Sorry grandma, that ‘blood sucking’ story was badly cooked

In our home, they once talked about a man who is now long dead. I had never seen him before. He was committed to my memory like a poem about a haunt, very similar to Walter de le Mare’s Listeners.

He had an unusual name. It meant pitiful in a language I was told I cannot speak. When he was talked about we huddled around whoever was talking about him.

If it was our grandmother telling us his story of great escapade, who was as gullible as we were, perhaps, and also as stupid as us at having believed in this myth, insane sectarian construct, aimed to widen the divide between Shias and Sunnis in Kashmir.

We would lie straight under the quilt and hear her, patiently, in our little heads imagining him as us crawling in the gutter, passing under low branches of shrubberies, tripping onto litter, or in the dark wintry nights hitting our heads against the trees in the desolate forests while on the run.

They clonked. And we heard that sound. Our eyes saw it all. If our grandmother told us this was all that was to this story today, we would resent. We would insist, press in and ask her to tell us the entire story.

She would finally relent into our insistence, say that: “Then he went here… he stopped by… he ran… he hid… two days… ate nothing… saw none… grew so decrepit that when reached home he couldn’t even walk for days.”

We did what we did best. We imagined. We etched him in our memory. As if when we were hearing of him we were taught to see a hero in him. This was how we were indoctrinated.

Perhaps amongst our first introductory lessons of Islam, with five pillars that were foundations of our religion, we were also taught that there were two, three sects, too, supposedly Muslims but who were after all foes to our religion, all of them bloody Kuffars.

Only we, the Sunnis, were going to go to heaven.

So, we rejoiced. We rejoiced our win over them. They had long since been ‘them’ to us, the ‘other’. The discord has let all the myths flourish.

This story too was the reproduce of the discord of yore. The myth, the fabrication. The man in the story was not so old, not so young. He was a man in his early thirties. He had gone to the town to see a relative of his in a hospital. While returning dusk had fallen and it had gotten really late. There was no bus in the stand to take him to his village. Nearby the pack of dogs barked wildly. It filled his heart with trepidation. He decided to take shelter in a house that was not so far away from where he was sitting now, shivering.

It was early winter. Snow had not fallen yet. Embarking upon what would become for him a dreadful journey, and for us an example. He walked a dusty narrow road that led to that house. He had no inkling as to what would befall him.

He knocked on the door. It was answered by a young boy. He went in, hurriedly, to break news to his father about the stranger on the door wanting to stay overnight. Later, he was welcomed in.

Just after the brief dinner, the plan was made behind the curtains after the villager revealed that he was a goddamn Sunni, that he would be slayed when he would fall asleep.

Then the story went like: his blood would require a big cauldron to collect. It would suffice us for at least a month. Then they went away and began sharpening the double-edged daggers. The man in question got a whiff of the conspiracy.

Though we are not so sure if the elder girl who must have had pity on the man told him that he was going to get killed, or he himself heard them saying so by placing his ears against the walls.

They must have been made of paper, perhaps. The story is obfuscating on many counts. If it was the girl who told him to run away and save his hide why did she not want to drink goblets of blood he was to drip and was she not dying to smack her bloody blood dripping lips? Would she have not loved to see him making convulsive sounds in agony while being hacked to death for a pint of blood?

The probable answer: she was a good soul. She knew what it meant to save a helpless hide. Also, thinking it through, she understood perhaps how ghastly a mistake it was to assist in killing an innocent man. But, so much goodness, my god, then why was she still a Shia?

The improbable answer, much flaunted, to a larger audience: she had fallen in love with the man in question. She was scared stiff and didn’t want him to get killed for enmity he had a part to play in. Shouldn’t they go back in time and see for themselves what really transpired.

So the man, whose name meant pitiful, give slip to the Shia family.

The high window in the room he was kept in looked into the barn with haystacks. He jumped through that window, into the barn, on hay, and off he went. For whole night after running away, so says the story, he lay crouched in a gutter, feeling nothing, nothing whatsoever, turning to the colour of gutter, smelling gutter, by morning becoming pig of the gutter snivelling filth.

When he was back home another day after having been helped by a Sunni priest while he was on the run, so it goes, he narrated his ordeal to his people. He had given slip to death. He was heralded as a hero.

I believed the story, its characters. That was when I was a child.

Years later as I hear different versions of the same story from different people I know and I feel like a fool at having believed the authenticity of the story.

The different versions sadly are more or less same as this story.


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