Letter from the hills: Canning the canner

Last time the earth trembled, our phone began to ring.

‘Didn’t feel a thing!’ I make

light of

it. That leaves some most disappointed, others disheartened and a few relieved.

Living in Zone Four of the Rajpur Fault, we know the next one is eight hundred years behind schedule. If you consider the fact that the Kangra earthquake of 1905, flattened the steeple of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Kulri bazaar, giving birth to doggerel:

The Kulri clock has had a shock –

Enough to knock it off its block

And make it rock – ah!

Hanhart and Bechtler both have tried

To titivate it’s shocked inside,

So now they’ve called Fisher,

The watchmaker and undertaker!

Of course Mr. Hanhart and Mr. Bechtler had jewellery and watch repairing establishments; while Arthur Fisher’s special gifts were no secret – he did to people when they had finished doing what he was going to do to them.

Meanwhile on Landour’s South Road tales of many a dalliance survive. There was the tinsmith, whose tinning all day left his pretty wife many hours for plans of her own.

And he being a wise man, realised the dangers of leaving his wife alone, locking her in their single room from the outside. But prudently, he would slip the key right back to her through the gap under the doorsill, in case a catastrophe should strike while he was away.

On his return, she would pass the key back to her lord and master, letting him in. Months sped by happily, he was content that he had managed to keep the serpent out of his Garden of Eden.

She was happy at the easy access it gave her to forbidden fruit. Using the same key, Eve admitted, wooed and shooed her lover by the clock.

That is until the day, a simple ailment struck her husband. The rumblings in his tummy drove him home three hours earlier than usual. At first, even as he danced around gripping his middle, his knocking went unanswered. Then under the door, out tinkled the key. The moment of his entry was the moment he forgot why he had come home.

One look and he saw the base of the eternal triangle. The two men stared at each other in deepest silence. When he found his voice, he managed to utter: ‘Accha abh jao.’ (Now! You go.)

What did our canner do? He asked her to collect all her belongings, down to the tiniest trinket he had ever given her and took her down to Dehra, bought her a one-way train ticket to her maiden home – and almost before the train steamed out, he turned his back on her forever. I don’t believe our village idiot when he tells me that our tinsmith’s tale gave birth to the tongue-twister: ‘A canner extremely canny,

once said to his Granny, a canner can can anything he can. But a canner can’t can a canna, can he?’

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