The Red Silken Pajamas
Written by Akhtar Mohi-ud-Din | Translated from Kashmiri by M Siddiq Beig
Nabir Shaala was already well over three score and ten. For the most part of his life, he had darned and continued doing this even then. On the jehlum bank, overlooking the river, he owned as small three storeyed wood planked shack of a house. He invariably sat on the verandah, working, wearing thick glasses fixed in place with twisted yarn, on his nose shrilling out his favourite song: mash bo chhivireethas raati ke pyali hano And sometimes another song: tsininy poshi yangi me dyinthmas tan haa cah nono venyjes booji aalam (I was boozed by the cup he offered yesternight. I saw her peach coloured body, O, Do not tell anybody lest the world should know of it.)
Right from his early childhood there was a slur in his speech and this lisping was all the more accentuated because of his toothlessness. He lisped like the one in every toddling childhood. His snow-white sparse beard showed on his face as if single hairs of pashminah wool spread out on his wife’s garment hem. He worked on and on in spite of the tremor in his hands. Somehow he managed to eke out his living and his business ran passably well. All his customers recognised him to be an adept hand in his trade and, not without reason, felt convinced that the novices at the job would hold no candle to him.
Of all the things in the world he loved his humble dwelling and doted on his spouse. His spouse had been named Khotan Dyad. On evenings, she gently pressed his limbs and treated softly on his tired out body. She would set before the warm and toothsome batta (cooked rice) and every now and then, arranged his hookah. As Nabir Shaala shrilly lisped away his songs on the verandah, his needle ran across the raful (a kind of soft wool) shawl to mend its wounds. All the while, Khotan Dyad took her seat beside him picking spare hairs from pasham wool, working it with floor, and spinning on the wheel. Nabir Shaala would humorously tell her in in his endearing lisp: “bi gooshay wasti, chi geyham chaath” (I am your master and you are my apprentice).
Khotan Dyad would partly reply, as in a huff, “tsi kyaazi gookh wasti ti bi geyas tsaath, tsaath gokh tsi (why should you be the master and I your apprentice? No, it is you who are my apprentice).
Khotan Dyad had lost all but her one tooth in front. Her nether lip had got drawn inwards in the mouth and this solitary tooth stuck out like a nail. Her face was totally wrinkled like a dried shrivelled turnip and her hair looked like a begrimed white sheet. She had stopped giving birth for the last twenty years. All through her life, she had born ten issues; God had taken kindly to her as far as this goes, but none except her eldest and one in the middle had survived. The eldest daughter in her turn got her children married, and the other after the demise of her mother-in-law, was the mistress of her own house. They now lived alone in the humble dwelling, partaking of their own humble fare and living frugally but well. They had not faced any suffering or distress until then. True, they had incurred debts on account of their children’s marriage, but somehow the debt had been paid off, slowly and gradually though. Her only inconsolable sorrow was why none of her sons had survived; how they had been born robust and strapping and how the evil eye took toll of them.
Nabir Shaala’s wealth was much bruited about in the locality; he must have one to two thousand to say the least. But God alone knew what their plight was. Their meagre earnings allowed them a bare hand to mouth living.
That day too, Nabir Shaala, with his thick glasses kept in place by the twisted yarn in his nose, was darning his rafal shawl and giving tongue to his song: mash bo cheevnash yaati ke pyaali hano, and Khotan Dyad, seated beside him, was intoning the same song in step with him. There was muddy water flowing down the Jehlum, apparently it had rained in the Maraaz (Southern Kashmir). The city had not witnessed a rain for long and it was very hot. One felt reluctant to work. But how could a lone bread-earner avoid working! You had to work whether you liked it or not.
It was growing increasingly clear on Nabir Shaala that the silken thread that passed the eye of the needle was for sooth the blood of his eyes that went into darning the customers’ garments. He was drenched through and through in sweat, and how he abhorred the rafal shawl on his knees! It was so hot already and on top of it unbearably so with the burden on the knees. But there was no turning back. To assuage and forget to some extent this misery, and partly because of the habit, he mouthed the song: mash bi cheevthas yaati ke pyaali hano…
At long last, he completed the darning of the rafal shawl and had to trim the overhanging threads. He began to fumble for his scissors, but did not come by it. Perforce he asked his wife in his peculiar lisp, “Where are the scissors?”
“I have kept it in its proper place,” Khotan Dyad replied.
“Will you please fetch it here? Why did you keep it there?”
It was quite a task for Khotan Dyad to get up. Her legs were rheumatic and she could not move about given a choice, she would not get up for life. But her husband had to be obeyed. She could never say, ‘no’ to him. Much to her discomfort and naggingly she got up to look for the scissors. She could not find it on the shelf, in the small tin box, she found it neither. On his part, Nabir Shaala felt compellingly avid to finish it up and then sit relaxed and free. He cried to her in his lisp, “Look sharp and find it out”.
“I am searching for it, you see,” Khotan Dyad rejoined. So saying, she brought down from a shelf overhead a bundle of clothes. The bundle contained old used up garments and clothing’s of her dead children. Of children who would no longer wear them. Her heart began to sink. The pathetic feeling of those robust children having been born and then devoured by the evil eye. As she ruminated and turned over the events, many ideas kept coming to her mind. There came the reminiscences of her children in succession. She felt a sucking sensation in her shrivelled up breasts. Amidst this, she caught sight of a red garment. At this she missed her beat as if she felt a wrench at her heart by a hundred hands. This was a red silken pair of trousers. This alone had remained of her trousers of her bridal outfit. This aroused memories of her youth. She blushed. For her part, she had tried hard to keep it from her husband’s view, but the glaring redness could not be concealed, and it blatantly and obtrusively clamoured itself. Khotan Dyad grew scarlet with Shame. A trepidation shook her frame like that of a maiden as if she was the bride and Nabir Shaala her bridegroom.
It looked as if her bridal female escort had just left her upstairs and she was alone for the first time with Nabir Shaala, feasting his eyes on her as she stole a look on him from her downcast eyes and giving tongue to his favourite song in his lips:
Chininy pooshi yangi me dyinthmas tan
Haa chi no depyzyas booji aalam
To Khotan Dyad’s mind’s eyes, Nabir Shaala assumed a youth’s aspect, attired in a ‘alpak pheran’, a ‘dusa’ (a double shawl) slung over his shoulders and turban with 972 malmal, as though he had just dismounted the horse and she had likewise got up from her bridal seat, coy with her head bent down, harbouring many a foolish fancy, dreading and all atremble, “How shall I muster courage if he asks me to talk. How shy I shall be!”
It seemed to her Nabir Shaala was talking, and she did hear it with selfame ears in peculiar lisp:
“Tayay yaag ye jaayi”
(Do please put on trousers)
Shame overtook her. She pretended not to hear. What on earth could she say to him?
Nabir Shaala pestered her again: “Yaagi!” (Do put it on.)
He removed his rafal shawl off his knees and the ‘dusa’, too, from his shoulders and approached Khotan Dyad, “Do put it on, please.”
“tse chhay vath dejmits!” (Your mind has been set awry), said she like a maiden with a flounce.
“Why on earth has my mind been set awry?” He expostulated. Khotan Dyad felt silent. She could not get up, nay, she could not even lift up her, no question of getting up.
“achha ma yaag!” (Well, don’t wear it!)
So saying, Nabir shaala got up, left the door for downstairs. Khotan Dyad heaved a sigh of relief. She hastened to pack up the bundle. She cast her look again and again on the red silken trousers and felt an eagerness to put it on, but could not do it for shame. At last she put it underneath all the clothings and hit from sight on the shelf.
Now she began to look around as to where Nabir Shaala went. Where after all did he leave to so suddenly?
In the inner recesses of her heart, she did not like him to leave the room this very time. Ashamed though she was, she would have liked him to force into putting on the trousers.
It took Nabir Shaala ages to return. With the sound of the door opening, he entered, singing: “haa chi no depyzes booji aalam chinint pooshi yangi me…”
Khotan Dyad felt scared and afraid again. She, God knows why, again got haunted by the red silken trousers and waxed crimson. She was asking herself, “would she be able to bring herself to wear the trousers if he importuned… would she do it or not…what a shame it would be!”
Nabir Shaala went upto the attic and left beside Khotan Dyad a ‘paav’ (a measure of weight, about one fourth of a Kg.) of fatty mutton, wrapped in paper and asked her, ‘’yoogthay yee jaayi?” (Did you put on the trousers?)” What a creature you are not to agree at all everytime!”
“Fie! You don’t have any shame at all.”
“What shame should there be between a man and his wife?’
“Well, what would you like to be done to this mutton?”
“Cooking, what else?”
Khotan Dyad was quite mindful of her teeth; she had but one tooth, and Nabir Shalla lacked even that. What would they eat it with? Nabir Shalla, alive at that, told her, “Give it a long simmering. It is long since we have taken any meat. Now get up and put on the trousers…will you get up?…Do please.”
Like a small child, he importuned. Khotan Dyad, not agreeable to it and he, insistently pestering! At long last, it was decided that he would quit the room, and only then would she put that on.
Nabir Shaala took the paav of mutton downstairs. Khotan Dyad got up and bolted the door securely from inside. Shamefacedly she neared the shelf, unpacked the bundle ran into the trousers, and slipped her legs into it.
With the trembling and Pounding of the heart, she also went downstairs. Strangely enough, she felt no pain in her legs as she went down the flight of the stairs. She no longer remembered her rheumatic lower limbs. She only thought of how she would able to look at him in the face. “Ho unseemly if somebody noticed us, man and wife! Oh God!” This prospect made her heart sink.
Treading softly, she entered the kitchen. Nabir Shaala sat there at the oven by turns blowing at the fire and singing. He had set the paav of the meat for simmering and the oven was all ablaze.
As the Khotan Dyad stealthily and softly moved to avoid Nabir Shaala’s gaze till she would sit, without being aware of it, she tripped up her great toe of her foot in the cord of the mat and fell down flat face forwards. Nabir Shaala gave a start. He saw her lying prostate like a wild bird. Feeling apprehensive, he gave a shriek, but soon she lifted her profile up, cast a winsome smile on Nabir Shaala and he, holding her arms, asked her while trying to lift her up, “Yoguy may kyenh,” (You did not hurt yourself?)
Khotan Dyad told him that she had not, while her eyes were still downcast.
“Now get up, will you!”
She took her head which was still lowered. Nabir Shaala insisted pertinaciously that stand up she must. Khotan Dyad obstinately declined. He was all out for pulling her up. They even relapsed into obscenities and ribaldries like a newly wedded young couple.
Khotan Dyad, too became oblivious to the fact that she was a mother of married children and grandchildren too. Nabir Shaala on his part was quite dead to the fact that even his son-in-law was an old man.
In this exchange of ribaldries, they forgot the whole world; Nabir shalla pulling her by the arm, while she sat tight. He pulled her at the hem of the pheran and up at the shoulders only to see her stand up.
There was a knock at the door and somebody gave a cough. He composed himself with some haste to give an impression that he was doing no wrong, and Khotan Dyad felt absolutely mortified.
It was their elder daughter’s husband in the corridor witnessing all this and biting his lips in chagrin.
Nabir Shaala Said, “Asalam Alaikumn, come in please.” But his son-in-law did not wish him back and left the room stung to the quick.
Khotan Dyad felt completely crestfallen and ashamed, as if she had been caught red handed. She cast her guilty look at the Nabir Shaala, who pounced upon her saying, “We are not convicted of any felony! Everybody is a king unto himself in his domain.”
- This is one of the stories from a book, Kashmiri Short Stories published by PEN productions, Srinagar.