Extensive touring means meeting cross section of people, sharing many ideologies and experiencing many inexplicable events. One such event happened with me in 1986 when I was traveling in a bus from Srinagar to Raithan – a place ahead of Kremsher in District Badgam in Kashmir. It was Sunday winter time and season was extremely cold.
At Kremsher an old man abruptly came in front of our bus, the driver had to apply brakes; he forced his entry in our bus from the front door. His clothes spoke for his poverty – his phiran (the long gown worn by Kashmiri people) was shabby; it was difficult to assess the colour it had when it was tailored. His face was depicting his diamond jubilee age – rough marks, sunken eyes, gray hair and ferocious look made him a curio.
We were only a few passengers in the bus, thus casually glancing at him everybody got busy with his thoughts. A strange laughter along with the beating of chest and clapping of hands shook us. We noticed that this strange looking fellow was the cause. We all stared at him and all except me joined him in his laughter.
I was the only person not to laugh. I was constantly gazing at him and watching his actions. His eyes were sad though he was laughing; something inside me said he was not what he pretended to be. I decided to talk to him.
“Baba (Respected elder)! Why don’t you come here and sit besides me?” I requested.
His laughter stopped and for a moment there was a pin drop silence. The people around me didn’t like my gesture. The bus was moving at its usual speed of 20 Km / hour, it being an ascent. He slowly came near me and sat as if he were following some command.
“Was this a laughter ridiculing the masses or lamenting your fate or mocking at the creator?” I enquired.
He turned a bit, observed me keenly for a few seconds and then in perfectly normal voice asked,” How do you know?”
“I know because I am also half mad as I am a poet.”
I asked him his name.
He said,” Now that you have understood, what is there in the name?”
“Have you seen (the question was referring to divine vision)”
Mysterious look followed by a silence.
On my repeated queries he slowly opened his mouth and tears filled his glistening eyes.
“These things are not to be disclosed,” he added.
“Certainly not, you are right,” I replied.
By now everybody got interested in our conversation.
“I want to know your story and why have you chosen this way of life.”
“You think I am a mad man?” he said.
“You look like that,” said I.
After taking a long breath he started, “I am the most unfortunate person living on this earth. I happened to be a land lord of a huge property ahead of Raithan having two big houses and plenty of land over there.”
With surprise I said, “How come a landlord has become a beggar?”
“It is a long story”.
“But I want to know,” I insisted.
“I was a rich man – having no issue so we – me and my wife – prayed to God to bless us with a child. Soon we were blessed with a son. Within a short span of time he died. It was a shock to us. After this heart-rending episode we compromised with realities and were blessed with another son but he too passed away. Likewise we lost five children one by one. We wept bitterly on this Godly satire on us. Ultimately we adopted an orphan girl from our village. The drama of life continued as usual till sixteen harvests were over. We got her married to a homespun personality of the same village and lived like a small joint family i.e. our daughter; her husband and we two – total four members. We thought that our bad days were over, but my wife got bedridden. For five years I nursed her, she proved to be lucky enough to leave all miseries for me and left for heaven. Being depressed and lonely I lost all the interest in life.
Meanwhile my adopted daughter and son-in-law used to manage my property and other affairs. One evening they brought one stamp paper something inscribed on it and asked me to put my thumb impression on it. When I enquired they informed me that that was for the transfer of all my property to them for smooth running. Immediately a thought came to my mind about the safety of my daughter.
There was every possibility that this boy might kill my daughter after the transfer and become the landlord as it happens usually. I point blank refused giving assurance that after my death both of them would become legal heirs, so why haste. They pressurized me and I became more and more worried. After getting no response from me both of them started using all the foul language and slang adjectives. Suddenly my daughter slapped me on my face.
It was a shock to me as I, an old man and her father, was getting a slap from a daughter whom I nourished. It was too much for me. This was a slap on my conscience.
They stopped feeding me and I was pushed out of my own house. I started living in a cowshed behind my own house. Every night they tried for my consent and every time I refused, which infuriated them. Now the process of beating has become a constant affair. They beat me every night, starve me and I say no. See my fate, all grains belong to me and I am starved. The only companion I have is the street dog who sleeps with me on
hay bed & both of us share leftovers. I collect the burnt rice cakes (Phuhar) which people throw away on street & share with this street dog.
“Why don’t you go to police?”
“I could have lodged a complaint but they are my children, how can I dent their respect.”
He stopped for a while, wiped his tears and said; “Look at my back, it bears all the red lines.” he pulled up his Phiran. There were lot many red lines depicting the height of cruelty.
Now I said, “God has been very cruel to you so you must be cursing him for your miseries?”
As if something struck him he roared back,” Don’t say that!” then in a calm tone he continued, “No, not at all, I have no grievances, I thank God for being kind and merciful to me.”
“What the hell are you talking?” I said, “He (the Lord) killed your children, your wife and made you a beggar & you are still thanking Him for what?”
“Listen, He has given me the freedom of movement, freedom of speech and tremendous strength to withstand such a cold temperature, superb power of digestion, eyesight, what else I want? Look at you after wearing woolen garments, coat & overcoat still you are shivering & look at me I am quite warm from inside, who gave me such power? It is Him. See if I become bed ridden who will take care of me. Insects might nibble at me. Why he made me like this is better known to Him. He gave me children and He took them back, it is His entire jurisdiction, how can I comment on this. The more I get ill-treated the more faithful I become. The only prayer I have is for a peaceful death. I have no complaint.”
‘What about your daughter?” I interrupted.
“She proved to be the worst; you cannot change the nature of a person by giving your name.”
He was talking like a wise old man of yesteryears so I asked,
“What is your advice to a person like me who is always complaining to God for what He has not given to me and to my family?”
“Never do that as you don’t know what is good & what is bad for you, be always thankful,” he said.
Just like a thunder he sprang from his seat, gave laughter and chanting something he asked the driver to stop. He debussed at Ketch, a small station before Raithan, temperature outside was –7C, he walked on the snow bare feet and was out of sight as if a ghost had vanished.
Everybody in the bus was in a state of shock after listening to his story. We deserted the bus at Raithan. Whenever I am depressed I see that old man on my mental screen advising me not to complain and to be thankful to the Lord. How great was he!
Author is a famous Kashmiri Poet