The Chumpi-Wallah's Great Day Told by Baba's sister, Mani, at Meherazad, Christmas 1975

 The Chumpi-Wallah's Great Day


In the days when Merwan worked as helper in his father's toddy shop, there was an old man who used to come there regularly. He was an opium- taker as well as a toddy (palm wine) drinker, but he was no idler. He worked and supported himself by his own efforts, and if he chose to spend his small resources on opium and toddy, he did no harm to anyone and owed no man anything. The old man made his living partly as a chumpi-wallah (a man who does Indian massage with the fingers), and partly as a 'waker-up' - that is he would call round at any time and rouse people for a small fee by rattling on their doors and windows. Among his regular customers were the mullahs who had to be up to summon their followers from the minarets at the hour of early morning prayer.

The chumpi-wallah had one unusual habit. When he had taken a few drinks he would start to doze while still standing up. Once asleep, he would lean forward, and still further forward, till at last he had folded up like a penknife and his head was almost resting on his feet.

This old man had taken a great liking to young Merwan.

"Merwanji," he used to say, "you are the only one I trust, so I want you to make the arrangements"for my funeral. I want a good funeral, mind, one that people will talk about and remember for a long time to come. So, Merwanji, you will see I get a good funeral, won't you?" Then he would hand over to Merwan a coin or two, to be added to the small hoard which was slowly accumulating.

"Don't worry," Merwan would reply. "You'll get your funeral".

At last a day came when the old man did not wake up from his sleep, and Merwan planned his funeral. Not only all the old man's friends and fellow- drinkers, but everyone who knew Merwan and his family were asked to come. There were musicians with their instruments, singers, dancers. . . . and the procession winding its jubilant way through the streets attracted bystanders in such numbers that the tail had soon lost sight of the head.

Then more and more people tagged themselves on, saying: "What a procession! Anyone can see this is some rich man's daughter who is getting married. There's bound to be a feast. Join in and keep going - we shall be sure to get a share!"

In the end it seemed that all other activities had been abandoned in Poona for the day, and the whole town was taking part in the funeral which Merwan had organised for the old chumpi-wallah.

Told by Baba's sister, Mani, at Meherazad, Christmas 1975, and noted by Tom Hopkinson.