Secrets not to be exposed at any cost !
Kutni, a name that was not held in high dignity in the society refers to a trickster woman who transfers secrets from one person to another. It is another character that played an important role amongst the elite of late 19th, early 20th century Lucknow. It is generally believed that these women were those born through a secret liaison between a well to do gentleman and a woman from the lower income group of society; they were also comprised of servants from the Zenana who moved between the domestic quarters and the public bazaar, gained importance in the eyes of the Lady of the house, and became their confidante; thus, being mainly deployed to keep track of the ‘other women’ favored by their men.
They played upon superstitious beliefs and rituals of gossip in the Zenan Khana to gain importance, and sometimes power; playing the perfect role of a deceptive ‘mole’, planted inside the Zenana for whom- so-ever willing to pay the highest price for ‘inside’ information. They kept track of all goings on inside and outside the house and had every information, particularly concerning various ‘interests’ of the Man In- charge, and his ‘extra-curricular’ activities that included many off-springs unknown to the world outside.
The anonymous productions of various gentlemen were known to the Kutnis at the back of their hand and were always available on their finger tips. This information was particularly very useful for the fact that firstly, it brought them money and wealth, and secondly, allowed them manipulations in fixing marriages between these categories, especially that of the girls, since it was difficult getting them suitable propositions. The Kutnis extracted huge amount for fixing such marriages.
An interesting anecdote told by my grand-father, on the subject of Kutnis, was that of a broken engagement, by the ‘kutnapa’ of a woman who was offered a fortune to do the needful; she carried out the job to perfection, by simply pouring the following words into the ear of the girl’s mother:
“Ay bi kahan rishta ker rahi ho? Ay hai ghazub khuda ka, Allah say daro! Yeh dono towe bhai-bahen hain!” (Look here woman! Where do you think you are giving your girl? Do be afraid of Allah! The two are siblings!)
Just like the ‘Chaudhrayan’ of a kotha, ‘Phapha Kutni’ owned a gang of 20 to 25 Kutnis working under her as paid workers. She also had a couple of ‘Bankas’ & ‘Tirchaas’, and a satisfactory number of ‘Shohdas’ under her command – the required ‘muscle- power’ to get things fixed and keeping the naughty ones under control.
Ibrahim Ali Khan
Writer is resident of Shish Mahel Lucknow and member of Awadh’s Royal Family
(Published in The Lucknow Observer, Volume 1 Issue 9, Dated 05 December 2015)