People no more believe in such things because such things no longer come to pass in their whereabouts. This does not mean that such an incident could never have occurred in Zaji Pathir. Then Zaji pather is very much there for all to see; we can go there even now and witness the remains of the habitation which once it had been, it is at present a meadow where many shepherds dwelling in their hutments, raise flock upon flock. But there was a time when six thousand men and women peopled it and there were five grave yards there to inter the dead.
It is said that was a happy and prosperous habitation. One day an old woman, namely Saal Dyad, lost a bridegroom of her son who besides was her bread-earner. This poor woman, so to say, got demented. She had miscarried seven times, and this can alone was born without any mishap and that too after trying votive rags at many a shrine. She was heard saying, so they say, as her son was buried, “My son, it should have been in the grave, and what I do to you, has to be done by you. Yet I entrust you to God who made me bear you”. So saying, she had gone unconscious.
People did not so much as feel for the son, as they felt for her who had nobody to rely on, save God. They somehow or the other brought her and herself and carried her to her hut. During the day, many a neighbor one after another, brought her tea and rice, but how could she take anything, overwrought as she was by the bereavement. She only stood gazing at the walls and the ceiling, and kept heaving sighs. Some of her neighbors remained there with her to console her and share her grief, but as each of them had to support a house hold, left leaving Saal Dyad alone, smarting the wounds that he son had left her.
Like a bird torn of its wings, Saal Dyad moved from one window to another and from one room to the other. As her tormented soul got no solace from all this, she made for the grave yard to give vent to a wall or two there. It was quite late and all had gone to sleep.
One lost one’s breath and could not find one’s bearing in the pitch dark around. Then if a slight movement in the air swished a leaf- blade, a piercing chill froze every fiber of one’s being an anguished shriek from your breast stuck near your throat in the whimper, enough to still your terrified heart.
No one else perhaps could have ventured to leave out of doors at this hour, but Saal Dyal could not be kept from this; in her bereavement she stood lonely in the graveyard, wringing her hands and beating her breast. The graveyard was quite some distance from the last house of the village. Another mohalla, Surapore, began as the graveyard came to an end; every mohalla of the village was separated from the other mohalla by a graveyard that is why there were five graveyards in a village of seven mohallas.
Saal Dyad had fumbled her way to the graveyard by sheer guess. Meanwhile, the moon also had begun to rise from behind the hill, letting forth a scanty light which had not made any perceptible difference to the darkness. As she was about her son’s grave, she perceived something like a human shadow rising up and coming down there. She stood astounded, wondering who could be there at the grave in the dead of night. Her heart was heavily pounding, and her eyes were fixed on the grave. She even perceived the shadow naked waist upwards and a white hanging sheet waist down. At first she retreated by a pace or two unwittingly, but could restrain herself, no longer and addressed it, “who is there fidgeting at the grave?” Saal Dyad noticed that the shadow stiffened with an alarm, stooped to pick something up and then hurriedly ran away. She did not venture to move forth, but her inner pain prodded her nimbly on to her son’s grave. There she found it half open as though it had given way under the rain. Seeing this, an uncontrolled scream left her throat. “Hey, is there nobody around to see that some monster is despoiling the grave-yard” This scream awakened all the man and the women of the mohalla and those of Surpore as well. Some took it to mean that some house had caught fire, still others thought that some burgier had broken into some house. All the people were, however, agreed that something untoward had occurred and some came out of their houses. All, without exception, rushed to the site, of the uproar, bearing lighted tapers .About five hundred people gathered there in no time. Breathlessly, Saal Dyad recounted faithfully all that she had seen. They warily began to look into the grave to see whether her son’s corpse was there. The corps was no doubt there, but mother naked, stripped of the shroud. All the people there were at their wits end, unable to understand what had come about, who had opened the grave, and what became of the shroud. “My good sense tells me,” one of the men said, “it might have been a wild boar and Saal Dyad took it for a human being”. Another man remonstrated, “What rubbish you talk? The wild boar would have devoured the corpse if it had dug it up. The corpse is there all intact, only the shroud is missing. “Then some other person said, “I think some bastard is possessed by the devil that he steals shrouds”.
Shroud thief? Sweat of shame began to ooze from every pore of their being; everyone looked to the other dumbfounded.
“The bastard is to be exposed at any cost”, one of them got much provoked. “Who can believe that God has turned somebody so swinish. God forgive us! May he de damned in this world and hereafter.
“We should not stop at exposing him only, but set him ablaze in a burning hay-stack”. Another got more furious. “Whoever had hard of such a thing before? It is unbearly shameful.” Then the people raised a furore. When as many as five hundred mouths give rein to their tongues all at once, it is impossible to make out what each has to say. If per chance there is some wit in what somebody utters, it sounds no better than dog-barking, shorn of its meaning, or no more than bleating of sheep.
“Now what is to be done in this case”? One of the men said reminded of the corpse, “It is to be fiven a fresh bath and then shrouded. Or is the grave to be closed as it is?
“In my opinion, the right thing is to exhume it and bury it properly anew”; an old man gave his decision. “It is not proper that a man is sent to God mother naked”.
“No, no, no, Shut the grave like that”. Saal Dyad implored with her folded hands. “I will get even with the shroud – thief once he is brought to light, meanwhile leave the issue to God”.
“Yes, what Saal Dyad says in right? Leave the case for God to decide. Somebody supported her”. So far the shroud thief is concerned, that bastard will certainly be traced down, come what may”.
At long last, decision was arrived at to cover the grave. The night meanwhile came to a close and the cocks were crowing their calls at the small hours. All of them left for their homes, over taken by fear and terror.
That day nothing but the issue of the shroud-thuef was talked of by the people of Zeegypathir. Men, women and children, all were pailed through fear. Every mohalla of the village tried to fathom the mystry that who among them could do this, but they could not catch hold of any. Gradually, this became the basis of much discard and skirmish because whoever enquired of anybody about the issue, he would fall out with the very man who made the enquiry. “Do you take me for a shroud thief? Take it from me that the father-in-law of the fuss will be the one in the tribe of the fussy people.”
When these queries began to affect their mutual relations, their good neighboring conduct and fraternity as a whole, everyone began to take thought why he of all the people should confront others. Why to get embroiled; let even the bones of the dead be stolen, for aught should I care, he thought.
During this searching for the shroud thief, two things came to pass; on the very next day of the shroud theft Seal Dyed‘s wits altogether took her leave. She went from one dwelling to another during the night. In her tatters with her hair mated and disheveled, with sunken cheeks, and bulged out eyes, she moved about in the village like a hag, communicating with none, only giving out frightening screams now and then: “Hey is there nobody around? See what monster is despoiling the graveyard”. The other thing that happened was that the shroud thief had taken toll of another dead body. They suspected this on seeing the grave next day tampered. They opened the grave and found he corpse mother naked,
The people of the village kept hurling curses on the shroud thief, and he on his part went on robbing all the five graveyards stripping the dead bodies of their shroud and putting the graves ion form again.
It is a bit of plain speaking that anything, good or bad, attached to any person, ultimately becomes a part of his habit. But the same token if it is attached to a nation, the nation adopts it as a form of its custom and usage. In this way, when all the dead bodies of Zeegypore, men and women alike without exception, got robbed of the shrouds it by and by became a custom with them, then nobody got agitated on this, nor did anybody show any kind of fear. They got used to speaking and hearing of this for two decades. However, they would visit the grave-yard the next day when they intered there any dead. On their way back, they would tell a wayfearer.
“We were at the grave- yard”
“Has he robbed it”?
“It looks like that “
“Let the hell take him”?
These four sentences were at the tip of the tongue of everyone there at Zeegypathir, you would be greeted by these words correct to a syllable for it had assumed the form of a ritual like giving the last bath to the dead, and burying the body.
After about twenty years, the outcry that the shroud thief having been found out spread through out the length and breadth of Zeegypathir. In the habitation of five thousand, it was nothing short of a sensation, each one, however, expressing his or her feeling differently? The elderly people thanked heavens for the curse having ended for those born during these twenty years and grown young, neither the shroud thief nor the theft of the shroud had any sensation of significance. They merely for the sake of wonder ran to surapore were the exposure had taken place. That is why when Saal Dyad came jointly alongwith a crowd, the youngsters were not touched at all as she gave out her piercing scream. They had grown accustomed to her shrieks right from their childhood and had mimicked it umpteen times, just for the fun of it. But those who remember the times when she gave it for the first time felt their healed wounds came into life again.
The shroud thief, Ghana Baabi, came to be known as Ghana Mokul thereafter. His locality suripora got so thronged with the people that one got the impression of a fair at some big shrine. Everyone tried to make his way forward to get a glimpse of Ghani Mokuls face. But how many could be shown it after a thousand or so had already seen it; it being; moreover, improper to keep him open to the gaze on the bier any longer. Nobody whatsoever could have got an in linking of what and who he was if he had not made the confession in his will. Ghana Mokul in his statement at the death bed had confessed that all along life he had robbed the people of their shrouds. He was now repentantly mortified and would like to be buried mother naked so that God might forgive him these sins.
The people, however, did not abide by this thinking it improper to put him into the grave without a shroud, regardless of what he did, answerable as he was for this in his grave and hereafter. They thought it proper to bury him like the other person that is what humanity and religion demanded.
Ghani Mokul was buried and people as a matter of habit cursed him with hell in all measures. They felt relieved at having been rid of a big calamity.
The next day, when somebody caught sight of the new grave (although graves as a matter of course were being watched in token of the memory of the dead) the corpse was seen lying naked outside the grave. This evil tiding spread like a wild fire in the length and breadth of Zeegypathir. Once more there was a rush of people at the Zeegypathir grave- yard. Some peop0le set it down to angels holding people accountable for the good and bad deeds having thrown him out of the grave, a sinner as he was. Others put this down to the anguished sighs of Saal Dyad who had particularly screamed there at the grave yard whether there was nobody to see what havoc the monster had worked in the graveyard. At last they came to agree on one thing that it had been some rascal who avenged himself on Ghani Mokul for his shroud-stealing after his death.
The truth, however was that the soft hearted people of Zeegypathir there did not like to go so far. They first hurled much abuse at the wrong doer, but then took counsel that Ghani Mokul be put back as he was in the grave. An old man taking exception to this as being improper, admonished, “He shall have to be given a bath and offered a Jinazah Prayer”.
But why did you not agree to giving a fresh bath to Saal Dyad’s son”? Another old man put him in mind of a thing happened twenty years back.
“Because that did not lie exposed on the edge of the grave” the first man put it right”. He was very much in the grave. There is a world of difference between this and that”.
The next day morning, he again lay exposed in stark nudity on the grave-edge. As this was not enough, two or three more dead bodies buried the day before in another grave-yard, lay exposed outside their graves in the same manner. It now dawned on the people that it was not simply a case of wreaking vengeance on Ghani Mokul. A new monster was on the rampage there, who threw the dead out of their graves.
Every body at Zeegpathir got scared and said to one another, “We cannot find another man like Ghani Mokul. He no doubt divested the dead bodies of the shroud, but naked by no means did he leave then. This hellish creature is far worse than a brute”.
Then onwards, the people showered blessings on the former and cursed the new culprit with all the abominations of the hell.
This is one of the stories from a book, Kashmiri Short Stories published by PEN productions, Srinagar.
Thumbnail: Melody Ross