Uninvited Guests - A short story
*Consecutive Serial: How Much to Say?
Original in Kashmiri 'silsilûvàr- kyà kyà vanû? - *M.K.Raina
Translation: T.N.Dhar 'Kundan'
e were returning from the college. As we walked through the locality of Dewan Bagh we saw a place covered with a canopy. The canopy was brand new and shining with its multi-coloured patterns. Vijay looked towards me and said, ‘It appears that someone is getting married. It is a long time that we have not had a feast on a marriage.’ I agreed. My mouth had begun watering on hearing the word marriage-feast. Vijay kept his hand on my shoulder and said, ‘What do you say?’ I was at a loss for I could not understand what he meant. I was rather a dunce in such matters. I asked, ‘about what?’ Vijay said, ‘proceed further and I will let you know.’
After walking about half a kilometer we arrived at the canopy. It had been erected after blocking a portion of the road. Some workers were fixing decorative partitions around the area and some were covering the ground inside with floor-coverings. Some young men were running about outside the canopy and some elders were engaged in conversation on the sidelines. I was engrossed watching the whole scene. Some three boys were trying to fix buntings inside it but not in a proper manner. I had half a mind to show them how to fix the buntings but had to eschew the idea after seeing the mood of Vijay. He would often accuse me of fishing in troubled waters.
Vijay indicated to me to stop where I was and himself ran inside the canopy. I stood by the side of the road. He did not return for quite some time and I went after him. He was nowhere to be seen. Through the canopy there was an entrance into the house but I did not think it proper to go in. After about fifteen minutes Vijay returned and said, ‘I have made full enquiries. I am told the son of some Gopinath is going to be married. Today it is the night of henna and the occasion is going to be celebrated in a grand manner by throwing a feast of non-vegetarian dishes. It is said that there will be eight different dishes served. Additionally pickle and yogurt will also be served.’ I asked, ‘who gave you all these details?’ Vijay replied, ‘I made friends with the canopy supplier and he only provided me this information. In fact he said that the host is very rich and affluent.’
When he uttered the word yogurt, my mouth watered further. I had a weakness for it right from my childhood. Before I fantasized further Vijay held my hand and said, ‘I tried to see if someone there was known or familiar but without any success. Even so there is nothing to worry. If you muster courage we too shall join for the feast. Nobody is going to ask us who we are. They will think that we are related to one or the other person.’ I kept quiet. Basically I am timid. Where was the need to get into trouble? Vijay read into my silence and then we proceeded towards our homes.
We left our books at our homes and dashed into the home of Nika, another friend of ours. He was ironing his trousers. We gave him the day’s account and apprised him about the canopy affair. When he was told that the son of some Gopinath was getting married, there was grimace on his face. He remarked, ‘why don’t you say that Satish’s brother is getting married?’ We enquired, ‘which Satish?’ Nika kept the coal-iron on a stone slab and enquired, ‘was the canopy not erected on the left side of the road near circular graveyard?’ We confirmed and he went on to say, ‘that is where Gopinath Wali lives. He is the father of Satish. Do you get me?’ ‘Who is this Satish?’ I asked once again. ‘Satish is my classmate in the S.P. College. You do not know him,’ Nika clarified. Nika hung the ironed trousers by a peg in the room and began ironing his shirt. Then he looked up and said, ‘you also get your dresses ready; are you not going for the feast?’ I asked, ‘but we are not invited.’ He replied, ‘this is where you act foolish. I told you it is the brother of Satish who is getting married and Satish is my class fellow. He had informed me last week but I forgot it altogether. Therefore, you are also accompanying me to the feast and that is final.’ I was elated to hear this. I had not enjoyed a marriage feast for a long time. I thanked Vijay and Nika both. Vijay was too happy to confess, ‘I was ready even to go uninvited but now our joining the feast will be with honour, which is still better.’ He was gazing the face of Nika with a deep sense of thankfulness.
The feast was scheduled at 8 P.M. but we reached the venue at 7 P.M. The members of the host family were busy in different chores. There were chairs arranged outside the canopy. These were occupied by some elders, who were discussing politics, the statements of Sheikh Abdullah and Mir Qasim. We were least interested in their dialogue. We stood quite a distance away from them. I asked Nika where Satish was. He advised us to stay put while he would search him out. Satish was reported to be busy looking after the arrangements in the grand kitchen.
Nika would offer salutations to some of those who were busy with different jobs. They too responded. Some even enquired about his welfare. We also would ask him to give us introduction to some of these people. Nika would identify one as Satish’s uncle and the other as his cousin. We could conclude that Nika knew the Wali’s family quite well. The guests started arriving from eight-thirty onwards. We joined the first lot of guests and went in. Inside long woolen sheets had been spread on the floor in rows for the plates to be kept before each one to serve the dishes. Nika took his seat in a corner and signaled us to follow suit. We took our seats and in half an hour’s time the place was full.
In the forefront were two boys who made the guests wash their hands. They were followed by some young men placing a plate each in front of the guests. Dishes started getting served. When the person serving ‘RoganJosh’ approached me I told him that I was vegetarian. He picked up the chunk of meat back from my plate. He gave me a strange look and remarked, ‘vegetarian and that too a young boy like you! Have you appeared in some examination?’ I replied, ‘No, not like that. In fact I have been a vegetarian right from my childhood.’ This was vouched by my companions as well.
This man called aloud someone at a distance, ‘O! Gasha Lal, there is a vegetarian guest in this row.’ He consulted someone and directed this man named Balji to find out if there were any more vegetarians among the guests. Balji was followed by other persons serving various dishes. A guest sitting next to me addressed me, ‘what a fuss you have created. If you are a vegetarian you should not have come for the feast.’ I did not relish his remarks. I told him rather angrily, ‘Am I an uninvited guest? Satish has invited me.’ He was about to say something when Balji enquired aloud, ‘is there any other vegetarian guest, please?’ Four persons raised their hands and Balji counted, one, two, three and four. Balji informed Gash Lal that there were four vegetarian guests. He discussed with some other person and then asked us to move to other side. He asked some guests to swap their seats with us so that vegetarians are seated on one side together to facilitate serving them.
There was a commotion in the rank and file of the guests. It all wasted some five or so minutes and then the routine of serving various dishes restarted in a proper manner. While we took our seats at a different place a couple of more people also joined us there. There were now six of us. The persons who were helping guests wash their hands first attended to the bigger congregation. Thereafter it was our turn. Plates were placed in front of us but nobody came to clean these with a duster. One of us, who was elderly, took out his handkerchief and wiped his plate. We followed suit. I searched my pocket but found that I had forgotten to pick up one from my home. The person next to me showed magnanimity and wiped my plate as well with his own handkerchief. I looked up to him with a thankful glance. Now we were waiting to be served but it was getting delayed. I looked towards the row where Nika was seated. A host of persons serving different dishes was attending to them. These dishes included ‘Rogun Josh’, ‘Minced meat’, ‘Sour liver pieces’, ‘Greens’, ‘Chutney of radish’, ‘fried lotus stem’ etc.
On that non-vegetarian side rice began to be served, followed by yellow meat dish with gravy called ‘Kaliya’. My hunger was getting sharper by the minutes but there was no way out but to wait our turn. My plate was still dry and there was no trace of the serving men.
Management team was moving all round but nobody seemed to take notice of our group. I cursed the day I had decided to be vegetarian. In fact I was not keen to be a vegetarian but Kakaji Maharaj had advised so after seeing my horoscope. I still remembered what he had said then. When my mother placed my horoscope before him he glanced through it and said, ‘Stars are somewhat heavy on the child. You have to do two things, first ask him to pour some milk in the fire every Thursday and second let him give up eating non-vegetarian dishes. Then you will see how he will shine. He will lift you to new heights.’ I was cut to quick. After about eight or ten days one would get a piece of meat with rice and that too was going to be denied to me. Kakaji Maharaj had a great influence on my mother. He was the elder brother of her father-in-law. Result was that I was forced to become a vegetarian.
Soon after this statement from Kakaji Maharaj it was the season for ‘Gada bata’, when fish is prepared and offered to the house-deity. My maternal people used to celebrate this occasion on a grand scale. My maternal grand mother used to invite all near relatives for a feast on this day. It was like a fair there on that day. Apart from the elders even children would number about sixteen or seventeen. My granny would prepare the fish herself and cook radish along with it. The dish would be so delicious that even after the meal was over one would lick one’s plate and fingers. I was a favourite of my granny. I used to feel assured that one piece of cooked fish would be saved for my next morning meal. When I implored my granny for this she would shower hundreds of blessings on me. But this year’s festival remained memorable for me for I was served rice with greens of varieties. Every one relished the fish. I remained gazing them and heaving a sigh. In order to give me a moral support my mother too did not eat fish that day. When it was dark and people went off to sleep I was wide-awake. I saw fishes all around. After sometime I was unable to resist any more. I got up and stealthily walked towards the kitchen. I picked up a piece of cooked fish on some paper and started eating it inside my bed. Unfortunate as I am, a fish bone got stuck in my throat. First I tried to hush up the matter and coughed silently. When it did not help, I shrieked aloud. This woke up everyone asleep. The commotion that followed is indescribable. I was given a morsel of dry cooked rice that pushed the thorn down. I was beaten severely for this act. My granny could tolerate neither my eating fish nor my being beaten hollow. She came to my rescue. Defying Kakaji Maharaj proved very disastrous. I failed in my examination that year. Thereafter I became a vegetarian scrupulously.
I was pulled back from my thoughts by the arrival of Gashlal accompanied by yet another person. He told him to pick up the plates. Shiban obeyed and began removing the empty plates. I looked to the gentleman next to me with an enquiring gaze. He understood that the removal of the plates had disturbed me. So he whispered, ‘since we are less in number, they will fill up the plates with various dishes in the kitchen itself.’ I was relieved. May be Gashlal had said so but I had not heard. How could I have heard him when I was busy thinking about the fish-festival? After about ten or fifteen minutes three men brought us our plates and placed them before us. The dishes placed in the plates included ‘DamAaloo, red Paneer, yellow Paneer, sour brinjal, lotus stem’ and pickles of sorts. The plate was as if looking to me and I was looking to it. Without wasting any more time I pounced upon it and started eating. In between I looked towards Nika. He was holding a second piece of ‘Rogan Josh’ and insisting the serving person to serve one more to Vijay also. Vijay could not refuse the offer.
After placing the plates before us nobody came to ask us whether we needed to be served with anything else. Every one was looking after only non-vegetarian guests. Suddenly I observed that yogurt was not served to us. I called one of the persons in charge and reported to him this lapse. He told another person who in turn told the third one but no one brought us the yogurt. I spotted Gasha Lal and told him that we were not served the yogurt. He said, ‘where are the yogurt-cups?’ I told him that we had seen these in the grand kitchen. He placed his hand on my shoulder and said, ‘the fact of the matter is that we had put yogurt in two hundred cups. The first lot of guests itself was of two hundred and fifty. Now we cannot serve this to some and deprive others. So we decided not to serve this item at all. The trouble these days is that the invited guests arrive later and un-invited ones attend before them. This creates shortage in all that is planned and cooked.’ I blushed and was embarrassed. Seeing this Gash Lal whispered to me, ‘I could see that you also relish yogurt like my dear Raviji. Finish with your food. I will give you one cup secretly. But be careful not to reveal it here. Take it home and consume it there.’ I agreed gladly. I came back to my seat. I was restless lest Gashlal leaves without giving me the yogurt. But then I thought that was not likely to happen because he was a nice man. Time and again I was reminded of what he had said. ‘If one is not invited why should one be an uninvited guest? That would be tantamount to getting disgraced.’
After finishing the meal I stepped out. My friends also came out. I looked for Gashalal but without any success. I enquired from a gentleman, ‘Sir! Where is Gashalal?’ He did not respond but placed his hand on my head and asked me, ‘Are you by any chance the son of ‘Jigri’ (Dear Sister)?’ My friends confirmed that I was. Before he could say something more, Nika held me by my hand and took me aside saying, ‘why should you create a fuss? Let us leave now.’ I told him, ‘but then Gashalal will be put to trouble looking for me. Moreover are we not going to meet Satish?’ Nika was about to say something that I saw the same man approaching us, who had made an enquiry from me. Before he could speak out I asked him, ‘Sir! Where is Satish?’ He questioned, ‘which Satish?’Again Nika intervened and said, ‘Sir! He is our friend. Presently he was here.’ So saying Nika caught hold of my arm and dragged me towards home. My cup of yogurt was left behind.
*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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