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Thursday, 19 January 2017

“The Teller Tells” – A short-story by M. K. Santoshi

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


Today Heemal was very happy. In a few months only she was going to become a mother. As soon as he came out of the clinic, Nagrai hailed an auto-rickshaw driver. He came too but Heemal flatly refused to sit in the auto.
                 “But why?” Nagrai asked.
                 Heemal said that for some time she wants to relax in the nearby chinar garden. Nagrai agreed. Actually, Heemal was passionately in love with chinar trees. She would consider the chinar leaves a part of her life. Walking leisurely, both reached the chinar garden and lay down on the greenery. Inside both a shared dream had already germinated.
                 “What is there after all in these chinar trees that you keep expending so much love upon them?” Nagrai asked.
                 Heemal smiled and Nagrai on her smiling lips planted a kiss.
                 “Tell please, Heemal?” Nagrai insisted.
                 “These chinars are much beloved to me for this reason that whereas other trees turn yellow upon brushing with autumn, the leaves of these chinar trees become so reddish. In autumn, these red-red leaves of chinar completely look like fire—like a divine fire. I too at the time of death wish to become this divine.” Heemal had gotten quite emotional.
                 “I have decided...” just an incomplete statement she had uttered when Nagrai expressed his anxiety, “What have you decided?”
                 “This only that I will keep the name of my son Chinar.” Upon hearing this, Nagrai started laughing. While laughing, he was looking like a jester in a Sanskrit play.
                 “What is there in it for laughing so foolishly?” Heemal said in a peeved tone.
                 “No, not like that. I was laughing that how come you came to believe that ours will be a son only, could also be a daughter.” Nagrai said by way of clarification.
                 “Yes, that is there,” Heemal slowly said.
                 “If it is a girl, what name would you keep for her?” Nagrai asked. Heemal fell into contemplation. Nagrai kept collecting blades of grass on his palm.
                 “Thought of some name?”
                 “I have decided.”

Sensational and provocative news had started being published in newspapers. The gun had crossed the border. Deaths, processions, insanity in the valley, in all these an increase had started happening... However, Heemal-Nagrai had immersed in the love of their daughter so much that to them the news of the outside felt childish. Nagrai had also written a poem on his daughter’s birth. Heemal had memorised the poem by heart. Both had several times recited the poem to Vitasta.
                 “Our Vitasta will become a professor of history,” one day Nagrai told Heemal.
                 “No, she will become a scientist, a scientist like Madam Curie,” Heemal had said in opposition.
                 “No, she will become a professor only, a specialist professor on Kashmir history.”
                 “No, she...”
                 Someone knocked on the door. Heemal lay down Vitasta on the bed and put a velvet quilt on her. Nagrai opened the door. In front, a bearded man was standing.
                 “Police is searching for me, hide me somewhere in your home,” in the young man’s tone, there was less request and more entitlement. He deliberately pulled up his pheran [1] a bit so that the gun hidden inside can be clearly seen.
                 Nagrai hid the young man in his study.
                 “Your self will eat food?” he asked the young man out of courtesy.
                 “No,” the young man gave a curt reply.
                 The night had started deepening. The light had been extinguished from the neighbouring houses. The shivering cold of January had started seeping with full strength into the bones of Heemal-Nagrai.
                 Heemal had woken up by the mullah’s azan. [2] She rose from the bed and started peeking out from the glass window. Outside the earth had gotten covered with a thin layer of snow. The front gate of the courtyard was ajar.
                 She woke up her husband. Nagrai stood up in panic.
                 “What is it?” He asked.
                 “Seems like the young man went way.” Both went towards the room. The door of the room was ajar. On the blanket spread on the ottoman couch, only wrinkles were present. A piece of paper was stuck to the calendar on which was written: ‘Indian dogs’! Nagrai took off the paper stuck to the calendar. Tore it to bits and threw it out from the window. Yet while doing all this, deep inside he was getting scared.

“These days you read a lot — that too Kashmir history,” Heemal told Nagrai. Placing his spectacles on the reed-mat, Nagrai said, “Yes, these days there is a great need of reading history.” Heemal slid a little closer to her husband. Taking her husband’s cold hand in her hands, she said, “Can I ask something?”
                 “Yes, ask?”
                 “We are not safe here. Almost all people from our community have fled way. No relative of ours too has been left here now. Maha Ganesh forbid, if something happens to us, there won’t even be someone to light our pyre.”
                 “No, Heemal, we cannot leave Kashmir. We are the heroes of Kashmir’s folk-tale.” [3]
                 Heemal remained silent. She did not want to sadden her husband.
                 For a while, silence fell upon the atmosphere. Heemal had seen in Nagrai’s eyes the mirror of her past. A fear had started ringing inside her. In the Satisar inside her, she had flown back thousands of years.
                 “Will I lose you like the early times?” Heemal said, breaking the silence.
                 “No, back then I had numerous queens.”
                 “Now what...?”
                 “Now I have just one queen... she who is the mother of Vitasta.”
                 “Are you embarrassed to call me your wife?”
                 Nagrai remained silent, don’t know where he had gotten lost.

After seven days of continuous curfew, there was a relaxation of five hours today. People were in panic, timidly coming and going on the roads. Nagrai too in a rush came out of his home. He placed the cloth bag inside the pocket of his coat. Tucked some books under his arm, started walking towards college in brisk steps. January too was about to end, but till now had not received even the December wages. From some days, was also running out of money. Upon reaching the college, he went straight to the cashier. The cashier Ghulam Nabi reassured him by saying “Aadaab, [4] Professor Sahib.” Put the full four-and-a-half thousand rupees in his pocket and with a stack of new books from the library tucked under his arm, he was cheerfully returning home when...
                 No, no, I do not know who killed Nagrai. I cannot say if he died from the bullets of the soldiers or that of the Mujahids. How can I tell. I wasn’t even at the place of the incident. But the teller tells that he was killed by bullets from both sides. Near his soaked body itself a few books were strewn. What the title of the books was, I do not know, but the teller tells again that inside those books were not just words, inside them was the soul of Kashmir.
                 Even after the murder of Nagrai did Heemal not flee away from Kashmir. She was now also in the attempt to save the folk-tale. A few people used to visit her covertly to express sympathy. Heemal was quite upset by the news published in newspapers on the topic of Nagrai’s killing. She would keep thinking that has Nagrai died alone? Has not with him Vitasta also become orphan? She herself also had not been widowed?
                 There was a knock on the door. An elderly man was standing at the door. Heemal opened the door and the elderly man walked inside.
                 “Daughter! I am your nobody but you can call me Abba.” Heemal remained silent. The elderly man was speaking a bit softly, a bit gasping, as if he was a patient of chronic asthma.
                 “I know who killed your Nagrai.”
                 “Who killed?” Heemal asked in an agitated tone.
                 “I have.”
                 “No, no, how can you kill my Nagrai? You are an elderly person.”
                 “I am telling the truth, daughter! I only am that sinner...,” wiping his eyes and coughing in between he was saying.
                 “Nagrai was passing by my home when suddenly a stampede took place. Your Nagrai was also running away. Nearby only somewhere the sounds of bullets being fired were heard. He returned back. I was watching from my roof. From there itself I called out to him and told him to get inside, there was no time to think.
                 “To save life, it was necessary to take refuge. I gave him refuge in my home. The police cordoned off the whole area. Each house was searched. In our house also the police barged in. They wanted to take away my only son. Had he been taken into custody, his mother would not have been able to live then. Calling Nagrai my second son, I told the police to take him only. Before your Nagrai could open his mouth, they took him away dragging. In the firing on the crossing ahead...”
                 After this neither the elderly man could say anything nor could Heemal hear anything. She had become empty.
                 The teller tells that that elderly man would come up to Heemal-Nagrai’s home every day and turn back weeping. As many days as he lived, he considered himself only the villain of the Heemal-Nagrai folk-tale.

© Translation, Sualeh Keen

Translation notes:

[1] 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).

[2] azan = the Islamic call to prayer

[3] Heemal-Nagrai folk tale = Read this tragic folk tale here: http://www.koausa.org/Folk/Sadhu/7.html

[4] aadaab = (Arabic آداب), means ‘respect’. It is used by Urdu-speaking Muslim population while greeting non-Muslims, while as assalam-o-alikum is used when a Muslim greets a Muslim.

Image source:

Thursday, 5 January 2017

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

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


Earlier the mother wasn’t agreeing to leave the village, but when both her sons, Shankar and Hari, explained to her the sensitivity of the situation, she agreed, albeit on one condition. That condition was to feed fish-rice to the household god.
         There were ten days till the fish-rice feast, Gadd'a Bat'a, [1] but the mother was adamant in her decision. She had been feeding the household god fish-rice for more than forty years. No hurdle had ever come and now... However, let anything happen; she was not leaving before the fish-rice feast.
         “Now the electricity goes off at night daily,” in the lantern’s light the mother tells her elder son Shankar.
         “Yes, mother. I feel that this is being deliberately done,” says the younger son Hari.
         “Why so?”
         “This, mother, because in this darkness of the night itself, the Mujahids [2] change their hideouts.” The mother nods her head in agreement.
         “Can I ask one thing, mother?” the elder son Shankar says.
         “Can’t we leave before the fish-rice feast. From our community, only a few homes are remaining in the entire village.”
         “You are needlessly scared, son. Wali Joo was saying that nobody will say anything to us. He has also said that if we want, he can get it announced in the masjid.”
         “Mother, this is his love speaking.”
         The mother said nothing.
         “Whatever happens, we should think once again.”
         Sitting in cover near the doorsill, from there itself the elder daughter-in-law was signalling to her husband that look at your mother’s obstinacy; she will have us all killed.
         “No, mother. Now it is not good for us to stay here,” the younger son Hari said hesitatingly.
         “As you all wish,” surrendering, the mother said.
         The cold winds of December upon striking against the shedding branches of chinars fill the atmosphere with a strange smell. One such type of smell which we are unable name at all. On one such twilight, the mother was sitting near the window with a sorrowful mind. Outside the fallen leaves of the chinars were getting piled up. In these very fallen leaves in her days of childhood she used to kindle a fire. For the days of winter she used to be so happy to have made three-four sacks of charcoal. Putting the charcoal made from chinar leaves in her kangri, [3] she used to behold the snow near the window. Even after her wedding she used to make charcoal from the fallen chinar trees. Beholding the snow, she had still not given up.
         “Why do you keep beholding the snow this much?” her husband had once said.
         “Snow is that beautiful.”
         “Not more beautiful than you.”
         “Beware! If your mother hears this, she will call you a wife’s slave.” [4]
         “Let her call.”
         “Such brave you pretend to be...”
         “Your beauty itself is such only.”
         “Can I say one thing?”
         “Can you order me a pheran of pashmina?”
         “A pheran of pashmina?”
         The mother smiles at the irony. On the wedding of Shankar only did Pandit Joo fulfil this wish of hers — after full twenty years.
         For the fish-rice feast, two days were remaining. The mother summoned Wali Joo home and gave him money to fetch the Lidder river fish. Also insisted that he bring radishes from his farm. Considering it a good day, the mother took the pre-feast bath in hot water. She was about to burn the evening lamp when she heard an uproar outside. She hurriedly came downstairs after mumbling some mantras. The entire family had gathered in fear in the underground chamber. She also sat down with her back against a round cushion. After listening and listening to fragments of conversations, she came to know a little bit as to why there was that noise outside. The mother looked towards her sons and the sons their food-providing mother. The daughters-in-law looked at their children. The horrendous imaginations of indecision, fear, death, and panic started swimming inside the whole underground chamber. A silent darkness had slowly started pouring into the room.
         “Finally how was he caught?” breaking the room’s silence the mother asked.
         “They say, mother, that he returned home after three months when the police came to know.”
         “They immediately cordoned the house and while searching he was caught,” the elder son said in a curt manner.
         “Poor fellow could not spend even a single night with her family,” the mother took a long sigh.
         “Mother, he is not a poor fellow... He is a Mujahid. Mujahid...”
         “But he is a human being as well...?”
         The slogans of the crowd outside were being heard inside the room.
         “WHAT DO WE WANT?”

The day of the fish-rice feast.
         The mother was very sad. The very thought of running away was running saws inside her and she would writhe about in pain. Who knows if there will be a return again. Who knows if she will die itself. How fortunate was her husband that he died amongst his own people. His own people shouldered his bier. Didn’t know if she will have the fortune of her crematorium or not. No, no, she should not think about herself only. She is the sunlight of an evening. However, she should think of her sons and grandsons as well.
         “Wali Joo has arrived,” entering the room Shankar said. The spinning wheel of the mother’s thoughts stopped.
         “Where is Wali Joo?”
         “Downstairs, in the underground chamber.”
         The mother saying ”Hey Ram” started slowly descending the stairs.
         A dirty cap on his head. Torn socks in his feet. A heavy blanket over his pheran. Haphazard wrinkles on his face. All this was not Wali Joo. He is much more than this.
         As much impoverished he looked from outside, that much wealthy he was inside. Not just for one person, but for everybody.
         “Bhabhi Ji! The soldiers have opened a camp on the river bank. It is not possible to get the fish.”
         “But the fish is our custom,” becoming sad the mother said.
         “Then what should we do,” in a concerned tone Wali Joo said.
         “From anywhere, for the custom, just get one small fish only.”
         Wali Joo left. Both sons pounced upon the mother. The younger son went to the extent of saying that if this year they fail to offer fish-rice to the household god, will he file a case against us.
         “Who knows if this is not the last fish-rice from my hands,” in a broken voice the mother’s hand
“Don’t say like that, mother! Whatever you say, we will do,” the elder son said while touching the mother’s hand. The younger son too came to realise his fault.
         A quarter kilo fish Wali Joo had brought.
         Some radishes too he had brought.
         “With great difficulty was this found,” Wali Joo told the mother.
         Silent remained the mother.
         “In cold water, I remained for a full half an hour... But caught this one fish only.”
         “What is your fault in that?” the mother said as if breaking her silence.
         “For now let your household god be pleased. For the rest of you, I will try again in a couple of days.”
         After drinking the kehwa, Wali Joo left. He used to very much like the kehwa of Pandits.
         In hot chili powder was the fish cooked. Along with round radishes as witnesses. The mother, having performed puja, was returning to the underground chamber when her foot slipped and she tumbled down the stairs. The clay lamp in her hand also shattered upon falling. Doctors were called but the mother had given up her breathe of life. In her own village amongst her own people was her bier lifted. Don’t know if the household god wept upon her death or not, but the entire village wept upon her death indeed.

© Translation, Sualeh Keen

Translation notes:

[1] Gadd'a Bat'a = This word literally means fish and cooked rice. On any Tuesday or Saturday of the dark fortnight in the lunar month of Pausha, except when there is panchak, fish is specially prepared and near ones are invited to the dinner. First of all a plateful of rice and fish is arranged and it is placed at a clean place in a room on the top floor, called Kaeni. This is meant for the deity of the house referred to as Ghar Devta. The plate is properly covered with an up-turned basket and nearby is placed a glass of water. Some house-holds even serve a raw fish. There are eye witness accounts that the next morning the food is found consumed and even the fish bones are found lying by the side of the empty plate. After placing the plate at the fixed place for the deity, a feast of rice and fish is held along with near and dear ones. (Source: http://koausa.org/festivals/festivals.html)

[2] Mujahid = Muslim militant (in Kashmir)

[3] Kangri = pot filled with hot embers

[4] Wife’s slave = henpecked husband

Image Source: 

"Pandit Woman in Traditional Kashmiri Dress", Search Kashmir (http://www.searchkashmir.org/2008/07/pandit-woman-in-traditional-kashmiri.html)