by Sufi Ghulam Muhammad & translated by Dr. Shiben K. Raina
Mem Sahib’s eyes fell today again on that baldy and she went inside the house-boat muttering something with herself. Sabura was just busy setting the table for breakfast and Sahib was still having a good sleep on the bed in the bedroom. ‘ Look Sabura, how this bald-headed joker shows his wretched face every morning I get up. We both hate seeing his face every day in the morning. Enough is enough. Clear be it now: ‘if this rascal comes here again on the boat-side, we will vacate this houseboat, and shift to some other place, that is it.’ Hearing this, Sabura got nervous. For him, this was his first ever-cherished ‘Asaami’ of the season. “Will this foreign couple leave my houseboat just because of this trivial matter? No, no, it cannot happen. I have struggled a lot to get this opportunity. It would be the biggest folly to let this golden opportunity slip away through my hands.” With this thought, Sabura headed towards the next room of the houseboat. Ganja(baldy) was still immersed in the water at the front dock. “Hey, you bald brat! Should I chase you away from here or bury you right here?”Sabura exclaimed.
The baldy kept silent and continued dipping in the water. Sabura’s anger reached the seventh heaven. He showered as many abuses as he could on him. One after another, insults kept increasing in intensity. The baldy understood that he was no longer welcome, so he quickly gathered his belongings and quietly slipped away from there. Had he stayed there for just another minute, Sabura would have punched his bald head. After all, it was not a trivial matter; it was a question of his livelihood. By now Sabura’s voice had also woken up the Sahib from his sleep. When the Mem Sahib removed the curtain of the drawing room and saw that the bald man had fled, she breathed a sigh of relief and said, “Thank God, he is gone.”
This foreign couple had arrived in Sabura’s houseboat only a few days ago. They had been traveling to various countries in Europe and had come to see Kashmir. Sabura’s houseboat, named ‘Dal Queen,’ was located in front of Dal Gate in a place where rows of tall chinar trees stood on velvety ground on one side, and on the other side, there was a bridge under which water fell like a waterfall into the nearby canal. The white froth of that waterfall would touch the lower edges of Sabura’s ‘Dal Queen.’ Above the bridge was a beautiful boulevard, where from morning till evening, was a constant flow of cars, bicycles, and buses. Just a little away from there was a location where the residents became a center of attraction for tourists coming from afar. A little further from the area was Shankaracharya Hill. What a beautiful and enchanting place it was! When tourists would see the long queue of houseboats on the dancing surface of the water between ‘Dal Gate’ and ‘Gagribal,’ their eyes would wander and finally settle on Sabura’s houseboat. English tourists would ask about his houseboat and readily agree to occupy it at any cost. The English couple staying in Sabura’s ‘Dal Queen’ had to stay in Kashmir for a month. This one-month stay was linked to Sabura’s entire year’s earnings. He knew that with the earnings of this one month, he could comfortably spend the entire year. But today, the dark shadow of that bald man had fallen on this income, and Mem Sahib had even threatened to vacate the houseboat.
On the first day of their houseboat trip, when Mem Sahib was enjoying the surrounding views through binoculars, suddenly an unusual sight caught her eye on the opposite bank. She was taken aback. There was a creature-like human being standing knee-deep in the cold water. There was no trace of hair on his head, and he was vigorously scratching the white itchy patches on his scalp. When Mem Sahib saw him scratching his bald head like that, she couldn’t help but shudder. In her country, even if a dog gets an itch, he is bathed with expensive soap and the poisonous germs in its blood are eliminated through injections. But here, humans were worse off than animals. Now this itch would dissolve in the water on which their houseboat was standing. “Oh God, where have I come? How do people live here?” she started hating the beautiful curtains, the carpets, the furniture, and the surrounding ambiance of the houseboat. The tall chinar trees started appearing terrifying like demons, the swimming fish seemed like hissing serpents, and the flowing water from the waterfall started looking like raining fire. Today, for the fourth time, Mem Sahib’s gaze fell upon the bald man. The same face, the same appearance. Sunken eyes, sunken cheeks, an itchy scalp with blood stains, etc. Today, she found the bald man’s appearance even more terrifying. She felt that he was not a human being but a ghost. Trembling with fear, she ran inside. Sabura had chased away the bald man, though, but Mem Sahib was still frightened. Sahib was sitting on a sofa nearby, reading a newspaper. He had also seen the bald man once. Yesterday, he had assured Mem Sahib that they would find another houseboat soon. But today, when Sabura had chased away the bald man and assured them that he would never come to the bank again, Sahib was forced to change his mind. In the evening, they went out for shopping. First, they entered a wood-carving shop. Mem Sahib was amazed by the various beautifully crafted items she saw. Statues of Mahatma Buddha, flying celestial ducks, lotus flowers, chinar leaves. etc etc.
“How beautiful and fascinating is this art!” Mem Sahib was getting emotional as she looked at everything. Each thing was better than the next. After that, they entered an embroidery shop. With the help of a needle and thread, human fingers can infuse life even into lifeless objects. This was something she saw for the first time. How beautiful this shawl is! It appears as if it has been adorned with colorful flowers from a garden. Mem Sahib touched the edge of the shawl with her delicate fingers. Memsahib felt as if she was truly touching the flowers. Then Sahib’s eyes fell on a cardigan. This light white cardigan was hanging beautifully in the hanger. Two rose flowers adorned the corners of its collar. A thin and delicate branch filled with leaves was spread around it. The border of the cardigan was adorned with small and beautiful flowers. Sahib personally took off the cardigan from the hanger and put it on Mem Sahib’s shoulders. She looked even more beautiful upon wearing it.
There was a shop in the front with a signboard that read “Paper Meshi Stall.” Mem Sahib’s eyes sparkled as she entered the shop. She felt that this shop was not just a shop but a magical palace where everything had a peculiar charm. Cosmetics, ties, soap dishes, flower vases, table lamps, cigarette cases, pen holders, powder boxes, photo frames, and who knows what else was there in the shop. How much beauty and artistry are reflected in these things! The artist must have spent a lot of time creating the designs on each of these items. Blessed is the artist who has given these creations life with his blood, sweat, and tears. Mem Sahib liked many things for herself. Sahib also selected a few items for himself and his friends. They got lost in the world of art for a few moments.
“This art is worthy of worship,” Mem Sahib said unexpectedly. The shop owner took them to a large room on the upper floor. The room was completely different. It had only one window that opened towards the market. The room was filled with dim light from the window, where artisans worked all day. Various things were scattered in the room. The room looked big, messy, and shabby. However, it was in this very room that the things were prepared that enhanced the beauty of the showroom downstairs. In this room, the artisans, with complete dedication, tried to infuse life into these things by depicting various colorful images: “Deer filling the woodcarving, nightingale singing on the rose branch, peacock dancing in the green and waving fields, fish leaping in the blue lake.” These craftsmen were trying to pervade life into these images with their brush. These items would later arrive in the market. Customers would be delighted to see them. They would praise their artistry. But the artists that truly created these art pieces remained oblivious. The shop owner took Mem Sahib ahead and introduced her to their most experienced and skilled artisan.
Mem Sahib’s eyes were wide open, as she started to observe that skilled artist closely. A faint scream escaped his mouth, “Ganja!” Mem took hold of the gentleman’s arm. It was the same Ganja(baldy), the human-like creature, who had cast a spell over Meme’s heart and mind. Yes, it was the same Ganja. However, at that moment, he was not a beast or a ghost but rather stood before him as an artist. A paintbrush was in his hand, and he was filling colors into a peacock feather on a table lamp. His hands moved slowly and delicately, with a thin layer of flesh on his bony fingers. Mem kept gazing at him curiously and passionately, saying, “Wonderful!” The peacock feather on the lamp was now complete. The golden-green-hued peacock was trapped in the world of art. Mem’s gaze shifted from the peacock feather to the artist’s face. He was no longer Ganja now; he was a great artist. Mem Sahib scorned herself and started to think that this artist was really taller than her and she was by far much inferior to that artist. She had really underestimated the world of art in which this Baldy lived and survived.
(Translated from Kashmiri into English by Dr.Shiben Krishen Raina)
About the Author:
Kashmiri short-story writer Sufi Gulam Mohammad was born in Drogjan, Srinagar in 1927. Until 1950, he wrote in Urdu. His first story written in Urdu, “Jawani ka Janaza” was published in the magazine “Nizam” from Bombay in 1948. He is credited with developing the interest in Kashmiri at the ‘Cultural Front’ organization. Due to his regular participation in various literary activities of the Front, he came into contact with several eminent Kashmiri writers and was inspired by them, he started writing in his mother tongue as well. His first Kashmiri story titled “Chunichur” was published in the magazine “Pamposh” in 1950. Since then, he continued to write in Kashmiri and wrote around 50 stories until 1964. His two-story collections, “Shish T Sangisthan” and “Lusymit Tarak,” have been published. He received the State Cultural Academy Award for “Lusymit Tarak.” After serving as an assistant editor for approximately eleven years in the Urdu newspaper “Khidmat,” Sufi Sahab became the chief editor of the renowned Urdu daily “Srinagar Times.” The most notable feature of Sufi Ghulam Mohammad’s stories is that they are derived from middle-class life, revolving around the character’s surroundings rather than a specific individual.
“Ganja”(baldy) introduces the artistic brilliance hidden in the roots of Kashmir’s world-famous handicrafts, which not only create art but also reside in the shadows of his own deprived life and personality, under the gaze of the world.
Dr.Shiben Krishen Raina is a well-known educationist, teacher, and translator. He is more known as a distinguished translator having a long experience in the field of translating from Kashmiri, Urdu, and English into Hindi. His translated work comprising of translation and transliteration of the famous Kashmiri Ramayana “Ramavtar Charit” is a valuable contribution to the field of Hindi literature. Dr.Raina is a recepient of Tamra-Patra from the Bihar Rajya Bhasha Vibhag, Govt.of Bihar in 1975. Dr.Raina was Fellow at Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Rashtrapati Nivas, Shimla during 1999-2001, where he worked on the problems of Translation. Dr.Raina is the recipient of first-ever Translation Award of Rajasthan Sahitya Academy, Udaipur, and also Anuvad-Shri honour from Bhartiya Anuvad Parishad, Delhi.