Here is the last part of the story of Mian Kamal Din (1917-2000), Four Wise Men, that was left unfinished last week.

Now it was the turn of the men in search of their woman. Suthi [adjudicator] asked them to state their case. They replied that they had asked the brother whether they had seen a person going this way and in return he inquired, “Is that person a woman? Is she a weaver woman? Is she pregnant and estranged? And then they say they know nothing about her.” “Yes, I said the footprints were those of a female,” explained the eldest. “Sir, I said, she was a weaver woman because her one step was longer than the other one, a sign of her being used to run around warp and weft,” explained the second one. The third one spoke, “I thought she was estranged. She would go ahead and turn back to see whether or not someone was following her.” The fourth brother came up with his explanation, “I could see the prints of palms of her hands on the ground. She needed support to get up after having peed. So I concluded that she was pregnant.”

Thus the men in search of their woman were dispensed with. “Now hear us,” said one brother. “We are four brothers. Our father has died. There is wrangling over who would don the turban. None among us is willing to accept the turban. Now it’s you who will place the turban on someone’s head. We guarantee the acceptance of whatever you decide.”

Suthi got up and left for his home. His counsellors were the wife and the daughter the brothers had met earlier. He told the women, “Those four who are over there are wiser than me. It’s extremely difficult to decide on the matters of the wise. They know their case and are better advocates than me. Advise me as to what should I do”? The mother and the daughter said, “It’s a simple matter. All four are rich men. Offer each a room for the night’s stay and an attendant for service. Then inquire as to how they spend their night. Such an arrangement will show who deserves to be the chief.” Suthi arranged their night stay, a room and an attendant to each. The attendant asked the eldest, “The hostesses want to know how you spend your night”? “I cannot eat anything except wheat bread,” the eldest replied. In those days wheat was a rarity. Wells couldn’t irrigate large chunks of land. Anyway the family provided the required bread. The moment he finished the servant asked whether it was wheat bread. “Yes, it’s wheat but donkeys have been used to chaff the harvest. So it smelt of their urine.” The attendant went back and told Suthi what had expired. “The rascal should have known that we had just a handful of a wheat harvest. How could we afford the bulls to chaff it? But he is right,” commented the Suthi.

The second attendant asked the second brother as to how he would spend his night. “I can’t sleep unless I have a pint of milk, but it should be from a reddish brown buffalo that had given birth to its calf three years back,” he said. The family provided the milk. After having served the milk, the attendant asked whether it was of the similar buffalo. “Yes, but if the buffalo wasn’t pregnant, the milk wouldn’t smell,” the guest replied. The attendant conveyed the comments to the host who said that the guest was right because the buffalo had mated with the male three months back.

The attendant asked the third one as to how he was used to spend his night. “I can’t sleep unless I have a stiff drink,” replied the third one. The host sent him the demon drink. When he had finished his drink, the attendant asked him as to how he liked the drink. “The drink was okay. But some bone was kept burning under the pot when it was being distilled. I couldn’t enjoy it,” the third one said.

The remarks were conveyed to the host.

Lastly the attendant asked the youngest as to how he would spend his night. “I can’t sleep unless a female’s arm is under my head.” The host sent him a harlot. As she was at the door, he shouted, “Don’t enter for God sake. My mother used to put her arm under my head as long as I was a child. After my marriage it’s my wife whose arm supports me. I never gaze at other women,” shouted the guest. The attendant returned home and narrated the conversation.

Next morning the Suthi came to the outhouse. He assembled his guests and pronounced: “In my view the youngest one deserves the turban.” The other three stood up and embraced the youngest. “This chap has been adamant. But we knew all along that he deserved the honour,” they declared. —


Published in Dawn, August 16th, 2021



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