Odd & Even
A short story
*Consecutive Serial: How Much to Say?
Original in Kashmiri 'silsilûvàr- kyà kyà vanû? - *M.K.Raina
Translation: T.N.Dhar 'Kundan'
rubbed my eyes. All this that I saw was just a dream. I looked towards the clock; it was five o’clock. My three friends, Vijay, Raja and Nika were waiting for me at the door. I got up and went to the courtyard. There I washed my face and hands and put on Kurta and Pyjama, just washed and pressed by the washer-man. Then I proceeded towards Hari Parbat along with my friends.
Actually the result of our matriculation examination was expected that day. We had overnight decided that early morning we would go to Parbat and execute two things. First we would do a circumambulation of the hill and second we would pick certain rice grains from near the Ganesh temple to see what was in store for us, success or failure.
We increased our speed in that dim light. We crossed Safa Kadal, Nawa Kadal, Ali Kadal and Nowhatta and reached Ganesh temple. There we applied a vermilion mark on our foreheads ourselves, for, had we allowed the priest to do it he would have offered us lamps but we had no money to pay him for that. That would embarrass us in the presence of so many pilgrims who were there. We paid obeisance to Lord Ganesha and moved ahead. We reached that tree where people scatter rice grains for the birds. This is the place where people pick up rice grains to see their luck. Particularly this was a favourite habit with students to foresee whether they were going to pass or fail. If the grains were odd in number they were assured of their success but even number would mean that they were going to fail. The nearer we reached that tree the more nervous I became. My legs were trembling.
Nika was the first to pick up rice grain. He handed them over to Vijay. His face turned pale. Nika was our leader and had to be first in everything we did. Vijay counted them and found that those were eleven. He said, ‘Friends, Nika has got Eleven with the grace of the saint of the same name. (Kashmir has had a saint by the name Kahnov, which literally means a person with eleven names) Since it was an odd number, it was a good omen. Nika was happy. Now it was the turn of first Vijay and then Raja. Vijay got nineteen so he was assured of success. Rajah got fifteen and a half. We took a decision that the broken grain need not be counted. So he was also declared pass. I was emboldened. I thought that the day appeared to be auspicious. Every one got an odd number. There is no reason why I too should not get a similar result. I pounced upon the rice and picked up a few and handed them over to Nika. Since I was second in command, only he was authorised to count my grains. He counted and counted again. I held my breath and waited for his announcement. Nika put these on my palm and said, ‘Brother, these are twenty-six, neither more nor less.’ I was shattered to think that it meant that I alone would fail. How could that be? Raja had copied every bit from my answer sheets. How could he pass and I fail? I told them that there has been some error somewhere. Let me try once again. Let me see what is in store for me. I picked up some grains and this time handed them over to Raja for counting. He counted and these turned out to be seventeen grains. I jumped with joy but Nika put a hurdle. He said, ‘Second attempt is not valid. Wise men say one should try a third time.’ Others dittoed his opinion. I was all in sweats with fright of the unknown. Somehow I picked up some rice the third time and counted myself. Luck did not favour and this time too the number was even. I trembled and shook. There was no question of trying a fourth time. Still I pondered, ‘If God had ordained me to fail why would I get an odd number the second time? I think the second attempt should be valid.’ I asked my friends, ‘which wise man has said that the third attempt is valid?’ They were not sure. They replied, ‘We have heard from others but do not know the name of the wise man who has said so.’ I was bold to declare, ‘Forget about it then. Whatever was the result the second time only must be correct.’
My friends felt relieved by my statement. After all we desired that all of us should pass the examination. They agreed with me. Nika went to the extent of saying, ‘these examples and sayings of so-called wise men are all wrong. This is actually a rumour spread by a selfish person.’ He then congratulated me treating the second attempt as the correct indicator. Others also joined him in felicitating me. Thereafter we resumed the circumambulation. We were followed by two boys and three girls in picking the rice grain. Perhaps they too were awaiting their results.
We bowed before every big and small idol that we came across while going round. Wherever vermilion was smeared on any stone we touched it and then touched our eyes. This was our way of seeking blessings so that the announcer on the radio announces our names also as successful candidates.
After the circumambulation we reached the big gate called ‘Kathi Darwaza’. Some vegetable vendors were selling vegetables. Nika’s mother had told him to purchase ‘Hund’. One of the vendors had three bundles of this vegetable. We bargained with her when a bespectacled person came, lifted the vegetable, put it in his bag and paid her half a rupee. We pleaded with him saying that we had already purchased it and there was no reason for him to put it in his bag. He was a tough guy. He said, ‘Have you gone mad? You want me to give you a beating here and now. Did you not see that I purchased it by paying half a rupee in hard cash? Nika also lost his temper. He said to him, ‘You are perhaps seeing us as children. We shall tear your bag into pieces. Return the vegetable to us without any fuss.’ In a moment a crows collected on the spot. Those two boys and three girls also came who had followed us in picking rice grains and counting. They appeared to be happy. Surely all of them had got odd number of rice grains.
All these students and an elderly person sided with us. The vegetable vender also took our side only. The bespectacled gentleman was obliged to take out the vegetable bundles from his bag. We paid him and he proceeded forth. Thereafter we engaged these students in a conversation and so talking resumed our journey back to our homes.
Some half way through these children bade us goodbye. We thanked them for siding with us. One of the girls asked us where the vegetable was. We looked lost as in the melee we had left the bundles there itself. We rushed back to the Kathi Darwaza. There was neither any vender nor any vegetable. We were frightened for fear that we would get a good beating at home for this negligence. Whenever one of us committed a mistake, all of us would get punishment. Our homes knew that we were in league with one another. We were particularly afraid of the elder brother of Nika, whom we called ‘Bai Toth’ (Dear Brother). He was ruthless in punishing us. But he was very possessive of us too. He took care of us all. Whatever he would get for his brother Nika, the same item he would purchase for each one of us.
We held an emergency meeting to decide the future course of action. We knew that the half rupee was lost for good but the vegetable was also hard to get. Raja showed a remarkable ingenuity. He said that he had a plan. We were eager to know that. He said, ‘Near the Ganesh temple there is a wild vegetable called ‘Nunar’ grown in the grass. If you agree, we shall go there and pluck the vegetable sufficient to value half a rupee.’ Nika was furious. He said to him, ‘You fool, we are required to get Hund and not Nunar.’ Raja retorted, ‘Use your brains. I know we had to get Hund but we can say that only Nunar was being sold today.’ Nika jumped with joy and said ‘the plan is very thorough. Let us make haste and reach the spot.’ Then we rushed to the Ganesh temple.
When we reached home it was already ten o’clock. I deputized for Nika and approached Bai Toth along with the vegetable and said to him, ‘Today there was no Hund on sale, only Nunar was being sold and all Pandits were taking it in bundles. We too purchased it.’ He picked the vegetable and said that it was fresh and of good quality. He appreciated our feat and we were relieved.
At twelve Noon, the results were due to be broadcast from the radio. I was rather apprehensive of my own result. No doubt I had argued that the second attempt, which was favourable to me only should be treated as valid. Yet in my heart of hearts I was crust-fallen. The nearer the hour of the result the more exhausted I felt. However Goddess was Kind. At eleven it was announced that the results would be declared next day. Hearing this I was delighted. It meant that tomorrow we have to go to Hari Parbat once again. Once again we have to pick the rice grains to peep into our luck. This afforded me a fresh chance. My other friends did not feel happy. They feared for the turn that tomorrow would take. Who would pick an odd number of grains and who would get an even number, no body knew.
*M.K.Raina (MKR) is a civil engineer by profession and has been inclined to write short stories and poetry in Kashmiri since his college days. He is also fascinated by Kashmiri literature especially old classics, which he is trying to rew-write in Devanagari-Kashmiri for the net. In addition to his own works, MKR has put a plethora of Kashmiri literature of other authors on net (www.mkraina.com) after re-writing it in Devanagari-Kashmiri. MKR's self-authored and published material include 'Basic Reader for Kashmiri Language', 'tsok modur' - a collection of 6 short stories in Kashmiri, 'kenh non, kenh son' - a collection of 5 short stories in Kashmiri, and 'Pentachord' - a collection of 5 short stories in English. He has co-authored Information Digest Series of Project Zaan and has also developed a Work Book for reading & writing Kashmiri in Devanagari script.
MKR was till recently editor of 'aalav' published from Bangalore and 'Milchar' published from Mumbai. He is currently the editor of monthly 'här-van', the net-journal of Project Zaan. MKR was instrumental in development of Akruti-Kashmiri-Arinimal software for writing Kashmiri in Standardised Devanagari Script in association with Cyberscape Multimedia Ltd. MKR hails from Chhattabal, Srinagar, Kashmir. Post-exodus, he is settled in Mumbai.
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Takes us back to our childhood and the daily piligrimage to the pantheon of gods in Hari Parbat and its precincts. But it was not grains of rice but small pebbles and stones that were picked and counted. A handful of them were scattered on a large rock that lay on the side of the walking trail on way to the Chakreshwar. It was very clever to trade Hand with Nunner.
Added By Kundan Chowdhury
Love to read the episodes. Frankly speaking, original Kashmiri version which appeared in other magazines, is really fantastic because of nuances and lucid language. For those who can not read Kashmiri, this translation is a boon. Please keep it up.
Added By Ashok Razdan