Thursday, March 30, 2006

Dastan Excerpt


he Trickster

Tilism-e-Hoshruba, or the ‘enchantment that takes away your senses’ is the name given to one daftar (section) of the 46 volume Dastan-e-Amir Hamza.
Tilism, a magical effect or enchantment, is a magic-infested zone, cast by a sorcerer and its properties vary. Tilism-e-Hoshruba, constructed by Afrasiyab Jadu,
the Emperor of Sorcerers, is both a physical reality as well as an imaginative effect.

The oral narration of the Dastan-e-Amir Hamza was a popular pastime in most parts of central, western and South Asia, and also North Africa since
medieval times. Composed originally in Persian, when the story began to be published in Urdu in nineteenth century Lucknow, it grew from a single
volume to a mammoth 46 volume text, the greatest narrative prose fiction composed in Urdu, and possibly the longest in the world. Dastan-e-Amir
Hamza describes the battles of Amir Hamza, the Prophet Mohammed’s uncle, against infidels, sorcerers and other pretenders to divinity. Chief among
his supporters is Amar, an ayyar, or trickster, who resorts to chicanery, disguise and tricks to dupe magicians and kill them. Comprising magical battles, the creation of magical realms or tilisms, ayyari (trickery) and convivial gatherings, the dastans were meant, unabashedly, to entertain people which
overlay a simple message of the triumph of good over evil, rather like Hindi cinema which it deeply influenced.

While Hamza fights against his gigantic perennial enemy, the false god Laqa, Amar and some other members of his force drift into the Tilism-e-
Hoshruba which is only destroyed after some 8000 pages of closely printed text, of which the following comprises three pages.

Amar, Hamza’s chief ayyar (trickster), is captured several times over
by Afrasiyab, the Emperor of the Sorcerers, in the first volume of the
Tilism-e-Hoshruba itself. Each time, though, he effects his escape, either
through his own ingenuity or because of Afrasiyab’s credulity. It is in
Amar’s nature to trick people and he will always do so, it is Afrasiyab’s
lot to be tricked and it will continue to be so...

Afrasiyab knocked. The earth parted and a saahir (sorcerer/magician)
emerged. A hideous sight he was. Afrasiyab handed the saahir a takhti
(wooden writing tablet) and said, “O Aazar Jaadu! Be off immediately.
Amar Ayyar has murdered Mehtaab in the forest, and is still at large. Go,
find him and arrest him. And so that you recognise him, here is a picture.
Though it is the photograph of a woman, it will assume the face of the
ayyar, in his real form, no matter how he disguises himself. When you
come across anyone on the way in the forest, be sure to see this photograph first. And if the one who you meet is not the ayyar, the picture will
remain of a woman.”

And so with the photo in his hands, Aazar Jaadu set off for
Mehtaab’s forest and started searching for Amar in all directions. But
Amar too was in the same forest and sitting at a spot, wondering, “Let us
see what happens here. There are thousands and thousands of saahirs in
this forest. How will one kill them all? We are trapped in a tilism and do
not know where the lauh-e-tilism (the template containing secrets about the
tilism’s destruction) is? Who knows what happened to Asad, where has he
gone? Is he even alive or is he dead?”

As he sat thinking, Amar saw a saahir wandering about, as if searching for someone. Amar thought in his heart, “This bastard should also be
killed. The fewer there are of these, the better it is.” And thinking this, he
disguised himself as a saahir and headed off in his direction. Aazar beheld
that a magician with flames erupting from his ears, eyes and nose was
coming towards him. Aazar Jaadu went towards him and asked, “Who
are you?” Amar said, “First you tell me your name!” Aazar Jaadu told
him his name and lineage and said he had come to find Amar. Amar said,
“I too am looking for him. I am a relative of Mehtaab Jaadu and from the
moment I have heard of his death, I am in search of this Amar the trickster.” Aazar said, “Let us look for him together.” Amar set off with him

and was looking for a chance to kill him when Aazar Jadu remembered –
“The Emperor had said, look at the picture whenever you meet anyone.”

And so he pulled out the photograph and beheld that it had
assumed the shape of the real Amar – fox-faced, cumin-eyed, apricot-
eared, kulcha (flat bread) like cheeks, thread like neck, rope-limbed. His
lower torso was six yards and the upper portion measured three yards.
Seeing this vision of apocalypse, Aazar Jaadu got nervous and realised
that this was an ayyar before him, who had changed his form to that of a
sorcerer with trickery.

He mumbled a spell and Amar instantly lost control of his hands
and legs. Aazar Jaadu pulled out a chain from his bag, tied Amar’s hands
and started walking with Amar by his side. Amar pleaded, “Oh brother!
Why do this to me without rhyme or reason!” Aazar replied, “You cheat,
you were tricking me? I am well aware of your affair, you are the one
called Amar.”

Amar became angry and said, “Child, doesn’t look like you will survive now. Looks like you have cut yourself a ticket to hell. Do you have
any idea that one lakh eighty four thousand ayyars have entered the
tilism. One or the other is bound to appear and kill you.”

Aazar said, “I will kill them all. I am not one to be frightened by
your threats.” And he marched on with Amar.

From a distance Zirgaam saw that a saahir had captured his master
and was taking him away. Looking for a way to free him he found, up
ahead, an ahir (cowherd) herding his cows. He went up to him, tricked
him and hid him, unconscious, in the bushes. He then wore his clothes –
headgear, loin cloth and waistband – and painted his face like the ahir. He
picked up a stake and started tending to the cows.

When Aazar Jaadu reached the spot with Amar, he saw a cowherd
tending to his flock. Since the heat was intense and he had been walking
long, as soon as Aazar Jaadu saw the ahir, he said, “O ahir, if you have a lota
(brass pot) and a string, fetch me some water, please.” The ahir said, “O
Lord, you have been walking in the sun. If you want, I can get you some
milk. Drink milk, what is water?”

This was Zirgaam’s trick, but would Aazar Jaadu realise it?

Translated by Shveta Sarda from the Dastan-e-Amir Hamza, performed by Mahmood U.R. Farooqui, Sarai-CSDS Independent Fellow 2004-05,
at the Independent Fellowship Workshop, Sarai-CSDS, 26 August 2005, Delhi.

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