away. This worked to some extent as the horsemen considered it below their dignity to dismount from their steeds to enter the houses of their victims.

[5] khoja = A rich man; master or lord.

[6] namak halal = A very faithful person. It may be interesting to note that namak means salt, and in ancient times, services to a lord used to be paid with salt, hence the word ‘salary’ (from Latin salarium, money given to Roman soldiers to buy salt). The opposite is namak haram, i.e. unfaithful.

[7] mukhbir = police informer. During the early 1990’s, it was commonplace for Mujaheddeen to perfunctorily dub anyone they murdered for whatever reasons a mukhbir.

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