The Zaina Kadal Bridge, Srinagar
Image from the book Irene Petrie : Missionary to Kashmir (1903). Photographs by Geoffroy Millias.- coutesey Vinayak Razdan.

A Short Story
B L Dhar
He was born on the new-year’s day on 1st of January 1990 at the SMHS Hospital in Srinagar, exactly at mid-day and was declared fit and healthy and weighed 3.6 Kilograms. The boy had a fair complexion and no hair at all on his perfectly round head. After a brief spell of crying, a broad smile appeared on his face even when his eyes were still closed. Another Khazanchi was born. The mother faced some pre-birth contractions but no pain on her first delivery and it appeared to her as if he were just a slippery finger that popped out on its own. It was the first day of the week and the month and the year. Everybody was at work except the mother-in-law who was by her side as the new mother was brought out from the labor-room where she had spent a couple of hours. The boy was handed over to the mother for his first feed after some cleaning and wrapped in a warm blanket. Grandma did not know how to inform her husband who was at work and her son was out of the country and she did not have access to make a phone call. But she was sure the old man would return early from work that day and come directly to the hospital. She said a prayer in silence and wished well for her grandson and remembered her own son who was now 29 and oceans away after he was offered a job by a multinational on a very substantial pay package.

Khazanchis’ was a well-known family residing at Chattabal in a crowded locality some distance away from the Tonga Stand and close to the oil mill in the locality. The house was a small two floor building with a large entrance door having ornate carvings engraved all over, representing a timeline of almost a century. It is known that Kashinath, who built it was a rich money-lender and a miser. But he let his money flow when it came to building this new house close to the location of his small old home. The old one had a sloping mud thatched roof that had invited weeds to grow on it and had all rooms of a smaller size with thinner wall bricks called the “maharaja brick”. He made an allowance this time to make the rooms a bit bigger with bricks of normal size. The roof of the new house was laid with wooden shingles interspersed with corrugated steel sheets at the joints to prevent rain or melting snow enter inside. He did not think it fit to demolish the old house when he occupied the new one. He used it as a storage facility to keep all his unwanted items which he did not like to throw away. He made sure not to use the straw mats (waguv) in the new house and got the floor of all his rooms covered with coir mat which was just introduced in the valley at that time and he selected bold colors to decorate his own room (baithak) on the ground floor that he used for his business. The dealer who gave him the coir mat was one of his clients. The lot that he gave him was in fact the leftovers from a government order that was supplied to all the primary schools within the city limits. This way the trader cleared a better part of his debt to Kashinath that he had raised in the course of his business. Kashinath Khazanchi kept his seat close to the window where he had a wooden box containing all his documentation needs in front of him as he sat on a woolen “namda” with a “takia” behind him. He conducted his business at the window and it was only the elite clients who got admitted into his “baithak”.

His son also dealt with money as he grew up and worked as the head cashier at the Laxmi Commercial Bank where he stayed till his early death due to consumption two years before his due date of retirement. The next generation man ended up as the Manager of the J&K Bank branch and it was he who was blessed with a grandson on this beautiful day. Dina Nath was still at his job and had a few years to go until his retirement as his own son qualified as a probationary officer in the State Bank of India with his work place in Delhi. Because he obtained his MBA from a prestigious college from Calcutta he was recently offered a position at the Hong Kong & Shanghai Bank and was presently out at their facility at Singapore where he was on a familiarization program for three months before he returned to take charge at the Delhi office. Their story of dealing with money did not end here. The next protégée was perhaps going to end up in money business as well and the smile at his birth said so much clearly. It appeared the family was blessed with treasury as the title they inherited but cursed for not having more kids except a son to each in the last four generations.

For Dina Nath it was a serious matter and he had to decide quickly. Things were getting out of hand and the law and order situation in the valley was unhealthy for living with no suggestion coming from his son in whom he had ample faith and trust. Once he saw his neighbors leave the valley he felt he too should follow suit. It appeared to him that his acquaintances of the other faith had developed murderous tendencies and were perhaps eager to see him leave. He had no choice but to deliver his grandson to his own father who had entrusted the safety of his wife in his hands. It was finally on the 19th day of his grandson’s birth that he left the valley expecting to return soon when normalcy would be restored. He may have erred in not taking his precious things with him but he made sure he carried the birth certificate of his grandson with him on his departure. He reached Jammu with just a few belongings and took abode at the house of his daughter-in-law’s parents who were living in the government quarters there. As days passed he had a feeling the return process will perhaps be prolonged and waited for the return of his son from Singapore before taking a decision about his future course of action. It was only another month he had to wait and decided to stay on as his son’s in-laws insisted that they do so.

The next twenty years passed with events unfolding in patterns of highs as the family engaged in creating an identity of their own at Delhi where they finally settled down leaving their home of ancestors to the greed of their neighbors who occupied the house and called it as their own, offering a pittance to the rightful owners. And it was in Delhi that a long drawn curse to the family was cured as a girl was born in the family two years after the boy’s birth This event was celebrated with much fanfare and feasting and prayers were offered at temples across the city. Soon thereafter Dina Nath retired from the service of the J&K Bank branch in Delhi that he was offered upon his forced migration from Srinagar and heaved a sigh of relief as he rested his tired bones. His son shifted to the American Express within the next five years and it was there that he acquired a property on interest-free mortgage and it was a huge 2200 square feet 4-bedroom, 3-bathroom apartment in a posh locality where the family now lives. He paid off his debts in six years flat and got the title and deed registered in his own name. The parents were getting old but for Ravi, the young Khazanchi, work kept him on the move all through the month leaving the custody of his kids in the hands of an efficient father who provided good upbringing, customs and traditions to the young Vivek and Varsha in his care. They grew up like normal kids except that their inclinations showed a different pattern of their likes when it came to choosing a career.

It was a very big change in the pattern of trade that young Vivek engrossed himself in much to the amazement of the family. His interests were varied and he dabbled in anything but money or banks and kept his interests rooted in arts and humanities while it was Varsha who showed a lot of interest in Commerce and trade. Vivek was very good in picking up languages and he easily learnt the intricate tongue twisting languages of the southern part of India that included Tamil and Telgu during his college sojourn. The languages had in reality intimidated him for a while until he decided to take control and master these nonetheless. What made him so good in the art is still unknown but it probably was his intimacy with students of these communities in his college that made him pick up these languages so fast and he practiced with ease with them. The only person not surprised was his grandfather who had observed this trait in him right at his young age while seeking help in understanding and appreciating the nuances of the Sanskrit language in which he attained a good command and could understand the meaning of all the “shlokas” that the grandfather would recite for him. In fact the base grammar for all these languages is the same as Sanskrit and it is now the pronunciation of the language that requires some kind of tuning. He also elected to study French during his college vacation at the Alliance François and when he felt comfortable with it he took up other languages like German and Spanish with inputs from the consulates of these countries in Delhi. Learning by rote was easy but he required practice for conversing for which he used other audio and visual methods like playing a taped conversation or watching a movie in these languages that helped a lot. At the outset he turned out to be a linguist. As regards Varsha she progressed well in Commerce and at the end she took up a study in Cost & Works Accountancy. It is her ultimate aim to go for graduation as a Chartered Accountant.

It remained a matter of speculation as to the job that would suit Vivek and everyone chipped in with ideas that were ruled out by the aspirant himself. Perhaps he did not know what exactly he wanted to do as regards taking up a career with the qualification he had assimilated over the last four years. But destiny usually knocks at the door when it is time for the sparks to fly.

During his college days, besides on a language learning spree, Vivek was actively involved in student politics and was elected as President of the youth wing of a major political party gaining an insight in the intricacies of politics. He had delivered speeches to the students at the college and sometimes at the youth conference and actively participated in seminars and debates on social issues and had impressed some top political leaders on the sideline who found potential of a successful politician in the making. His skills in South Indian languages earned him some glances from the political class and there were murmurs of the usefulness of his abilities. Some politicians who had watched this young man were on the look-out to induct him actively into the routine of things. They wanted to groom him in time for the next general elections and saw a great potential in him to represent them effectively as a candidate of the North who could storm the South bastion of politics with a bang and upgrade their numbers in a big way. His ability to speak to the people in their own language and speak effectively was seen as a plus point for any North-Indian politician to score over his fellow countrymen in the South. Soon after his 23rd Birthday in January he was summoned to the party office and a proposal put forth before him that he could not refuse.

Vivek was ceremoniously inducted into the party fold and given a set of responsibilities that he willingly accepted. In the months following his induction he toured various constituencies of his party colleagues and spoke to the people at large and painted pictures of quality governance that the people were generally deprived of. The ruling party was busy flouting the opposition and it appeared that there was a set agenda for them that was never going to help anybody in bringing any benefit to the people in any manner. The ruling party never ever said what they can do for the common man and only said what the other party would not do for them. Vivek changed the pattern and instead sent positive vibes about the quality of governance that people could expect. He found a youth following that was unprecedented in the annals of Indian politics. The party was happy with his performance and decided to give him more latitude in his style of functioning and the post of a party General Secretary was being considered enthusiastically. Vivek himself felt he had correctly picked up his future and was looking forward to accomplishing his best career option that would please his mentors and his well-wishers that included his family. His father was not at all certain if he was doing the right thing but he never protested at what he did. They only looked in amazement at the way his popularity graph kept growing. The phone lines never stopped ringing in their house and nor did the growing visits of politicians of all hues abate.

When the Election Commission announced the poll dates for the states, an active party president called an emergency executive meeting at the party office. There were some decisions that had to be taken that would ruffle the feathers of some old timers. But there was a unanimity in the decision that a change had to be brought in to survive in the field of politics. While making a list to field the candidates for various constituencies it came as no surprise that almost all candidates were under the age of 50. Older candidates were not allowed to participate in active elections but were given party work to strengthen the party base. Portfolios were allocated for all and nobody missed the most cherished name of Vivek. He was declared to be the Party General Secretary with an additional responsibility as the Treasurer of the party. Vivek got amazed at the portfolio allocation. Was it a quirk of fate or the manifestation of his dreams that he had not realized as a possiblity. His family name “khazanchi” would not divest him of the responsibility of his “karma” that his ancestors retained in the family. A ‘khazanchi’ had to be a ‘khazanchi’ for the rest of life unless the genetic mutations would change the genomes for them all. But Vivek was not unhappy. He had after all selected his career for himself.

It was time for the grandfather to muse over the situation as the family remembered their 23 years of exile from the land of their forefathers. They may have shed their old garments but the memory of their lives spent in the land of their ancestors will remain fresh in their minds for all time to come. Will the new generation be able to go back remains a mute question.
Shri B.L. Dhar was born and brought up at Srinagar. After completing his Master’s Degree in Mathematics he ventured out of the state and found a job in the Civil Aviation Department joining as a Gazetted Officer. His area of activity was at Delhi and Mumbai International airports. He was selected to undergo training at the school of aviation; Luxembourg under the UNDP program and later posted at the Corporate Headquarters in New Delhi. He had in the meantime joined the newly formed PSU, Airports Authority of India, from where he retired as a General Manager in 2000. He has written innumerable articles about aviation that was published in the house magazine. He is now settled in Delhi and keeps his interest alive in writing..
It is a beautiful story narrated in most simple way. Khazanchi has finance in DNA. I also know one Mr R N Khazanchi who is an excellent Engineer. After retiring from India he is advisor/consultant to Govt of Bhutan on Energy matters. May be he also belongs to the same clan. Thanks for such nice stories which take us down memory lane.
Added By Chander Kaul
It is a beautiful story. Once you start, you want to read it till the end.
Added By Deepak Ganju