Josna Rege

128. The Kurta Joke

In Family, India, Inter/Transnational, Stories, storytelling on November 18, 2011 at 1:16 pm

At family gatherings, after a big meal, we would all cluster round my dad and beg him to tell us the kurta joke. If he was feeling expansive he would comply, although as the years went by he would wonder aloud whether he still remembered it, heightening our suspense with periodic hesitations as he meandered toward the punchline. Dad isn’t generally given to telling jokes, but this one—more of a story than a joke, really—somehow became his party piece.

And so he would begin:

“Common Man,” R. K. Laxman

“The headman, or sarpanch, of a certain village was setting out to a meeting of the heads of  a group of neighboring villages. He had only just started on his way—on foot, of course—when the village simpleton called out from behind asking him to wait. When he caught up, the simpleton asked where he was going and whether he could accompany him on his journey. The sarpanch replied:

—I’m going to the neighboring village to represent our village at a meeting of several other headmen.

“The simpleton looked impressed and fell silent for a few minutes as they continued to walk on steadily, side by side.  Then he said, thoughtfully,

—That’s an awfully old kurta you’re wearing. It’s worn at the elbows and, look, there’s a stain right down the front. What kind of impression will it give of our village at the regional meeting?

“The sarpanch was a little annoyed, but he knew the simpleton meant well so he overlooked the remarks. He merely replied in mild tones that it couldn’t be helped because he didn’t have another kurta. But his helpful companion had an idea:

—I know, why don’t I lend you my kurta? It’s brand new, and you will be able to hold up your head and our village’s reputation at the meeting.

“The headman was going to decline but thought better of it, especially when he saw how eagerly the simpleton was making his generous offer. So they stopped and exchanged kurtas right there on the road, and continued on their way, for the village where the meeting was to be held was still several miles hence.

“By and by they saw a traveler coming toward them from the other direction. As they neared each other, the simpleton greeted him eagerly and with a proud, proprietory air launched in on energetic introductions.

—Good morning, huzoor! This is our village sarpanch. He is going to such-and-such a village for a regional meeting of headmen. And the kurta he’s wearing is mine!

“This embarrassed the sarpanch no end, and as soon as the traveler was out of earshot he turned on the simpleton and said to him angrily,

—Why did you have to mention that the kurta was yours? Don’t do that again, do you hear? It is injurious to my standing as the village sarpanch.

“Immediately contrite,  the honest simpleton readily agreed, and so they continued on their way once again. After a few more miles they saw in the distance another traveler coming slowly toward them, and the headman looked hard at the simpleton and said,

—Remember, don’t tell him that the kurta is yours.

“The simpleton assured him that he wouldn’t make the same mistake twice, and the headman breathed a sigh of relief. As they met, the simpleton again took it upon himself to introduce his illustrious companion:

—Good afternoon, huzoor. This is our village sarpanch. He is going to such-and-such a village for a regional meeting of headmen. And the kurta he is wearing. . . is his own.

“As soon as they were at a safe distance from the second traveler, the headman stopped in his tracks, faced the simpleton, took him by the shoulders and glared angrily into his eyes.

—Listen here, what did you mean by that remark? You drew even more attention to the kurta by saying it was mine. There is no need to mention the kurta at all. If we come upon another traveler, please, please, don’t say anything about the kurta again! Do you understand me?

“The simpleton assured the headman that he did indeed understand and that he would never again make the mistake. He was clearly so very sorry that the headman was soon ashamed of having lost his temper. He made his peace with the poor fellow and they set on their way once again. They were nearing their destination when they saw in the distance another traveler making his way toward them. The headman gave the simpleton a meaningful look, and the simpleton nodded reassuringly, as if to say, Don’t worry, I’ve got it under control.  Soon they were close enough for the simpleton to begin his introductions, a task which he took very seriously and of which he never seemed to tire.

—Good evening, huzoor. This is our village sarpanch. He is going to such-and-such a village for a regional meeting of headmen. But don’t ask me about the kurta he is wearing: I don’t know anything about it!”

We never tire of the kurta joke, no matter how many times my father has told it.

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  1. hahaha! How are you Josna? I’m well in sunny L.A.– the PhD’s going great! Will you be around for Christmas? If so, perhaps we could have a cheese date and catch up…

    xo,
    Sophia

    • Sophia! How nice to hear from you. So glad you’re enjoying your program—and yes, I’d welcome a cheese date anytime over the holidays. It’s been way too long and I would love to catch up. Hugs and xxx Josna

  2. Delightful story! Please thank your dad!
    Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

  3. Great story! I love your father’s sense of humor.

    • Glad you enjoyed it, Sarah. As a rule I try to tell my own stories, not other people’s, but first, my Dad isn’t “other people,” second, this story is part of the collective memory of our family and circle of friends, and third, I just wanted to tell it! I read it to him and he not only approved but was tickled by the responses.

  4. Guess that shows that you shouldn’t deal with simpletons. Or is it showing that the man going to the meeting was a sort of simpleton too.

    • You know, Kristin, in all these years I don’t think it had occurred to me to ask what its lesson was! Perhaps it suggests that you should think twice before you accept a favor from someone in order to look good to others, because it is likely to come back to bite you. After all, who could fault the simpleton for wanting the world to know that it was he who was the man responsible for the sarpanch looking so smart?

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