Saturday, March 6, 2010

Nostalgic memories

Some memories are just nostalgic. I have such memories about Bhopal.

The other day I was looking through Bhopal Nama, a poetic version of the history of Bhopal, its people, language and culture compiled by my elder brother, Abdul Hafeez Khan, a poet in his own right. This book was launched in Bhopal in 2007 by Dr Balram Jhaker, governor of Madhya Pardesh, a graduate of Aitchison College, Lahore, with excellent knowledge of Urdu literature. The famous episode of Shaqqul-Qamar (cleaving asunder of the moon – Para 27 Surah Qamar) has been mentioned in Bhopal Nama. The phenomenon was sighted by Bhojpal, the then ruler and founder of Bhopal. It is said that, on seeing the moon’s cleavage and learning about our Holy Prophet (PBUH), he sent emissaries with many gifts, including betel leaves, for the Holy Prophet (PBUH). Hazrat Amir Khusro, greatest of all poets, wrote a famous couplet on this:

Sabzie o qateh baras-o-juzam

Baquole Nabie waqt Alaehissalam

(The Holy Prophet, after tasting the pan leaves, said that it could cure leukoderma and leprosy.)

Ziauddin Barni, his compatriot, wrote in Tarikh-e-Feroz Shahi that there were many poets in the reign of Sultan Alauddin Khilji, but one such as Khusro had never existed before and have never appeared since. Amir Khusro was a master in every field of prose, poetry, masnavi, ghazal, qasida, and music. He knew Urdu, Persian, Hindi, Sanskrit, Turkish, Arabic, etc. His forefathers came from Trans-Oxania and were of Turkish origin. Khusro was not only a man of letters but also an expert swordsman. Through his marriage with the daughter of Imadul Mulk, Minister of War of Sultan Balban, he was an integral part of the royalty. He was a disciple of Hazrat Nizamudin Aulia.

It is said that when Hazrat Nizamudin Aulia was sick and bedridden, Hazrat Amir Khusro used to tell him stories and anecdotes that he made up to cheer him. Here follows one, The Three Princes of Ceylon.

There was once a wise king who reigned in Ceylon. He had three sons who all excelled in learning and physical sports. One day the king decided to test them. He called them, one by one, starting with the oldest. “I am old,” he said. “You are the heir to the throne. Rule wisely, so your subjects may be loyal, and protect them well.” All the princes bowed deeply before their father and denied any wish to ascend the throne during his lifetime. Although pleased with their responses, the king, to their consternation, banished them from the kingdom. They travelled together to a neighbouring kingdom. On their way to the capital they were met by an Ethiopian who cried: “Gentle travellers! Have you seen my camel?”

“Had it lost an eye?” asked the first prince.

“Had it lost a tooth?” asked the second prince.

“Was it lame?” asked the third prince.

“Since you have seen it, tell me where to find it,” cried the Ethiopian.

“Go straight and quick,” the three princes replied simultaneously.

The Ethiopian went in search of his camel and the princes travelled on. While resting under a tree, the Ethiopian fell upon them with cries of anger declaring that he had searched all over and had not found his camel.

“Does your camel carry a jar of oil on one side and a jar of honey on the other side of its back?” asked the first prince.

“Is there a woman seated on it?” asked the second prince.

“And is not that woman in the last stage of pregnancy?” asked the third prince.

The Ethiopian angered into thinking that they must have stolen his camel if they knew so much about it, raised a hue and cry and insisted that the princes be taken to the king for punishment. When the case came before the king, the princes stated that they had travelled far and wide and, coming upon the Ethiopian, decided to have some sport in order to increase his anxiety. The king too became angered by this and had them thrown into the dungeon. Next morning the camel was duly found, with the woman still sitting on it. The king was immediately informed and the princes released and brought before him. “How did you know so much about the camel while you had never seen it?” he enquired. The princes bowed deeply before him and explained:

“I saw that only the leaves and branches on one side of the road had been eaten and thus assumed that the animal was blind in one eye?” said the first prince.

“I saw that the leaves and twigs had only been half eaten and thus assumed that the animal had lost a tooth,” said the second prince.

“I saw that the impressions left by the camel showed it to have been dragging one foot,” said the third prince.

“All very well,” said the king, “but what about your other remarks?”

“There were drops on the road. Those on one side swarmed with ants, while the ones on the other side had collected flies. This could only have been due to honey and oil,” replied the first prince.

“Marks on the road showed that, at one place, the camel had squatted. Beside those marks I saw the delicate impressions of a woman’s shoes,” replied the second prince.

“Beside those footprints I saw impressions of her hands also. Only a woman advanced in pregnancy would have to crawl in order to get on to the camel’s back,” replied the third prince.

The king, duly impressed, presented them with robes of honour and a house to live in, where he often visited them. One day he sent them roast lamb to eat and wine to drink.

“The wine seems to have human blood in it,” remarked the first Prince.

“The lamb seems to have been nursed by a bitch,” remarked the second prince.

“Why complain about trifles when the king himself is not the real son of his predecessor. He has a butler’s blood in his veins,” remarked the third prince.

The king, who had been listening from an adjoining room, bristled with indignation. He appeared before them and asked them to repeat what they had just said. Though angered, he decided to investigate. He soon came to know that the grapes were from a vineyard which had once been a graveyard. After much reluctance, the shepherd confessed that, having lost a sheep to the wolves, he had decided to let the kid be suckled by his bitch. Most difficult of all was the matter of his mother. After much prevarication from her and threats from the king, she finally confessed to having had an affair with the butler. Regretting what he had set out to find, he returned to the three princes.

“I congratulate you on your remarkable intelligence” he said. “It would be unfair to keep you cooped up in one city.” With that he gave them a hundred gold pieces each and bade them farewell. The three princes then returned to the kingdom of their father. The logical reasoning used by Khusro to explain the riddles could put even Sherlock Holmes and Inspector Colombo to shame.

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