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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)

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