About the author- Premnath ‘Dar’ was a short story Urdu writer from Kashmir. His writings are seen as progressive writings of mid twentieth century. The socio political events of the time influenced his writings and it was from early 1940s that he started writing Urdu short stories. This short story has been translated from Urdu.
Creating flavours is not easy. Even a lady cannot create it. Only the one who has eaten a properly cooked fish can do it. Only he who has stayed up all night to relish the taste, and whose nose is experienced enough can inhale the cooking stages of a fish. There are several paths that need to be crossed which begin from the foul smell an end on flavours.
It was a holiday and it was raining hard. A fisherman hiding a huge Singhara fish from the Bengalis, reached my place. The fish was dead but fresh and blood was still visible on the gills. Looking at the fish was mouth-watering and who else could he give this to?
Oil spluttered in the vessel and created a whirl. The whirlwind created a burning sensation in the eyes, the nose and the ears. When the fish started boiling in the oil, the waft swirled upwards and spread all around. It felt as if this flavour would not go out of the house and spread inside the house. We enjoyed eating the fish and the flavour was present in every bite that we took. It was the same breath, same burp and the same warm taste. It created a fun filled atmosphere in the drawing room and I don’t know about others, but I was consumed by this atmosphere.
I saw our door open as wide as the fish’s mouth and I entered that door in search of that familiar taste. But it wasn’t the mouth but a door. The fish’s head split wide open and I reached the other side.
I wasn’t surprised to see a market beyond the door. The market was filled with things but no one was scampering for them. The market was decorated but there was no excitement amongst the people. There was a crowd but no one was unruly. Every face that one saw was shining with spirituality. Emotions were under control and the vision was constantly in search of something. Every step was full of confidence. It was the beginning of a collective consciousness. Whoever was alive was filled with faith.
I saw a long line waiting patiently in front of a huge shop. Out of habit, I ran to join the line wondering what all could be bought from there. The eagles were circling the shop. I concluded it was a meat shop. There were many other meat shops but no eagles hovered over them. The shop was clean and there were three glass cupboards, and three huge pieces of meat were hanging.
The meat was of a new variety- it was neither red in colour nor white but was in between. The skin looked as if it was of a chicken and the thickness was of a goat. The flesh was soft like that of a fish. A knife could pass through it easily.
“ It will be fun, this one is jawaan *”- said a customer to another while licking his lips.
It was strange to hear this word being used for a piece of meat. The meat can be old or fresh but the word jawaan was never used for it. My mouth was watering and a meat lover always wants to know the name of a new variety of meat that is available.
I strained my neck to see the head and the feet that had been removed. My heart beat increased. The remains looked as if they were of a human. The water that had formed in my mouth turned foul and my stomach churned. To spit was not appropriate and I turned to an old man and asked-
“Sir what is this blessing?”
“It is a huge blessing.”- The old man replied with such a speed as if he has just answered my question.
I asked again- “What blessing, sir?”
“I am telling you it is a huge blessing.” The sentence was not sarcastic and was stated with honesty that the piece of meat was called a huge blessing. But I wanted to know the name of the animal. I was thinking about this when an old mendicant placed his hand on my shoulder and took me to a corner and said- “Son, what are you thinking? Let me tell you about this. The name of this piece of flesh is huge blessing. It is sold every day but the quality of this one is excellent and it is jawaan. This piece of meat is sold some times as it is difficult for the hunters to catch hold of it. The young, the old and the females are sold every day. And do you take God’s name standing or lying down?”
“What is the name of this creature?”
“I will tell you everything but answer my question.”
“Sir, there is no connection between lying down and standing.”
“Enough! Then it’s okay. You turned out to be the third kind of species- neither here nor there. Listen if you were one of those who lie down then you were a jawaan. The mendicant while patting my shoulder said- “Then there would have been four pieces hanging instead of three.”
I suddenly sat down on the road. A strong wind blew and I felt as if the mendicant’s hair were either flowing from his chin or dancing on his head. And in darkness I felt as if I had been hanged upside down and my skin had been peeled off. But I was of the third kind then why was my skin peeled off? Taking up the strands of the conversation, the mendicant held my hand.
“ All of you who live on the other side of the fish pretend a lot. You haven’t tasted this meat. Why are you wasting your energy not having it?”
“ Baba Baba”…I was unable to say anything. “ Baba please push me across the fish…Baba across the fish..”
“ A blessing like a human you don’t consume..”
“ Ack thoo! Baba.. thoo thoo”
“ Look at him spitting.”
“ Thoo thooo…ack thoo”
“We drain off all the blood from a human body. We remove the main pieces from the body, and roast them but do not eat.”
“ Thoo thoo Baba thoo.. What did you say? We roast it? Thoo..We? Human pieces..Thoo thoo Baba human? The most evolved in the animal world, the end of evolution- a human… In front of whom even the angels have bowed… The gods have come in the form of humans… Humans!”
“ Yes , yes! But what a roasting! Have a look…”
The mendicant waved his hand and the earth opened up to give way to a soul. I stuffed my mouth and nose with the end of my shirt and moaned. The mendicant laid his heavy hand on my neck and forced me to open my eyes. I saw a foul smoke arise and beneath that smoke lay a town and familiar alleys. In every alley, a pile of rubbish was burning and on top of each pile were pieces of humans that were burning. A smoke rose from these pieces but was different from the rest of the smoke. It was heavy.
“They are roasting in a pile of rubbish, see! Have a look. Dirty pieces of flesh. And when the smoke rises, you want to stuff your mouth and nose with a cloth- if not a foul smell, do you expect perfume to rise from this pile?
I stared and saw my alleys, familiar establishments, across the fish. Those pieces were our faces, our limbs and our legs.
The mendicant had made me swallow my spit and muffled my heart beat. And when I saw corpses being burnt in sacks, tables, in books; I wanted to bring to his attention to the difference. But this did not happen. He had made me inexperienced. I could neither look in the pit or in his eyes. The mendicant spit into the pit and said-
“ Ack thoo! On this ignorance and on this filth. If these fumes continued then the entire environment will be polluted. All sorts of diseases will spread.” He waved his hand and the pit was filled.
He opened a door and took me inside a warm house. It seemed as if light was slipping off the walls and the ground seemed as if it was washed with milk. In a corner there was a grave made out of gold coloured bricks. Many lamps were lit on it. The light from the lamps was of same colour. The colour was red as blood and it seemed as if tongues drenched in blood were waggling. There were huge silver bowls that were hanging on top of them and something was bubbling inside them. And the smell that came out churned the insides of my body.
Suddenly another door opened where there were heads with moustaches. Bearded faces, scraped thighs, half scraped joints, turned up eyes, tongues hanging out, slouched jaws, lungs, heart etc. Whether there was a pleasant flavour or a foul smell one could not make out and it was a sinking feeling. The tongues that were hanging out started screaming in my ears and I buried my face in my clothes and started crying.
“ There is no foul smell that you are hiding your face. Can’t you see, the huge blessing is being washed with spices? The stiff meat is fresh. Look below the ears, the blood is still fresh. Miyan here your incomplete civilization and your sloppy scientific methods don’t exist. The blessing is cooked on huge flame and then once cooked, how can there be a foul smell?”
I had no strength left in my legs and my body as if stuck in the past started shaking. In a frenzied state, my head wanted to submerge into my body. And as if my chest split open and I took refuge in it. I saw many books lying there in several languages. Left to right and right to left there was a flurry of languages to be found. But when I wanted to read and wrap myself in them then the letters seemed to fade away and in sadness I started screaming. The mendicant continued to speak.
“ And this flesh needs to be cleaned. The pieces cannot be cut in this manner. It is cut length wise. From face till the belly and see it has been cut in two. The pieces will be cut lengthwise and will be washed in perfumes. It will be cooked in sweet juices. And it will be cooked well. “
The entire body was sweetened; the head was at times inside the body and at times outside. My mouth was filled with spit. I wanted to spit but I swallowed it. The mendicant waved his hand.
I saw a crowd of people who looked like smoke rising from the city that was spreading. All kinds of people from all walks of life, and in the middle of the crowd were five white statutes which were bent. I could see unknown faces clearly. I was filled with courage on seeing people. The body stopped shaking. My heart was filled with emotions. I wanted to say that look this is the origin of all creativity. The development of literature began from here. Great artists were born here. Suddenly there was a disturbance in the crowd and one of the statues got disfigured. The statue fell and there was an uproar. Slowly the remaining statutes started straightening and I again started shaking.
“Good Lord! Even our children are not that clumsy. Was this statue supposed to be treated in such a harsh manner. Look! It seems as if it has been ripped apart by the eagles.”
I looked towards the crowd and the statutes had disappeared in the black confusion like small slivers of lightening that get swallowed up by the huge black clouds. The mendicant again waved his hand.
“ And this is tender meat. One can only cook biryani with this meat. This takes less amount of heat and time to cook.”
“ Baba, Baba!” It seemed as if my heart had come out and was speaking.
“ Baba what has happened to you? You are human as well. You would be having children; they could also be made into biryani. Baba…”
“ But this meat is of a small community, how can our meat be cooked?”
“ But across the fish, Baba…”
The mendicant again waved his hand and out of the black smoke came out a hero and a wrestler. Both of them stretched a child across a wall and drove a nail into the flesh. The child’s chest fell to the floor like spilled cream. Someone stripped off pieces of meat off the child and filled a mother’s lap with it while someone picked up pieces and threw them into the fire. Another came and threw the child off a three storeyed building and the child scattered all over.
“ So much biryani wasted!”
He again waved his hand and saw that on a golden tomb, the vessel containing oil was spluttering. A moustached head with eyes wide open was turning red. The oil would enter the eyes and the nose and was burning up any remnants of taste.
“ Such methods, such finesse; when will people learn these?”
Clanking “ S s s Stop it mendicant…Y y y your methods.” The mendicant laughed and said.
“ When did I say that you all are uneducated. All I am saying is that one more step is left. All that your teacher requires is to make you reach the end of this journey. You keep approaching this path but not with cleanliness nor with a method. And by sheer luck that you have reached this side, we will make a human out of you before you leave.”
Ack thoo thoo thoo thoo !
“You need to be purified. We will make you eat this by force. The flesh of a human. “Saying this he caught hold of the red face in the vessel by the end of a moustache and took it out.
My stomach churned and I jumped.
I saw everyone seated in the drawing room laughing. And the room was filled with aroma of the fish. They continued to laugh and I ran out of the house in the rain.
My wife came out- “What happened?”
“ Nothing, nothing. I feel dizzy. I think I will vomit.”
“ You feel like vomiting then have some fish.. Should I get the head?”
*We have kept the original word as it brings out the meaning of the word well. In translation the word Jawaan stands for youth.