He who leaps the longest

n olden days very often but even now-a-days occasionally, the land route between Jammu and Kashmir gets blocked, for a number of days during the winter months if there is particularly a heavy snowfall, leaving travellers stranded in Jammu unable to return to their homes in Kashmir. What follows is a true story (the names have been withheld deliberately) to which I have been a witness myself.

On one such occasion, such a fate befell a school teacher and his nephew on their way back to the valley. Being of limited means, they could ill afford to check into a hotel for any length of time. While wandering aimlessly on the streets of Jammu and wondering where and how they would spend the first night let alone other nights, good fortune smiled on them. They bumped into a gentleman who also hailed from the same part of Kashmir as they did and, luckily for them, also had an abode and had been living with his wife in Jammu for a number of years; more importantly, they were known to each other. As it happened, the gentleman was particularly known for his generosity and keen sense of hospitality as much as his wife was known for her prowess in the Kashmiri cuisine. The minute his eyes fell on the duo, he was so overjoyed that the only words that came out of his mouth were: ‘Naarayana! Naaraayana! (and he repeated these for quite few seconds), Zan korum saakhshaat Naaraayan-sund darshun.’ ‘Oh my God, as I see you in front of me, I feel as if I am seeing the Lord Naaraayana Himself!’

There, however, was a reason for this emotional outburst on the part of the gentleman. The teacher had a very fair complexion, red cheeks and a finely crafted and chiselled face without any apparent blemish that one comes across only through good fortune and once in a blue moon. On top of that, the turban that he sported was so immaculate and the tilak that adorned his forehead so beautiful and almond-shaped, he looked a spitting image of a deity. The gentleman, true to his nature, duly invited the duo to his abode. They could not thank their stars enough and grabbed the opportunity with both hands.

In the days that followed, they were made to feel most welcome by the hosts and enjoyed the comfort, the food and the hospitality extremely well. However, the days rolled into weeks and the guests felt so comfortable that the thought of resuming the journey towards their destination, even after the road was clear and the weather in the valley had improved, was the last thing on their minds. This turn of events and the apparent lack of consideration on the part of the guests began to worry the hosts.

In spite of the host throwing subtle hints, albeit uncharacteristically, about the worthiness of the road, the breath-taking beauty of the valley that he longed to return to some day and pointing out how their families and dear ones would be looking forward to their return since the road was no longer blocked, the guests showed no signs of making a move, at least not in the immediate future. The guests were not only enjoying the comforts of the house, they were particularly enjoying the sumptuous cuisine. The host was finding it extremely difficult to ask them bluntly to leave for fear of tarnishing his reputation as a person with an impeccably hospitable and generous nature. This was precisely what the guests were exploiting. Having exhausted all other ploys without success and out of desperation, the hosts thought of a bold stratagem to meet the situation head on. The host mustered enough courage to narrate, much against his better nature, the following story to the guests to make them understand that they had overstayed their welcome.

‘Once upon a time, a traveller found himself stranded in the outskirts of Jammu. A kindly gentleman with a hospitable disposition invited him to his abode and made him feel welcome. The guest felt so cosy and comfortable that, with every passing day, the thought of parting from such friendly environs became more and more difficult. Having overstayed his welcome and not knowing how to get rid of the guest, the hosts thought of playing a game which had to do with finding out who could leap the longest from the entrance threshold. The host instructed his wife to take a leap from the threshold away from the house, which she did. He then followed himself with a slightly longer leap. Thereafter, they invited the guest also to join in the spirit of the game expressing the hope that he would do even better by leaping the farthest. The strategy was that, as soon as the guest took his leap away from the house, the hosts would quickly run back into the house and bolt the door from inside thereby locking the guest out of the house. The hosts felt hopeful of the strategy working when the guest expressed his willingness in joining the proceedings. Accordingly, in readiness to take his turn after the hosts, the guest positioned himself on the threshold ready to take the leap. However, just before doing so as he was expected, and much to their chagrin, he made an about-turn and, instead, jumped inwards back into the house!’

On the part of the hosts, clearly, this was as obvious an expression of their annoyance and as blunt an indication that the guests had overstayed their welcome as it could get. However, instead of taking the hint as it was intended, the crafty school teacher and his nephew had a hearty laugh. The teacher simply and calmly twisted the ploy around to his advantage by remarking: ‘I can now see that you are not only a generous person but also a man of many talents. You have a natural gift for making jokes; your jokes are as funny as the innate goodness of your heart and the hospitality ingrained in your nature. May God bless you!’ For the hosts, this was quite a leap, but not in the direction they had hoped for!

Eventually, the clever hostess was forced, uncharacteristically and unbeknown to the husband, to resort to her own secret strategy. While the host enjoyed the fare which tasted even better than the usual high quality that he was accustomed to, the food dished out to the guests while seemingly from the same stock was, unbeknown to them, of a ‘different’ quality. They could not understand why the quality had suddenly dropped and, stranger still, how the host could enjoy the ‘same’ food with such obvious relish as he did when they were finding it very difficult to come to terms with it. After three days of this treatment morning and evening, however, the penny dropped that the sudden drop in the quality was not a temporary aberration but a crafty ploy against them.

Their modesty, or whatever was still left of it, would not allow them to be openly critical of the quality of the food especially when the host was, even more than usual, complimentary of his wife’s cooking and in fact singing high and honest praises of it. Having realised that the hosts had finally got the better of them, the guests took their leave and made their way back to the valley. This incident, however, completely changed the outlook of the host although for a long time thereafter and before he got to know the truth, he remained baffled about what finally made them to leave. Rumour has it, that since that experience, he would be seen running away a mile if ever he saw anyone from the valley, unexpectedly, making an approach towards him!
Krishan Kaul originally hails from Rainawari, Srinagar, Kashmir. After obtaining his Bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering in India, he moved to the United Kingdom where he obtained his Masters degree.

Krishan Kaul retired as Technical Director and a Specialist Expert within the Hyder Group, a multi-disciplinary firm of consulting engineers in the UK. As an Expert in his field, he has been frequently invited to give specialist advice on aspects of design and construction of major underground structures around the world. He has authored a 700-page technical book, first of its kind in the world in his field of speciality, which was released in the UK in April 2010.

Krishan Kaul has a deep and abiding interest in Indian culture and spirituality. Besides giving talks and conducting symposia/workshops on various spiritual topics, He has presented a 3-hour power-point presentation on the scientific exposition of Gayatri Mantra in 7 different countries. He has authored a book on Indian culture and spirituality which was released in 1995 and is, currently, giving final touches to his second book on the subject. As a man of leisure, he now commutes between UK, US and India.
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