By Nirmal Kusum Kachru
(Translated from Original Hindi by Dr. R.K. Tamiri)
Straightway, he went to Palne. My younger brother was asleep. Father took the chair lying close by and seemed quite exhausted.
Mother was busy overturning washed clothes, put on a rope on the Verandah. She called father, “Have you come?”. Mother informed Santu, “Sahib has come.” She could feel that something was amiss that day. May be there was some wrangle in the office, she presumed. Mother did not speak anything but engaged herself in diversionary talk.
Santu brought the hubble-bubble and took off the shoes of father. I rushed to the kitchen to ask Santu to make tea. He had already begun preparations. I came back quickly. It disturbed me why my father did not shower affection on me that day.
Mother put the plate of snacks on the Teapoy. Giving a pat she asked me to sit besides her. I took it as a hint not to speak anything that would disturb Papa. Mother was a strict disciplinarian but never imposed this on us. I have never seen her raising voice, what to talk of scolding or giving us physical punishment. Her day to day life served as inspiration. A mere hint was enough for us.
Mother was courageous as well as wise. Tall, handsome, fair-complexioned she had an aura around her personality. She would never sit idle but keep herself busy with knitting, embroidery work, reading or teaching and telling stories to us. Mother was a good singer too. Her repertoire of songs included Kashmiri Leelas, Bhajans of Mira and a prayer to Lord Sankara in Persian-
Bood-Shabshahe Ke Manh Deedam’
Papa was disturbed on account of his transfer from Muzaffarabad to Sarda. We were four siblings, I being the eldest. My age could have been 6 or 7 years. The year was probably 1936 or 1937.
“Why do you feel worried? Your transfer is otherwise also due in 6-7 months from now. Let it be now,” Mother tried to console Papa.
He argued,” Muna is just a toddler. It has hardly been a month since we returned from Calcutta. Then travelling….I was thinking of putting the children to school”.
“What is going to come out of worrying? God will take care. After all, we are going to be at Mother Sarda’s feet. The children can study for a year or two at home,” Mother tried to reason out.
Mother had her schooling in Mission School. She had read upto 8th standard. She used to tell us lot about her headmistress, Ms Churchill Taylor. Mother would heap praises on her. In fact, she had learnt the art of knitting from her. Ms Taylor had gifted mother a pair of knitting needles, which she had preserved as a souvenir.
Mother had also imbibed the scientific way of teaching from Ms Taylor. She put it to good use when she started teaching us. On well-cut pieces of cardboard mother would draw alphabets and numerals to make us learn these in a style that was non-boring. At other times she would encourage us to write with fingers on sand. Besides stories from newspapers/magazines and Puranas she would narrate tales – ‘Gul Bakawali’, ‘Janeh Alam’, ‘Simhasan Batisi’ etc.
She was a master storey-teller, creating vivid images in her narration. This talent of hers was realised by me only when I myself turned to story-writing. How I wish I had inherited even a fraction of this talent!
Mossy had to undergo surgery. Mother had gone to Calcutta from Muzaffarabad for nursing. On her return 1½-2 months later she had carried along a new born kitten of their pet cat. This white-coloured kitten had been named ‘Pussy’.
Mother did not want to carry ‘Pussy’ to Sarda. Neither ‘Pussy’ liked separation from us nor did we want to leave her. Gopala too had great attachment with the kitten. He agreed to take care of ‘Pussy’. Mother had brought Gopala from Srinagar to serve as cook.
Our problem was how to carry ‘Pussy’. We had brought it from Calcutta in a basket. The latter provided good ventilation and the animal was also young. We had done the journey partly by train and partly by Bus. This time we had to walk in open, either on horse or on foot. Soon a way was found. The little ‘Pussy’ reached Sarda with us.
Journey to Sarda:
The journey was long, the destination looked distant. We passed by dense forests, verdant hills, different water spots – waterfalls, torrents, nullahs (rills) and expanses of streams. We were seated on horses. My three brothers had been put on the backs of coolies, called in local parlance as ‘Pithus’. I too had the experience of riding ‘Pithus’ in Kishtwar-Paddar region. In this mode the kids are fastened on to the backs of coolies with blankets/country chadars, and legs being kept out. I never enjoyed it but would insist on taking horse with Papa. This time I was making the journey on horse in the company of Papa.
Kishen Ganga Valley:
The path was quite narrow at places, with gorges down below. As we entered Kishen Ganga Valley the greenery and the multihued wild flowers welcomed us. Hills had encircled the Valley. Spread out lofty mountains – standing and at times placed so obliquely as if crouching, these were either snow-laden or concealed by the Deodar-Pine trees. Every now and then we witnessed the spectre of streams – gushing out of the mountains, making splashing noise, taking the form of cascades or torrents, rolling over or even taking leaps.
The streams presented different spectacles – at times quite restless, then roaring with laughter or appearing to be colliding, at other times flowing simply with serenic tranquility. Our horses/ponies also moved over snow-covered tracks. These beasts of burden were sure-footed. While making a beeline on the narrow track they kept their gaze fixed straight. No wonder, they never missed the step. While moving on such tracks the Ponywallas caution riders not to look sideways. They advise to follow the road only. An incident is worth recalling, which remains etched in my memory to this day.
We had carried lot of luggage, nearby 50 items – items of domestic use, kitchen-hold goods, utensils and allied things, clothing, first-aid kit, folding chairs/tables etc. On travels we also used to carry a cot for taking rest. It could be folded and unfolded within two minutes.
The luggage had been put on 7-8 mules. It included boxes, beddings, bags etc. One of the mules lost its foothold at a spot where the track was too narrow. It rolled down below. This mule was carrying a bag, containing kitchen goods on one side, while on the other a box had been loaded. Probably, the load had not been balanced well. The bag contained a small pitcher, filled with citrus pickles. It broke down, with oil seeping through the bag. The box had got stuck on one side. This new box had been carried by my mother from Calcutta. It carried mother’s new sarees, nice frocks purchased for me from Calcutta and little fire works for children. The pickles had been put without Papa’s consent. Gopala felt a little embarrassed on being caught. He was afraid lest Papa lose his temper. Papa just smiled at him. Gopala heaved a sigh of relief, with his eyes drooping down.
Fortunately, the place where the rolling mule had stopped had habitation – a village with agricultural fields all around. Though the name of the village has faded from my memory, yet I still remember how the village Numberdar alongwith 2-3 villagers brought a substitute mule. We rested for the night here. The villagers lavished good hospitality. The Ponywalla wanted to come along with injured mule but was restrained by Papa. He did not want the injured animal to carry the load. Papa was very compassionate. He paid charges to the Ponywalla and asked him to come after the mule got well.
He asked the Numberdar to make the arrangements. The Ponywalla was reluctant to take the money. The scene-the Ponywalla invoking blessings for us stands before my eyes even today.
The onward journey, in which the track played hide and seek with us, saw us pass through beautiful natural scenery. The dense green forests had different varieties of trees and bushes. Mountains were all around and the sloppy meadows were full with multi-coloured flowers decorating them.
We were to witness yet another enchanting scene – Horses grazing, sheep/goats bleating ‘Mein Mein’, standing on hind legs and eating leaves of the bushes. It was enhanced further by fields in full bloom.
There were nomadic Gujjars with their flock of cattle. They were carrying maize flour stuffed in bags of sheepskin. In rope bags these families carried pots, plates and cups of German Silver. They were tending their flock with great care, carrying the newborn of sheep/goats on their backs the way they would carry their own offsprings. We also saw them preparing maize-bread on make-shift hearth, made of stones. They ate the bread with salt, onion, jaggery (Gud) and butter.
Gujjar bellies, with velvety face but dressed in shabby clothes, were carrying sticks to shout at their flock of cattle. Some had newborns tied to their backs. Mules of nomads carried luggage and at times sick and old people We heard nomads sing and shouting at their herd in melodious style, which reflected more of concern and affection – saying
Va Va Har Aa Ho Kane (near, near),
Kande, Kande (Kinare, Kinare–on side).
The sounds of the cattle also added colour. This created a magical spell. The silence of desolate forests was disrupted by the sound produced by waterfall/cascades or high-velocity winds. I have no words to describe the thrill of this experience.
We passed through villages, crossing many desolate places. There were fields with different patterns, some terraced. These grew maize, paddy, Same (a vegetable), cucumber, pumpkin (with creepers), etc.
The village houses were mud huts, with sloppy thatched roofs. Occasionally, there were two-storeyed houses made of wood and clay. In some villages the huts had clay-roofs and clay-plastered verandahs.
No sooner we entered Sarda range a Ponywalla drew attention of Papa, “Sahib, can you see that forest bungalow? We have to get there.” We could see a two-storeyed wooden house, which looked more like barrack. The house was surrounded by hills on all sides. On one side the hills looked a little distant. After turning a few bends we reached near the village. The village was small.
Sometimes, the Kishenganga was flowing quite close to the road, while at other times far away from it. The rice fields were in full bloom. There were one or two shops. These did not look like shops but the villagers called these so.
After a little ascent we could see the wooden fence of the bungalow. The entire front view was inside the fence but the barrack-like quarter looked above the fence. A small stream was flowing down alongside the track on which we were walking.
The entry gate which was on the left side was open. The staff of the Forest department – forester, guard, clerk, peon etc. had assembled to receive us. A village lad Ismail had already reached the quarter to inform the staff about the arrival of new Range officer.
The mules were resting outside the gate. The ascending track leading to the fence was studded with stones. On the other side of the fence the hills looked little taller. The green hills were bedecked with white and yellow flowers. A cascade was flowing through the centre of one of the hills. Its outlet opened into a wooden pipe. The water was crystal clear. Another channel after circuiting round the fence flowed down along a corner of the garden.
On the other side of the hill were blooming fields of maize and Same crops. Two mud huts adjacent to each other stood in the upper portion in the fields. A little above these huts were grooves of Pine and Budlu (Fir) trees. One of the huts belonged to the potter. He used to make clay utensils for the villagers.
The other hut was that of the tailor. 7-8 people who lived in the two huts had come out on the hill slope to watch us.
We were on the Verandah, looking intently at the quarter. The luggage had been offloaded. The quarter had two portions. The right portion was to be our residential premises.
On the Ist floor on the left side was the office. The groundfloor on the office side had kitchen, store plus two rooms-one for servants and the other was the store. The groundfloor was interlinked as well. On the 1st floor 3-4 steps on one side joined 3-4 steps on the other to link office with residence. The office staff had separate staircase as well. The verandah at the first floor had two rooms at the front. Mother’s puja room cum store was a small room in the Centre.
The Verandah was quite spacious. We used to sit daily here, bring chairs and the table, to watch the splendour of nature.
Close to the house on one side was a ravine. It was full of multihued wild flowers. The ground floor had two big rooms and a big good bathroom. During winters we used to stay in the rooms on the ground-floor. Both the rooms had wall stoves (Bukharis). Later, the other room on the ground-floor was given to us to serve as study room. It was the time when only myself and my 2½ year old brother had started studies. Mother was our teacher. Infront of the courtyard was a big sloppy space, on which Raghu Kaka had grown Same, brinjal and chillies. Later, Papa planted different vegetables – Ladyfinger, Cauliflower, potato, Cucumber and 2-3 varieties of flowers, including pensy.
My mother and myself would also tend to the garden alongwith Gopala. There were also few trees and some thorny bushes close to the fence.
A little away from the bathroom at the start of the courtyard there were two covered toilets. These had been constructed in such a way that there was no need for cleaning these. The toilets opened into a deep ditch down below. At the edge of the courtyard and in front of the toilets was a three-room shed, more like a stable.
One day a cow accompanied by a cute calf landed at our quarter. This created hustle-bustle in the premises. Mother felt happy that she would have an opportunity to catch glimpse of the holy cow daily. The cow was named ‘Gauri’ and the Calf as ‘Nandi’. In the beginning we would be a little hesitant to come near the cow. Gradually, this hesitancy was overcome. We would make the cow eat grass with our hands and caress by stroking her skin.
Once Papa returned home, riding a stout, good-looking horse. Without dismounting the horse he entered the gate. The usual practice was that he would get down from the horse outside the gate. The horse would then return alongwith its owner. No sooner he dismounted the horse Gopala and me ran up to see him. We started gazing curiously at the horse and Papa.
Papa disclosed, “this horse belongs to us now. How is it?” Our eyes brimmed with joy. We replied, “Very beautiful”. My brother who too came running said,” Papa, we will also ride the horse”.
Mother was witnessing the scene from the Verandah, with Muna in her lap.
The new saddle on the horse looked dazzling. It was bright brown in colour, with a long linear white spot in the Centre. By now Raghu Kaka had also joined us. He moved forward and put the two children on the horse back. Patting and stroking the back and the neck of the horse Raghu Kaka took the horse around the courtyard for 1-2 rounds. I too desired to have a ride but didn’t express. After dismounting Billoo and Nanhe from the horse Raghu Kaka called me, “Come dear, you also have a ride on the new horse”.
Raghu Kaka was a peon in the department. It took him little time to become part of our family. He had lost his wife. His two married sons, their families and an unmarried daughter lived in a village, 8-9 miles from Sarda. In deference to his age the office staff used to call him as Raghu Kaka. Once he fell sick due to fever and cough and grew too weak. On Papa’s instructions Raghu Kaka’s food too started coming from our kitchen.
Shortly before snowfall Raghu Kaka and Gopala would dig a ditch in a corner of the courtyard. Then Grass would be laid. In one portion Potato-Shakarkandi (Molasses) and in the other Reddish-Turnip would be stored. Another layer of grass was then spread over the stored vegetables. These would remain unspoilt and fresh till the onset of summer. This used to be nature’s Fridge those days. Vegetables would remain in good condition for months together. When I grew of age I learnt that this practice of storing Potato, Reddish, Turnip and other vegetables underground was prevalent during winters in Srinagar and other places as well. The local term for this practice was ‘Khav’.
When Beans-Turnip was the menu Gopala would put lot of turnip into it. It would be put on the hearth quite early in the day. By evening these would be ready. At the time of supper Gopala would complain, “I had put lot many turnips. Where have these gone?” Mother would try to reason out,” These might have got dissolved”. Gopala would not be convinced and blame, “Surely, Raghu Kaka might have gulped these”. Raghu Kaka and Gopala shared good relationship, with Gopala according fatherly respect due to him. They cared well for each other. Occasionally, they would enter into a brawl.
Sometime later, a teacher named Arjun Singh was engaged for us by Papa. He was normal-trained and did not have any knowledge of Hindi. The teacher would teach me Urdu, English and Math Tables. My younger brother was being taught alphabet and numerals. Two younger brothers were yet to come out of mother’s shadow.
By temperament the teacher was simple and humble. Being the lone teacher of the village school he had to attend to every work – opening and closing of the school, conducting prayers, ringing the bell, teaching and attending to the accounts etc. Students from few neighbouring villages also attended the school. The teacher would handle multiple tasks at the same time quite competently. One class would be busy writing Takhties (wooden boards), another would be busy playing, yet another would be reciting numerals or tables. While the teacher taught one class, another would join gymnastics game.
It was the talent in teacher that attracted Papa to engage him as our tutor. The teacher lived in a village called Goos in Machipur area. This is little what I can recollect. Papa had been to this area on Inspection tours many a times. We also visited the area once in the company of Masterji. The school had closed down for vacations. We stayed for 2-3 nights there. Masterji had taken us to his home also. The way to his house lay through fields. His house, made of wood was a good one. In one portion the family had grown pumpkin, cucumber etc., while in the other beds looked full with green-leafy vegetables. Dry bushes surrounded the house on all sides but the courtyard was neat and clean. The cowshed and the paddy store of theirs, like most of the houses in the village, had thatched roofs.
The parents and the elder brother of Masterji, Amar Singh received us with warm affection. The shop was located near the house of elder brother. It had all the provisions of daily use. Mother purchased few items here. That evening the family had hosted a dinner for us.
We went around the village, playing games of Kabbadi and hide and seek. Masterji had informed mother, “There is also a Sarda shrine here. Those who cannot make it to Sarda temple located higher up, can pay obeisance to the Goddess here and have her darsana”. Papa’s actual purpose in bringing us here was to take us to this shrine. He had kept Raghu Kaka for our company, while he himself went on inspection tour. Masterji and his mother also remained with us.
The shrine was not too far and was a small one. Few Purohit families lived there. The road to the shrine lay through dense groove of walnut trees. There were lot many Chinars as well. Masterji had told us that these chinars were very old.
The sanctum sanctorum of the temple housed well sculpted little idols. Fresh flowers had been put on these idols. Ghee lamp was also burning. After the puja tea (Kahwa) and rice bread (Childasa) was brought for us from the house of purohits. Some ladies and children also came to meet us. They had brought walnut, apples, maize and sattu. Mother was hesitant to accept these. Her dilemma was how could she refuse something that reflected affection.
At home we children spent half the time within residential premises and the rest outside, Everybody in the family would wake up at 5 AM. By 6 O’clock breakfast would be served. Soon thereafter, we would begin our studies. At I or 10 o’clock we would take lunch. Papa would take lunch at 9.30 AM. He would be in his office by 10 AM. After the lunch I would take my brother along while going out. Sometimes we would go up a nearby hill or play with flowing water making dummy bridges on small water- outlets or ‘houses’ on banks. We would also prepare mock vegetables/bread etc. 2-3 children from two houses in the neighbourhood would also join us. One of them, who was of my age, was tailor’s son. He used to read in Masterji’s school. He would return home by noon, with Takhti hanging around his shoulders, and join us for playing.
Occasionally my brother, me and Ismail would go towards the downhill slope. We would climb small hills, move across nullahs, run on green velvety grass and cross on our way grazing cows and galloping horses. We would pluck flowers and take little ripe fruit of the shrubs, besides meeting the hilly children. Initially, the latter would feel shy. For sometime we would gaze silently at each other. Then they would mix up with us and converse, play and share joyous moments. At times, we would wonder why they should giving us so much respect. Was it because we wore clean clothes or had fair complexion? But they too had fair complexion. Sometimes they would pluck jujube fruit for us or get small pears called ‘Sadiyan’ in Pahari parlance. We would enjoy their company. On occasions they would feel alarmed on getting rebuke from Isamil. We would not like this.
Among them was a cute girl, Kulsuma, lean and beautiful, with big watery eyes, long black hair strung into small bunches – resting like a net on her back. At times I would drag her to my home. Mother would display affection by serving snacks to her and giving clothes. Kulsuma’s mother used to bring us milk and grass for cow and horse. I would play the game of dolls with Kulsuma. Mother would make dolls at home. Later I also learnt this art. I would like stitching clothes for dolls and decorating them. I vividly recollect how I once forgot to make the neck while preparing sweater for the doll. It could not be put on the doll. I laugh at my mistake, for later I had to use scissors to cut the neck for the doll.
Our daily routine was to play around small nullahs, climb trees, enjoy swings, make dummy watermills around nullahs. We would fashion a thin trickle of water on a stone in such a way that it would start moving We had been trained in this technique by Ismail. He could do many variations of this. Ismail would also make good pellet bows for us and teach us how to take sharp aim.
Nature was bountiful here. Different varieties of trees, vegetables, herbs etc. were seen at every step. Ismail would acquaint us with their local names-Cholai Ka Sag, Bathua (a pot herb), (Big leafed sour sag), Hund, Palhaq, Vena, BunFasha, Ajwain, Kisrode etc. Wild roses were in abundance in the area. We would select Bunfasha flowers with care.
Ismail, son of Ibrahim Gujar was favourite servant of Papa. He was smart and Jack of all trades. He would remain busy most of the time – putting fodder to the horse in the stable or giving it bath and making its feet rough, uneven; milking the cow, sweeping the courtyard, helping movement of papers in the office, putting tobacco in the hubble bubble, ferrying things down from Ist floor, laying bedding etc. Ismail would also play with children and narrate stories. His father had given up nomadic life to lead a settled one in the village, a little away from Sarda, down below. He was engaged in agriculture. Few cattle which this family had were taken care of by his wife and daughter.
We had free access to fields of Tailor and Potter. Their ladies would get roasted maize or Jaggery-Walnuts for us. At the outer limit of their field a raised area could be seen. In the Centre of this natural platform was a big apple tree. This year it had borne good fruit. At the request of Tailor and Potter Papa had purchased the tree for this season. They got money and we the fruit. In addition to domestic work Ismail would also take care of the apple tree as well. Frankly speaking, there was no need of care. People living in the vicinity were down to earth honest people. The tree bore abundant fruit, yielding many boxes. One of these was sent by Papa to his boss, DFO. We had also distributed the fruit among Tailor, Potter, the staff of the department, Ismail, Kulsuma and others. The apples tasted very well. Mother had also prepared a jar full of jam.
Another incident of those days that comes to my mind is how we played Badminton game by pitching two poles for the net in the courtyard in front of office. At times Papa would also join us. The two shuttlecocks gave away after heavy use. We had to improvise one by putting 1-2 feather of a cock into the Cob. This invention made us happy as game started again. Its fall-out was that our rackets got worn out sooner, stopping the game altogether. However, this did not deter us from inventing new games.
Writing on wooden boards (Takhtis) was in vogue. It was considered compulsory for developing good handwriting. Gopala had been given the assignment for imparting this training to us. Everyday we had to write twice Hindi and Urdu numerals separately. Those days wooden boards having glazed lines were not available. Soot was smeared on a simple wooden board.
After drying shine was imparted to it by rubbing with a glass bottle. This practice used to be called ‘application of Mohra’. We would use reed pens to write on the ‘Takhti’, using particular clay called Khadia Miti (white clay) as the ink. Gopala used to apply soot, while I would myself do the shining part, because younger brother was still a novice in doing this task. In Muzaffarabad Gachni (yellow hard clay) was used for smearing the Takthi. Ink used was black in colour.
Mattoo Sahib Visits:
After ‘Takhti’ work mother would ask me to write 1-2 pages of English alphabet on four-line notebook. There used to be a particular G-nib holder for this. In this context an anecdote comes to my mind. While we were in Sarda we were visited by an uncle, who was my father’s elder brother. He had come on a private visit from Model Town, Lahore, where he was posted as a high official. Sporting long flowing beard he had a strong demeanour–stern face, tall, stout and handsome. He wore a white turban and used to be called Matoo Sahib. My parents would give him good respect and hold him in reverence. They would not dare to take even minor liberty and remain in sphinxed-like posture before him. He had brought for us few calligraphy notebooks and G-nibs. We used to call him Dada while our parents would address him as ‘Bhai Sahib’.
On seeing him our horse ‘Rustam’ ran away. Our uncle had chosen the horse for moving around Sarda. On the first day when uncle tried to mount the horse, it blazed with rage. The horse came out of the fenced area and fled towards the nearby hillock. Dada and Papa ran after him, but Rustam did not stop. Ismail was busy milking the cow. We all had assembled on the verandah. The horse ran away, trampling the maize fields.
Feeling exasperated, Dada gave up the chase and asked Papa, “How unruly is the Horse? Haven’t you tamed it as yet? A day has gone waste. Arrange another horse”. Papa stood motionless as if struck with guilt, like a student. The horse stood neighing on the hillock straight across the Potter’s hut. Meanwhile, Ismail came to Papa after handing over the milk to Gopala. He said to Papa, “Sir, the horse has lost its cool after seeing the new rider. I would tame it just now”. Smiling Ismail went out from the gate.
In a loud but affectionate voice Ismail begam shouting ‘Rustam, O’Rustam’. The horse stopped neighing and began tracking the voice. Ismail showered affection on the horse. He caressed the horse, patting it and rubbed his face with neck of the horse, while holding reins in his hands. Ismail exclaimed, “Sir, the animal too demands affection”. Dada and Papa were watching this in amazement.
Papa’s tours in Sarda range were quite hectic. He would stay away from home for a week or ten days at a stretch or even longer. This time he had gone for a even longer tour. Reports had come that Kuth smugglers were on the prowl at a place I cannot recollect now. This much I remember that Papa and his staff had done their homework well before embarking on this tour. Some warders of Sarda fort had also joined them. Mother had suggested caution and regular communication to the family at home.
Whenever Papa’s messenger would drop in with some message or letter mother would pamper him by extending lavish hospitality. Mother had religious disposition but I never found her to be an obscurantist. She would adjust with the changing times. To me she was a compassionate mother, who harboured love for everybody. In a particular season Ismail would develop fever with rigours and chills every two days. She would call him and cover with a blanket. Mother would herself get medicines and give it to Ismail. She would check temperature with thermometer regularly and remain restless till Ismail got well. Mother would serve Ismail with tea, milk at regular intervals. Villagers called this particular seasonal fever as ‘Fever of Joody/Bari’.
Shrimad Bhagwat Week:
Yes, Mother had strong religious propensities and used to perform Puja daily without a fail. For a long time she had been desirous of conducting ‘Shrimad Bhagwat Week’. Raghu Kaka had informed her about a Purohit family, which lived in Sarda. She had felt happy that Katha would be conducted in accordance with religious texts. But when a message was sent it was learnt that the Purohit had gone to Rangvor village and was likely to stay there for a month. Purohit’s son was too young to conduct Katha.
Mother had already made up her mind. As the week began mother assumed the twin job-as a narrator as well as listener. Puja room was prepared with great care. A message was sent to Papa also. Due to his hectic schedule he could not come but decided to attend the concluding day function.
For the week Gopala took charge of looking after the household and the kitchen. Ismail would bring flowers in abundance for Puja. I too looked after my younger brothers. Those days outdoor games were put to stop. I would play with brothers the game of Dolls (Gudda-Guddi) and teacheress at home only.
During the days of Katha Pussy would not play much with us. She would steal her entry into mother’s Puja room, even when the door had been properly closed. She would sit quietly as if in deep contemplation. Mother would close the door only for her lest she spoil puja items or put her mouth into amrit (Prasad) prepared with milk, curds etc.
Mother would be at a loss to understand how Pussy made her entry into Puja room. Intensive search yielded a small crevice in the door. Mother exlaimed to Gopala, “She is able to manage her entry through such a small crevice!” We all stood amazed. When Gopala picked up Pussy he found a huge abrasion on her back.
Papa had returned home on the concluding day of Katha. ‘Shrimad Bhagwat’ had been weighed in dry fruit-walnut, almonds, coconut etc. Purohit of Sarda temple had not returned as yet. His son had been called and given alms after serving him Prasadam. Raghu Kaka had worked hard that day. He had returned from tour with Papa only.
Pussy did not sit for long on the concluding day function. After sitting for a while it left. On the 3rd day after the function was over Pussy suddenly passed away. Neither had she been sick nor did experience any pain. In her grief we didn’t cook our meals that day. Everybody in the family felt sad. Mother stood dazed. Listening to Bhagwat Katha, in rapt attention, remaining careful not to spoil or disturb Puja items, making entry through a crevice and then suddenly departing from this world on the 3rd day after the function was over and that too without any illness or pain–all this seemed a phenomenon situation to Gopala. Later, when shradha ceremony for Pitrs (departed ancestors) was conducted on the bank of Sangam below the Sarda Temple, mother had given dan (gifts) in Pussy’s name as well.
Papa as Doctor:
Another anecdote that I can recollect is about an event which made Papa famous as the doctor of the village. It was a cold wintry day. The dusk had set in and the room Bukhari was lit. Our chanting of bhajans was disturbed by a hard knock at the door. A couple holding a baby in their hands had come and looked quite perturbed over the child’s illness. Ismail, who had accompanied them, intervened to say to father, “Sir, the child is quite sick. Give him some medicine”. Expressing helplessness father replied, “My dear, How can I treat him? I am not a doctor.” In desperation the father of sick child said, “Sir, for doctor we have to go to another village .The Vaid of this place is not available. He has gone somewhere”.
Papa cast a look on the child, who was running high temperature. The child’s chest was rattling with cough. It lay listless in mother’s lap. Papa took out some medicines from the First-Aid Box and pulverised it. He packed the divided doses in wrapper himself served a dose of medicine to the child with a spoon. Papa asked mother to bring some camphor oil and applied a little on the child’s chest and back. He gave to the couple the medicine packed in wrappers and a bottle containing little camphor oil. Instructing them to apply the lukewarm camphor oil to child’s chest and back Papa asked them to serve milk/or with sago to the child.
Papa was of the view that the child had contracted Pneumonia. Next morning. Ismail brought the news that the child’s fever had come down and the baby had taken a little milk also. My parents heaved a sigh of relief. Accompanied by Ismail Papa visited the child. This episode spread Papa’s fame as doctor and the people would regularly come to him for treatment. He would treat little problems like pain but invariably refer patients to the doctor. Even then the stock of medicines continued to pile up. Aspirin, Quinine, Amritdhara, Balm and a host of other unani medicines would remain available all the time.
–(To be concluded)