Dr. Shabir Mir
For generations winter has been a season of indolence and gossip for us. As the mercury dips down not only does the water freeze but so does the time as well. There is no more work to be done in apple orchards or in paddy fields. The sun and children are held captive, so they sulk till they are let out at noon. As snow piles up young men and old, gather in mosques where in between prayers they warm their bones on the hamam and many a tales are told.
Thus on a wintry afternoon I made my way through snow to our Mosque. There on the hamam, wallowing like buffaloes sat the Parliament of our neighbourhood. The prime position and the centre of all attention was as usual ‘Lalla’- the king of gossips. Lord Almighty had gifted Lalla with a mouth that refused to remain at peace. Either it had to eat or it had to speak. It never knew a moment of rest. So there he was on the hamam, in all his roguish glory, spinning tale after tale much to the delight of the whole gathering. As for me, I never did like that imp. Not even a bit. Others might worship him and adore his vile yarns but in fact he was no more than a swaggering crow. Look how he had to sit always in the centre, as if he were some exquisite Emperor amongst his boot licking courtiers. And then there were his unbearable tales. Bloated and full of hot air. Just plain falsehood and deceit. The inventions of his deformed mind. And to think he spoke such slander on the holy hamam of our Mosque. It made my blood boil. Even more wicked was the adulation of these idiots who egged him on ‘Lalla tell us about this’ ‘Lalla tell us about that’.
As if they could not tell he was making all this up. Had they been bred on the rice of decency they would most certainly have kicked Lalla out ages ago and paid their obeisance to some one more deserving. Someone better who could teach them a thing or two. Someone (if I may momentarily take leave of my modesty) like me who could preach and open their eyes to their idiocy and stupidity. But no! Why should these curs have any better sense? For them the vile words of Lalla were heavenly manna which they gulped down greedily as soon as they left the misshapen mouth of that abomination called LALLA. How disgusting!
The more he spoke the more my patience waned till finally I cried out loud, “Say Lalla how long have you been sitting on the hamam? I smell your tail-bone burning. It would do you good and to others as well, if you breathe some fresh air outside.”
Lalla looked at me as if some impertinent fly had dared to buzz around his roman nose, “Ah tis you! So that is why the dogs were howling”
There, that was Lalla for you, full of indecent jibes and shameless insults. Not that I could not have replied with something more vitriolic but I refuse to degrade to his level. So I said politely, “Let Dogs to their howling and barking; you tell me how you could call yourself your father’s son. I have heard how he used to swim in ice and sleep on snow and here you are growing roots in a hamam”
“Yes, yes you have heard correct. My father used icicles to pick his teeth. But then who could rival him after all he used to have tea with Chill-e-kalan.”
“Ah!” exclaimed I. “Tea with Chill-e-kalan!” the poor devil was finally trapped in his own words “See what monstrous falsehood you utter, sitting on this holy hamam. And that too about your father. Have you no shame? You ought to be kicked from here.”
Lalla smirked, “Falsehood and me. Astagfirullah! I would never dare such impudence. My father did have tea with Chill-e-kalan. So he told me and so was he immune to chill and cold.”
I frowned in response and in my most damning voice said, “Have some fear of doomsday day Lalla. You have to die someday. With what face will you wake up on that day?”
“You don’t believe me” said Lalla incredulously “Very well let me tell the whole story. And all of you present here, let you be the judges whether I slander on this holy hamam.”
Thus began his tale,
‘It was the time around the great fire which had burned down half of the village, when one night my father (May the Lord Almighty bless his grave) was returning home. The hour was late when he found himself walking by the graveyard. Remember that old walnut tree in the graveyard that we fell last year for our hamam, something under that walnut tree caught my father’s eye. He could not tell for sure but he did believe he saw something vaguely human. Being a God-fearing type, he said a silent prayer and paced up his walk. There and then a strange cold voice crept up to his ears ‘Come here’ it commanded. Father swore that he resisted with all his will but somehow he had lost command over his own body. His legs slowly took him to the walnut tree obeying the voice that stiffened his skin. There he sees a man sitting cross legged on the bare earth. He has a long thin fheran thrown over his body and one could sense he wore nothing underneath. Yet he felt no discomfort whatsoever despite the night being so cold that it froze one’s marrow. As my father’s eyes settled to the dark he could make out a steaming samovar by the side of this strange man.
“Come sit here” says the man to my father. And my father having lost his will obeys the command like a man bewitched.
“It gets lonely by the night you know. A man ought to have some company.”
This man pours something hot and guzzling from the samovar into a clay cup and begins sipping it noisily. Father always had a weakness for tea and out there cold and shivering under that walnut tree, the tea would have been aab-e-kousar for him but the strange man showed no inclination of offering him any and my father dared not ask for some.
“I know you crave for this tea” says the wicked man “but I can’t let you have it. This is not some usual drab nun-chaithat every other man gulps down by gallons. No my dear this here is a brew that boils your blood. One sip and all the chills and colds are gone. One sip and why even you will not dread me.”
At this point the strange man suddenly cocks his brow askance “Do you know who I am?” this he asks to my cold-shrivelled father. What could he say! The poor soul mumbled a timid no.
“Ah the ignorance! I am Chill-e-kalan the winter-Duke of forty days”
This was followed by a rhetorical pause during which my father felt some of his courage returning. The man sitting before him was after all just Chill-e-kalan. Not some vile jinn or foul ghost which he so far feared. What was the worse he could do? Some chills or a frost-bite or a severe cold. Nothing that my father could not handle. Thus building on this inspiring wisdom my father dared to say, “forgive my impudence chilla saab but how come that you are in a graveyard under a walnut tree on such a night? I believe your sovereign self deserves better.”
Chill-e-kalan stares back at him. Hard and sore. “Who will let me in his house? I am the harbinger of benumbing cold, who would spread a gabba7 for me?”
‘Aye that is true. Come to think of it who would bring frost to his own hearth’ thinks my father to himself.
“So here I am. Of all the places under the God’s sky.” Saying so the head of Chill-e-kalan stoops low under the burden of despondency. He stands there a figure of gloom and wretchedness.
Now one thing that has always ran in the blood of my family is mercy. We always have been quick to sympathise. My father might not have been this or that but he certainly was a man of pity. One look at the crest-fallen Chill-e-kalan and my father decides that come what may he has to spend the night with this miserable creature. Like others of our tribe, thanks to the bountiful Lord, my father too had a gift of gab. He could talk an owl to its sleep. And tonight if nothing else he would at least cheer up Chill-e-kalan.
Thus there on the cold wintry night in a graveyard under a walnut tree sat my father and Chill-e-kalan talking about husbands and wives, man and animals, gossips and facts and a thousand more things. The details I don’t remember now even though father did tell me all about it. What I do remember is that between father and Chill-e-kalan the night passed fast. So fast that dawn was upon them and they were surprised how soon it had come. Father stood up shook his clothes. He starts to bid farewell when Chill-e-kalan says, “Say dear friend the night passed well. What if you come tomorrow again and between us we pass one more pleasant night. What do you say to that, aye?”
Now father would certainly have loved to do the same but for the chill and frost, so he says in answer, “Jinab how much I would love that but alas you see the blood in my veins grows cold and I fear if I spent one more night like this it would give me much pleasure but then afterwards you would have my grave to talk to. So I scarce believe that tomorrow I will be here. A man ought to live first.”
“Hmm…” mutters the pensive Chill-e-kalan, “I think I have a solution for that. Here take a drink from this.” He offers the hot tea from his samovar to father. One sip and the heat of desert noon was released in my father’s veins. And from that moment till the day Malik-ol-mout knocked on his door, as my mother would say, he never knew what cold was.
Next night father returned and every year since he had been a regular visitor for forty days to the graveyard where he and his friend the Chill-e-kalan would sit under the walnut tree sipping their tea and talking through the cold nights.”
Lalla broke his narrative and with his squinted eyes summoned all around. “Now good people you tell me who could measure up to this man who drank tea with Chill-e-kalan, even be it his own son?”
Everybody except me nodded and mumbled some unintelligible affirmatives.
“You judge me.” continued Lalla to his bewitched audience “Do I slander then?”
“No. No… Of course not.”
I was disgusted with all of them. Wretched sycophants. I stood up, it was time to call the faithful for Nimaaz.
Lalla, some other day, some other time, I swore to myself.
Dr. Mir hails from the South Kashmir district of Pulwama, he is fond of writing in both prose and verse and currently works with the Govt. of J&K