Hari Krishna Kaul (trans. Kalpana Raina, Tanveer Ajsi, Gowhar Fazili, and Gowhar Yaqoob)

March 5, 2024 
The following is from Hari Krishna Kaul's For Now, It Is Night. Kaul, one of the most celebrated Kashmiri writers, published most of his work between 1972 and 2000. His short stories, shaped by the social crisis and political instability in Kashmir, explore themes of isolation, individual and collective alienation, corruption, and the social mores of a community that experienced a loss of homeland, culture, and language.

Sahib seemed startled when he saw me. He drew back a little. My hunch was right. I thought it best not to waste time, so I quickly joined my palms and said respectfully, “Sir, I’m not him. I’m his brother. We were born twins, that’s why we look alike.” He studied me from head to toe. My attractive appearance, my clothes, my smile, and my humble demeanor convinced him that I was not that wretched fellow. We were both silent for a while, and then he asked, “Where is he now?”

“Sir, he passed away few days ago.”

This news seemed to lift his spirits and he burst out laughing. I also smiled a little. Then suddenly, he turned serious. I too put on a serious face.

“He was stubborn, but we must admit that his pen carried weight.”

“Sir, you might be right, but what good was that?” I asked. “He made us destitute. Sir, it is generous of you not to criticize him, but I must tell you – he was a vagabond who ruined his life and made his family suffer. You said his pen carried weight, sir. He suffered from the same delusion. If that was true, he would have received awards from government institutions. We live in a democracy now, not under a dictatorship. These days, awards are given after assessing a person’s abilities and are based on the merits of their work.”

Sahib laughed. I also smiled a little. “Does your family miss him?’” he asked after a short silence.

“No, sir, not at all. Father was already upset with him. But mother was very fond of him. She loved everything about him. When he would finally come home after wandering around all night, he would find her waiting for him with a bowl of food. But eventually, she also gave up.”

“Did you ever talk to him?”

“A lot, sir, but it was useless. As Lal Dĕd said: do not waste words of wisdom on a fool.”

Sahib rose quickly. I too got up. He went inside. I sat back on the sofa.

I had counseled my brother on many occasions. I had lectured him at length. I would summon all my knowledge and all my wisdom to persuade him. He would listen to me in silence, only to laugh it all off in the end. It made me feel inferior and made my words sound hollow. Eventually, I decided to get rid of him. I would never flourish otherwise. Several times, I thought of strangling him, but whenever I stood before him, my strength ebbed and I was drenched in sweat.

Something odd happened a few days ago, though. He came home at midnight, tears streaming down his cheeks. He hugged me the moment he saw me and sobbed inconsolably. I wiped his tears and asked him what was wrong. His voice was strained when he replied, “You made fun of my clothes and my vagabond way of life all the time, but I never took it badly. I always stood on my own two feet. I was neither helpless nor dependent. I had entrusted a hundred thousand rupees to someone, but today I found out that he’s bankrupt. Totally broke. Maybe he was always penniless, and I mistook him for a millionaire. Basically, I am ruined.”

I smelled his breath. Perhaps he’d had an extra drink that day, which is why the wretch was talking of lakhs and crores. Then he became even more incoherent and began to ramble. He talked about communism, then switched to the music halls of Czechoslovakia. He boasted about socialism and then he blathered on about income tax. He delivered a sermon on Gandhi’s non-violence and spoke of smoke rising from the cotton mills of Ahmedabad. Finally, he collapsed, exhausted, and fell to the floor with a thud.

This is the moment, I thought. I steeled myself, sought courage from God and strangled him in the dead of night. His eyes popped out and he quickly turned cold. In the morning, everyone saw his corpse lying in the room. His bulging eyes were horrifying. When we closed his eyes before covering his face, two big tears rolled out of them.

Sahib came back into the drawing room. I got up. He sat down.

I also sat down.

“What were you thinking about?” he asked.

“Nothing, sir. I was just admiring your taste. The color of these walls, the design of the sofas, the choice of artwork – sir, you yourself are a great artist!”

He laughed. I also smiled a little.

“I am sure you too must have a well-decorated drawing room.” “How I wish, sir. But because of that miserable fellow, we live in a hovel.”

“For now, you can submit an application for a plot of land. Leave the rest to God.”

Deep inside, I knew that God was with me. Finally, I confessed to Sahib that I was also writing a book and that I would like him to write the foreword.

Sahib laughed. I also smiled a little.

I left there happy. My heart assured me that God would be on my side. But I was worried that the wretch’s ghost would not let me live, prosper, or write in peace. They say that if someone is killed like this, their ghost torments even innocent people until the Day of Judgement.


From For Now, It’s Night by Hari Krishna Kaul, trans. by  Kalpana Raina, Tanveer Ajsi, Gowhar Fazili, and Gowhar Yaqoob. Used with permission of the publisher, Archipelago Books. Copyright © 2024 by Hari Krishna Kaul. 

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