Kashmiri folk-tale - SOEN KESSER

(A popular Kashmiri folk-tale)


Long, long ago when peace and prosperity ruled our motherland (Satisar) Kashmir; there lived a humble family of Kashmiri Pandits in the Valley. The elderly couple had sired two children. The eldest was a boy who was crass, crude and rude. He was arrogant as well as nasty. His looks were prohibiting, a couch potato with a beaky quarrelsome nose. But his young sister was kind, cute and considerate. She had a chiseled, creamy complexion on a slim body and hair with shades of gold. Neighborhood girls envied her personality and boys pined for her kind looks which would make them elated. She had a soft and sympathetic heart. She was always eager to help her mother in her household chores while her brother never cared to share errands with his father. Besides having studied religion, Soen Kesser had mastered kitchen chores by working with her mother in the family kitchen. In fact she had become a wonderful cook and was blessed with many other social endowments.

She would cook Mushkbudij, a highly aromatic fine sweet variety of Kashmiri rice which is not available anymore LendingTreeand Hakh, a leafy vegetable which has held its sway on Kashmiri Thall (plate) till date. Dum Aaloo, a full boiled potato cooked to crisp tenderness in herbal spices with the garnishing of red chilly powder was her specialty and this dish continues to be the crown of a Kashmiri Pandit feast. till date. Nader Yakhini (lotus stem cooked in curd curry with saffron, almond and cardamom garnishing), whole and full size Kangesh (full truffles, morels in volume cooked in curd gravy with ginger, cinnamon and cardamom) and Khir, a typical Kashmiri Pandit dessert made of full dry apricots, almond bips, coconut slices, walnut bibs, pepper, cardamom and cinnamon done in milk, sugar and Ghee were her other perfected dishes. Besides she knew how to flavorfully cook many other Kashmiri dishes.

From her Kaniy Dab, a window sill in the attic of her three storied house, she would gaze at the Moon and pray for her blessings and boons (Some Kashmiris consider Moon as a benign Goddess who is ordained to bring forth plenty, prosperity and peace to the human beings). One day her mother asked her to cook a meal for the family as was the custom those days. Soen Kesser did it with zeal and zest. She cooked Gewtheer (A local light aromatic slender rice variety which melts like cream in the mouth) with Haakh (leafy green vegetable leaves) in green soup without spices, done in mustard oil (such a dish remains a specialty of Kashmiri Pandits) and crowned the meal with Allo and Nader Churma (potato and lotus stem slices fried in mustard oil till these turn golden). Soen Kesser had cooked a simple, pleasant and sumptuous meal for the family. When the family sat for the meal in the evening (Kashmiris relished their meals sitting on fully matted and carpeted floors), her brother seeing that the cooking was superb felt jealous. It is said that he sneaked a long human hair into his Thall (platter) and picked it up with his two fingers to embarrass his sister who had cooked. In a jeering tone he made a bawdy verse which if translated could sound like this:-

“Look and see thee this mane in my platter
Do thou know whose hair is in my platter?”’

“This hair in my platter,
I see this hair but
I can not bear it, can not tear it, can not wear it
because it is a hair of one who can not be my dear?
Can that be my mouse? Or can that be my horse?”

This hurt Soen Kesser to the hilt. She could not partake of her meals which were on a spread in front of her. She rushed out of her house and went out in the open field which had on one side a steep, dense forested mountain. Behind the mountain, her Moon mother was peeping. On the other side was a large, fresh green water lake. Crying to her “Moon Mother” she complained of the insult and jeering of her rude brother. And beseeched her to help her from the mess her nasty brother had placed her in. She appealed to the Moon Mother to take her into her own abode. Though her Moon Mother was moved but this was not to be because while the Moon was celestial Soen Kesser was human and thus they could not live together. But Soen Kesser being a pure perfect devotee, Moon could not but not help her.

She gave her a grain of paddy and advised her to sow it at once. She told her that she could climb on the paddy stalk and protect herself from the insults and insinuations of her brother and others. She did what she was asked to at once. Within no time a giant paddy plant was born which grew up quickly with the magic of the Moon and took the shape of a hefty, stout paddy tree strong enough to hold her on a branch. As she was fragile and delicate Soen Kesser climbed on it and settled down without any anxiety. News spread like a wild fire that Moon had granted a boon to Soen Kesser and people started to throng around the paddy tree on which she was perched. They pleaded and cajoled her to climb down and return to her home. But she did not agree.

First of all her father came and pleaded,
“Come yee down my darling Soen Kesser
This old father can not bear This nightmare
Come down And wash my tear,”
But she declined and said,
“Once a father but now not he
Why does he want me?
Take yourself back to thy barn
To make woolen yarn’
Her father went back frustrated and hid himself in his home.

Now her mother came to beseech her to descend down from the tree saying,
Expedia.com “O, my daughter, daughter Dear,
Why do not you hear?
Why do not you hear?
We can not bear,
We can nor bear
Come down and let us share
And let us share”

But Soen Kesser retorted back,
“My mother once, But what hence?
Go back to thy cottage
To mend and darn the fence”
Her mother returned heart broken to her farm.

Then it fell on her clumsy brother to implore her to get down from the paddy tree. He told her,
“Sister dear my sister dear
Why do not you hear?
And come down here
To share all that we bear”
She shook her head and sighed back at her brother,
“Once a brother and now not he
How can I live with thee?
Where was that
Which is now zest?
Go back thy way
And make hay”

He got annoyed on her stiff attitude and ran back to his house and fetched a sharp axe to cut the paddy tree on which Soen Kesser was perched.

He started to cut the tree near the roots. By and by the axe cut bits and pieces from the roots and stem of the tree and the branches started shivering. But Soen Kesser was not ruffled as she had full faith in the benevolence of her Moon Mother. When her brother made more cuts on the trunk of the tree, it started tilting towards one side. He gloated that her sister would fall down on the ground and break her bones and arrogance. But when the tree started falling down, it is said that a golden ladder appeared down from the skies and Soen Kesser climbed on it. She went up step by step while all the people who had gathered near the fallen tree gazed in wonder. Moon Mother was watching with celestial smile. Soen Kesser’s nasty brother could not stand the humiliation and burnt with rage.

When his body fell, it is said there roared a great sound and his body caved a lake on the ground which still stores water, brown in shade There are several such lakes in the valley of Kashmir. When Soen Kesser ascended the last step of the golden ladder, she is believed to have merged with the clouds appearing from one side of the sky. Legend has it that when Soen Kesser is pleased with true love of a brother and a sister in this world she comes to bless them as a rainbow which has as many colors as were her qualities and virtues, due to which Moon Mother protected her from the clutches of her crude brother.

This is folklore which still survives and circulates in Kashmiri Pandit families who live in exile away from their birthplace.

*P.N.Ganjoo was born in a modest Kashmiri family about 7 decades ago, lost his father early and was raised by his honest, hardworking mother. With her efforts he received his education in Srinagar and went on to serve in various Government Departments before retiring as a senior grade KAS officer.

Presently he is working on his varied interests besides being a consulting Director of a software services company.

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