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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.

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