Written by Amin Kamil | Translated from Kashmiri by M Siddiq Beig
The moment Ghulam Khan entered the compound, Shah Maal got up with a start. She did not even so much as remember to wash and wrench her ‘pheron’ that had been soiled by eight-month old baby. She seemed as it were have come by a treasure, the way she asked her husband:
“You have got it? I was afraid that you might come empty handed even today.”
She almost snatched the cock off him and began to fondle its feathers and the comb. “It cost me four and half rupee.” Ghulam Khan put much accent on the word ‘rupee’ perhaps to bring home the cost to her lest she should take it for some unworthy lame thing. But Shah Maal was altogether unmindful of that; she simply was experiencing the boundless joy on feasting her eyes on it.
With her brows raised, she cast her eyes towards her neighbor’s window. She said to her husband with a pitch raised this time, “This was really the sort of cock I was after, or day in and day out numberless cocks are hawked to sell in the market and the whole mohalla has gone in to purchase that lot.”
Ghulam Khan did not reply to that and directly went indoors. A string was tied to its legs and it strained much to pace about. It by turns pecked at the string and seemed to take stock of its surroundings.
Jana Bitsh called out from her window. Shah Maal was in fact burning for her showing herself. She assumed nonchalance and pretended shaking dust off her ‘pheron’ in front and shaking her silver ear-rings, rejoined, “we have made the purchase just now for four and half rupee”, putting much more stress on the word ‘rupee’ that Ghulam Khan had done on telling her.
“it seems to be from the village?” Jaana Bitsh replied to her in return, “it looks like that. It is a fine sort.”
“Will you believe? It is only seven months old yet.” Shah Maal fixed its age somewhat arbitrarily.
“it is a different breed. They do not bring this sort to the city for the sale. Then the thing remains that no one buys here such a sort a dear, here, the stray cocks will do.” Shah Maal saw Jaana Bitsh flushing crimson. Apparently, it had dawned on her that it was she who was meant ‘others’ were spoken of. She replied, “I have to fry the dishes. You better fill its crop,” so saying she went indoors. After her departure, she with a smile playing on her countenance pouted her lips and continued gazing at the cock.
The matter, in truth, was that its purchase solely owed itself to spite for Jaan Bitsh. Jaan Bitsh owned five hens and a cock while Shah Maal owned hens only. Jaana Bitsh’s Cock would once or twice a day hop off and jump down into Shah Maal’s compound. Shah Maal, as she had no cock of her own, would take it as godsend. It was a different matter, however, when Shah Maal left paddy or some such thing to dry up in the sun, its presence then was an eyesore to her as a stuck like the leech. It could not be prevented from scattering pell-mell, much as you tried to scare it off. A fortnight back she had been driven crazy like that, she had come to execrate it loosing all restraint. Jaana Bitsh, showing herself at her window, had bandied back with a taunt. “If that be the case, why do not you buy a cock of your own? If you are so fond of it where it suits you, why should a few grains of rice wrench away your life in the bargain?”
Shah Maal would rather die than bear this repartee. That very moment she pestered her husband to buy a cock. Jaana Bitsh, too, from then on kept a vigil on her cock lest it should fly over to Shah Maal’s. Ghulam Khan had with one pretext or the other, dilly-dallied for a fortnight, but could not help buying one from a dealer at maisuma for three rupees. He had added a rupee or so more to forestall for three rupees. He had added a rupee or so more to forestall her pert likely rejoinder: “See what an inferior stuff you have brought as if you could get nothing else!”
Jaan Bitsh’s cock was henna-red. The one that Shah Maal owned was white snow white, dazzling white to be precise. It cut a notch above in its mien to Jaan Bitsh’s cock, which, it should be admitted, was much more stout in life and limb; or else both were of the same breed, a few ‘annas’ more or less hardly mattered.
As the day wore on to a close and everyone went asleep, Shah Maal, lying abed suckling her babe, the entire weight of her head falling on her elbow supported a pillow, she was in the heart of hearts thinking of the cock… “How green in envy Jana bitsh might have got… that jeering taunt of her’s still galls me… let that cock of her’s only move over to this side, I will not be worth of my salt if I did not tear it off a leg.” Ruminating thus, her eyes fell on her husband’s face sleeping aside in a separate bed. How handsome he looked to her now, indescribably handsome. But as he lifted her elbow, of the pillow,to make for sleep, shrill came a crowing: “Kukdoo Koon”, from the pen. Shah Maal held her breath. She pricked her ears to make sure if she had not misheard. But no. As the cock crowed the second time, life as if slipped out of her. She, all of a sudden sat up in the bed and called her husband to get up.
“Hah, dear…get up. Here, listen to me!”
“Oogh! Why?”Ghulam Khan got half awakened. “Did you say anything?”
“Hark! The cock has crowed when it is night yet.” Shah Maal was getting impatient. “What an ominous devil of a cock you have bought!”
“Crowing?” Ghulam Khan made a Grimace. “How does it mater? We are not to give a morning call to people to be awake for Ramdan fasting!”
“See! What rot he talks?” Shah Maal got angry. “Get up and slit its throat. Don’t you know that a cock which crows when it is night should be put to knife forthwith? It turns out to be an evil portent.”
“Non-sense! This prattle about portents! Please sleep and pay no heed to such humbug”. So saying, he tucked himself up under the quilt. Shah Maal, however, much she tried, could not sleep. Ghulam Khan wasted no more time and took to a sound sleep and did not wake up till his wonted hour at seven in the morning.
Shah Maal did not so much mind the off-time crowing as the likelihood of its having been heard by Jaan Bitsh and making it hot for her by jeering shafts. She might tell her, “Was this the much vaunted cock that you were after? All other cocks brought good tidings of morning light, whereas this ominous creature is possessed by devil when it is night yet.”
This very fear of Jaan Bitsh kept Shah Mall from even opening the pen door and letting its feathery beings in the open in the morning. Otherwise come what may, noting would have stopped her because she would take it out on Jaan Bitsh for many days to come hurling her taunts via the walls and the fences. As she remained under the shade in the corridor, the cock along with the hens made off to the compound. Seeing, Sha Maal’s heart sank within her. How loathsome it was to her eyes! The cock fanned out its wings and flexed them with relief. It spread a wing fanwise and amourously made four to five rounds around each hen. The hens, to save their skin, went helter skelter as if cautioning the cock: “Fie! What has befallen you! Do not even look around for shame.”
The hens looked for the corridor door as to why Shah Maal did not show herself, not even so much as to cast a handful of grains. They flocked straight to where she was. The cock, too, got a hint and followed their track. As she caught sight of its legs, her face got distorted with contempt. Its legs right up to its body took on a hideous from of the ass’s skull, but she did not scare it off lest Jaan Bitsh should get inkling. She just cast off two handful of rice towards the compound.
From across Jaan Bitsh’s compound , where her cock heard the unaccustomed “Kroo”, it raised its neck up, put forward its breast, stiffened its body as if the all the sinews of its body shrunk. “kut, kutok, kutock…”it let forth its shrill yells as if to throw a challenging cal to the bully that had entered the other compound.
“kutock, kut, Kutock…” Shah Maal’s cock also lifted its neck, apparently as its response.
“Beware. I am the white cock. If only you cross over to this side you will know whom you have to deal with. It would not do to show your fists from the other side.”
Shah Maal abhorred these shrieks of its cock. If only it were to give up its ghost so that Jaan Bitsh does not hand on her to window. Instead of shooing it off, however, she flung a sod of clay to hit its head, but it missed it. It only frightened it to hop up with a kutock which made Jaan Bitsh crane out her neck through her window.
“Why are you out of temper so early in the morning? What has the poor creature done to you?”
Shah Maal seemed as if to have been caught red handed, sweating through and through, all her caution and care came to nothing. She surmised from Jana Bitsh’s talk that she was blatantly casting in her teath that her anger was due to off time crowing of the cock, but retained the composure, saying, “Far be it from me, why should I? Only the cock does not let the hens approach the grains.”
“Come, now, it is only because it is new to the place.” Jaan Bitsh said it in humorous tone vein, “by tomorrow it will offer the grains to them itself.”
“That is possible if we were to keep it, but we bought it to make a meal of it.” Shah Maal said this thinking that she would give her no pretext for jeering. “My husband might have got its throat slit right yesterday, but for his being tired out.”
“What has happened to you? Why at all should you kill it?” Jaan Bitsh remonstrated. “See, what a fine figure it cuts! And it has a good voice to boot.”
Shah Maal lost her colour, she took the phrase ‘good voice’ to mean that she had heard the untimely crowing, but to throw her off her scent, she said again, “If I were to fear up such stray cocks, then many were peddled up for sale. The sort of cock I had set my heart for he had not yet come by. Now somebody has given his word to procure such a one at any rate.” Shah Maal perceived that Jaana made nothing out of his reply. She deemed it meant to go indoors of listening to something unpalatable she might say.
Shah Maal put some embers into the samovar, but was all the while taken up in the cocks’ quandary. As Ghulam Khan returned home after ablutions in the mosque, she said to him as she poured him a cup of tea, “Get the cock’s throat slit, after all we are to pass our days in this mohalla.”
“Let me after all know what the locality has to do with it.” Ghulamn Khan asked her chewing a loaf of bread. “This surely is not the month of fasting to cause a mistake in knowing time.”
“You do not care, you only talk”, Shah Maal got incensed. “Well if you cannot bring yourself to do it, I will be the last to rear this ominous thing up.”
“Do it then”, Ghulam Khan, cutting the matter short, said, “but mind that you do not make a fresh demand.”
“That I will not,” Shah Maal, blew in some breath just for the fun of it. “Well, Jaan Bitsh’s cock remains there in the compound whole long day.”
As Ghulam Khan left for his job, Shah Maal got up to go to Samad Khaash’s to make sure that he had not left any other place. Samad Khaash was to say a priest for slitting throats of al fowls of the mohalla. There were many others who did it, but the epithet ‘Khaash’ (throat cutter) stuck to him. That is why the curse “Shhh…let Samad Khaash take you” was hurled at the fowls.
Samad Khaash was still there and said from over his window, “Get it here, I will slit its throat. But, rest assured, I will also partake of it in the evening of yours. You man and wife alone will not take it. Yes.”
“Well, who the devil denies you that? You are welcome”. Shah Maal replied with a smile as she made for her home. She was pleased with the prospect that Jaan Bitsh will no longer be able to put her ridicule or else day in day out he would be the butt of her shafts.
Shah Maal, as she entered the compound after her return, witnessed a strange spectacle; the poor hens had been scared stiff as Jaan Bitsh’s cock was locked in a pitched fight with her cock. God alone knew what the hell they had raised and lifted quite, a cloud of dust. As if that was not enough, Jaan Bitsh was gloating over the spectacle occasioned by this fight.
Shah Maal imagined Jaan Bitsh was happy with the thought that her cock would out the victor, because it looked something of a bully by its stout frame. It had besides put to many a cock in the mohalla. Shah Maal’s heart began to pound and her face lost all colour.
Jaan Bitsh’s cock was red while that of Shah Maal was white. The small downy feathers of their necks bristled erect in rings. Their heads trembled with rage and their feathers as though let off electric currents. Their bodies elongated and their tale feathers spread out. They were face to face with outstretched necks, spitting around fire and swooping upon each other unannounced, raising quite a tumult with their beaks.
When Jaan Bitsh saw Shah Maal making an entry in the compound, she sat all the more at ease in the window, to shah Maal it seemed that she assumed importance.
“Do not you see, how can this stray cock of mine be a match to yours? But it is all the same to a rough street-tramp to give and take hiding. Let there be no mistake however, it will make it take to its heels just as it has made all the cocks of the mohalla eat a humble pie.”
A fretting fear choked her, but what could she say. She was repenting over the turn events had taken. She suspected Jaan Bitsh had on purpose let her cock cross over to this side. She would fain like to strangle it. She, however, took counsel to turn the tables on her instead of being jeered at. So she said, “This cock of mine is not meant for such broils and brawls; a different breed as it is.”
The cocks raised a pandemonium by this hulla bulla; bleeding and stripping each other thus of their feathers. Jaan Bitsh fastening herself close to the window, was expectantly bobbing her head, where as Shah Maal by turns grew crimson and then ghastly pallid. She now got despondent and bitter even hurling curses on Jaan Bitsh’s cock in a whisper.
“May your beak fall to pieces…may your legs be paralyzed…” The cocks bled profusely. One could not guess how far Jaan Bitsh’s cock had bled because of its red colour, but Shah Maal’s cock showed itself gory through and through as it was white.
Shah Maal could not restrain herself seeing its plight. “May it fall dead in your stead, may its beak fall to pieces.”
“Why are you driven to extremes? It is too early yet. See if it will not make it turn its tail.” Jaan Bitsh bandied back. Shah Maal grew dersperate, over-wrought as she was by many a foreboding right from the previous night; she might have served so fitting a repartee that even Jaan Bitsh could be silenced. The inner battle might have mounted to vituperative recriminations and excretions, but alas. One of the cocks left the arena al of a sudden. This was Jaan Bitsh’s cock. And shah Maal’s cock gave it a chase all around the compound. Shah Mall perceived that sweat exuded from every fibre of her being, her face was so to say blackened with soot.
Jaan Bitsh, however, as a face saving, had the cheek to pretend that she had nothing to do with the broil.
“Oh, you are going to kill such a cock?” Jaan Bitsh said with her chin resting on her palm, “If you do not mind my saying, do bring it up. Do not kill it.”
“Oh then. Did you really take me for my word”? Shah Maal said giving a jingling rotary shake to her silver ear-rings. “A cock may be marred by one hundred flaws, it may crow untimely even it is night yet, I will be the last one to mind that. But it should give a stiff fight. Such indeed was the sort of cock I was after.”
- This is one of the stories from a book, Kashmiri Short Stories published by PEN productions, Srinagar.