Thursday, March 30, 2006

Firangis and Englishmen in Dastans



While Dastangos are not very scrupulous about a realistic depiction of geographical origin yet the very nature of the adventure, in which travels to distant and far off lands are a sine qua non, necessitates a depiction of linguistic and ethnic diversity. Dastangos take us to distant and widespread places, from Greece to China, Egypt and Byzantine to Hindustan and Sri Lanka.

Different people speak different dialects apart from the benevolent fiery creatures like Djinns or Paris who have their own language. Amir Hamza’s horse Ashqar Devzad is the offspring of a djinn so he speaks to Hamza in the language of djinns.

Amar, Hamza’s chief Ayyar or trickster [whose hardnosed and harsh methods remind one sometimes of Chanakya’s realistic kootneeti] is well-versed with many languages among which is also Hebrew. Barq Firangi, another of the tricksters and Rustam Alamshah (Hamza’s son) lead a firangi platoon and the language of that platoon is English. There is also an entire Tilism, run and controlled by the English, which is called Tilism-e-Khema-e-Firang. The language spoken there is English. Whoever enters that Tilism automatically begins to speak English. Bala Bakhtar, one of the volumes of the cycle composed by Sheikh Tasadduq Husain describes-

“Every camp that the Prince entered he found himself adorned by the dress of the same Vilayat and heard the same speech flowing forth. A beautiful damsel, firangin, came out of that camp and holding him by the hand led him inside. On every kothi and bungalow there were firangins, beautiful, fair, handsomely cast, dressed in splendid finery, wearing English topis of many kinds were seated chairs and enjoying the river flow. One firangi Queen, troublemaker for the heart the affliction without cure, saw the Prince Nooruddahar and instantly upon seeing stood up from her chair and holding him by the hand took him inside the Bungalow and seated him on a jeweled chair. She spoke to him in English. The Prince too replied in the same tongue.” (Bala Bakhtar, Nawal Kishor, 1900, pp624/5)

In the same volume, on p71 Amar speaks in the Hebrew language to his fellow traveler Aadi Pahalwan, a lumbering giant who eats too much and is wont to rest too much too.

“Amar thought that the Pahalwan Aadi has recognized me, he may visit humiliation upon me. Therefore he said to him in Hebrew, o you monstrous eater, I am warning you hold your tongue and do not say anything crude…understanding Amar’s import Aadi replied listen do not talk too much.”

In another work in the same cycle, Aftab-e-Shujaat, vol 3 by Sheikh Tasadduq Husain, we travel to the Tilism-Chahl-Chiragh-e-Sulaimani. Among the stages on this Tilism is also the country of Bartania/Britain whose ruler used to be a Muslim but due to the incitement of the King of the Tilism, Ashdar Parizad, he has turned apostate and become a Kafir.
Can a historical personality fit the bill of [being] Ashdar Parizad?

Excerpt taken from S R FARUQI’s SAHERI, SHAHI, SAHEB QIRANI, A study of Dastan-e-Amir Hamza.

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