Monday, December 21, 2015

An Introduction to Hoshruba by Shahnaz Aijazuddin

The December issue of Out of Print features an excerpt from the Tilism-e-Hoshruba translated and retold by Shanhnaz Aijazuddin. The origins of the tale are story in themselves, and we are pleased to feature a piece by Shahnaz contextualising Hoshruba here on the Out of Print blog:

Tilism-e-Hoshruba – A Summary 
Shahnaz Aijazuddin

Outlines of Hamza Nama
The Dastan of Tilism-e-Hoshruba is the continuation of the Dastan-e-Amir Hamza, the adventures of the legendary hero Amir Hamza. Although the Tilism is a narrative complete in itself, it helps to be familiar with the outlines of the earlier Hamza story to which there are frequent references in the text of the Tilism.
According to the Hamza Nama, the legendary Persian monarch Nausherwan had a troubling dream. He consulted his gifted astrologer Vizier Buzurchmeher, who interpreted the dream as indicating that Nausherwan would lose his kingdom to a rival for several years, and that it would be restored to him by a young Arab to be born in Mecca at the auspicious moment of the conjunction of Jupiter and Venus. That child was to be Amir Hamza, which is why Hamza was later known as Sahib-qiran or Lord of the Conjunction.
Nausherwan sends his vizier Buzurchmeher to Mecca (then part of the Persian empire) to identify the baby and to ensure that he is reared as a ward of the Persian court. Hamza’s father is identified in the narrative as Abu Muttalib, the leader of the Hashemite clan. The choice of the name Abul Muttalib who was the grandfather of the Holy Prophet Muhammad was not accidental, for it used him – a real figure – as a corner-stone character into an essentially fictional text.
Hamza grows up to become a warrior of formidable strength and intelligence. Hamza, being blessed, receives gifts that have supernatural powers. He is also given the Great Name (legendary unknown name of God) that prevails over all forms of magic. His childhood friends - the wily trickster Amar and the loyal archer Muqbil - are also blessed with divine gifts and remain his companions during his numerous adventures.
In time, Nausherwan uses Hamza to fight on his behalf, but in his heart he fears him. His Vizier Bakhtak fuels Nausherwan’s insecurities and plots against Hamza. Amar shields Hamza against Bakhtak’s fiendish schemes. Hamza and the beautiful Meher Nigar, daughter to Nausherwan, fall in love and Nausherwan reluctantly consents to the marriage. Just before the wedding Hamza is wounded in battle and rescued by Jinni-king Shahpal’s vizier.
In return for the kindness Hamza promises the Jinni king that he will vanquish the defiant devs who have taken over his kingdom. Hamza is trapped in Koh Kaf (land of Jinni and fairies) for 18 years due to the machinations of the Jinni king’s daughter Aasman Pari who is besotted with him. Eventually, Hamza returns to Persia and marries his beloved Meher Nigar who has loyally waited for him.
The last part of Hamza’s story involves his return to Mecca. Here, the fictional Hamza becomes the real Hamza bin Abu Muttalib, who defends his nephew the Holy Prophet Muhammad against the Kaffirs of Mecca and is subsequently martyred at the Battle of Uhud. 
Amir Hamza re-appears as a hero in the Tilism-e-Hoshruba. The literal meaning of the word Tilism is enchantment. Hoshruba is an empire of enchantments that contains many other magic-bound realms within it. The Tilisms are deemed to have been created by an ancient pantheon of gods such as Samri, Jamshed, Laat and Manaat who have been long dead but whose magic remains alive through their creations. The realm of Hoshruba itself consists of the Visible and the Invisible Tilisms (divided by the River of Blood) and a mysterious place of the darkest magic best described as the Veil of Darkness. These Tilisms are populated by wizards and witches whose names reflect the kind of magic they practice. Witches are as powerful as wizards; they rule kingdoms; they lead armies, and they are given equal importance in the narrative. .
Tilism-e-Hoshruba recounts the adventures of Amir Hamza and his sons and grandsons - all of them (like their illustrious forebear) brave, chivalrous and stunningly handsome.
The Tilism-dastans usually involve a quest for the Lauh-e-Tilism - the magic tablet or keystone that is closely guarded by the ruler of the Tilism. The keystone is so designed that only the person destined to vanquish the Tilism, known as the Tilism Kusha, is able to reach it. The keystone requires some sort of sacrifice, usually of blood before it reveals its secrets to the Tilism Kusha and guides him.
The story begins with Hamza as the commander-in chief of the Islamic army defeating a Persian ruler Laqa, who has been making false claims to divinity. Amir Hamza chases him out of the Tilism of a Thousand Faces into Kohistan. Laqa takes refuge in Kohistan because it shares a border with the Tilism-e-Hoshruba. The ruler of Hoshruba Afrasiab is the formidable King of Wizards who reveres Laqa and deputes his wizards to help Laqa fight Hamza.
Laqa’s allies include the sons of Naushervan, Hamza’s old patron and adversary from the days of the Dastan-e-Hamza. Laqa’a vizier is Bakhtiarak son of Bakhtak, the vizier who had schemed against Hamza and Amar in the earlier legends.
Hamza’s childhood companion Amar has a pivotal role in the later narrative. Because of his talent for disguises and trickery, Amar is known as king of Ayyari or tricksters. (Ayyari or the art of trickery is a profession with its own costumes, codes and sign language.) He has an army of over a hundred thousand other tricksters who acknowledge him as their leader and teacher. Amar uses divine gifts such as the cloak of invisibility and the magic pouch that contains many worlds to succeed in his tricks.
Hamza’s astrologers are the sons of the great Buzurchmeher, vizier to Nausherwan. At his behest, they cast an astrological chart and inform him that his grandson Asad is the Tilism Kusha of Hoshruba. Hamza sends Asad to invade Hoshruba with a large army. Amar and four other tricksters accompany this army. The invaders are beset by magical snares and enchantments at every step, but due to their superior moral authority and physical prowess, they manage to overcome all these hurdles. 
Afrasiab, both the King of all Wizards and the emperor of Hoshruba, sends his lesser functionaries to combat Asad and the five tricksters. Afrasiab’s concern is accentuated when his own niece Mahjabeen falls in love with Asad and elopes with him. His consternation is absolute when Mahjabeen’s grandmother – the powerful sorceress Mahrukh – also defects to Asad’s side. Many powerful wizards of Afrasiab’s camp, disgruntled with their own ruler, join the Tilism Kusha Asad and Mahrukh. At this, Afrasiab sends his own wife Hairat along with his best people to confront the rebels, confident that they will be disposed of easily. Despite that, Afrasiab suffers defeats and humiliations at every turn. Eventually he conjures the deepest and darkest magic at his command but is consistently foiled by the cunning ploys used by Asad’s five tricksters. 
Afrasiab however manages to capture Asad and Mahjabeen but finds that he cannot execute Asad as that would go against the constitution of the Tilism written by its ancient creators.
Despite the absence of their leader Asad, the rebels gain increasing strength, culminating in their securing the alliance of Kaukab, the powerful ruler of a neighbouring Tilism. 
Once Asad is released, the rebels along with their allies help him in the quest for the Loah or keystone. Afrasiab, now desperate, turns to the ancient wizards surviving from the time the Tilism was created. 
Eventually after fourteen years of conflict, the Tilism Kusha Asad kills Afrasiab. The land of enchantments is finally rid of all magical illusions. Hamza restores the throne to the former ruler of Hoshruba who had been deposed by Afrasiab and imprisoned by him. The living god Laqa escapes and is rescued and given refuge by another powerful wizard.
The History Of The Tilism
As the Tilism contains so many characters from the original Dastan of Hamza, it has a strong Persian and Arabian flavour. The Tilism dastans evolved in the days of the later Mughals when the kingdom of Awadh was in a decline. Although many of the idioms, language and culture are recognizably derived from courtly life at Lucknow, the Tilism belongs to a time and a space that is all its own. There are few oblique references to the 1857 War of Independence/Mutiny and the presence of the British. However, there is no direct mention of any specific places or towns, as we know them. 
The seven daftars or volumes of Tilism-e-Hoshruba form one continuous narrative of prose, interspersed with poetry. Dastan narration was an intrinsic part of the court ritual. It enjoyed a common appeal that encouraged the narrators to tailor their stories to suit their audience. 
In the late nineteenth century, the Naval Kishore Press in Lucknow commissioned dastan- narrators or known as dastan-gohs to compile the primarily oral tradition into written form. These were first published between 1883 and 1905.

My interest in the Tilism began as a child when I came across an abridged edition which I read with an almost insatiable appetite. It was written in highly Persianised Urdu but despite its archaic style the beauty and richness of the language and the sheer magic of the story has captivated me over the years. I realised though that for the Tilism to be appreciated by others, it needed to be translated into English while at the same time, its inordinate length – padded by lengthy often gratuitous passages of purple prose and poetry – had to be edited and re-interpreted into a readily intelligible idiom while retaining the flavour of the original. 

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Out of Print-CLF Stories 2015: Parminder Singh


Parminder Singh

He called me by the name I had loathed ever since I was a kindergarten student.

I did not know its meaning then, but I could make out that I was being looked down upon when I heard this word thrown at me for the first time by a sneering group of senior boys in the school bus.

And how vividly I recall that day from my early adolescent years when I encountered it during an inter-school cricket match! I was humiliated with the word when the captain of my team was run out due to my mistake and we lost the match. I rushed home and cried silently after locking myself inside the washroom. My mother made umpteen futile attempts to know why I cried that afternoon. That was the last time I cried though. I used to play really well but I discontinued playing the sport after that.

The number of instances when someone mocked me by calling me that name surged over time. Believe me, it affected my blood the way quinine affects the blood cells to kill malaria parasites. I actually began to imagine mosquitoes dying after pulling a meal from my blood vessels.

And, how can you overlook the muscles that I wear today? It’s not that I have been a gym enthusiast from the beginning. It’s only when a couple of bullies tested their muscles while I tried to show some resistance that I felt a need to respond. Everyone at the gym envied my weight lifting capabilities. They could only dream of carrying the weight I lifted in each set.

I experienced that one’s fear amongst others is proportional to the power one possesses. Nobody dared taking that name in front of me. I overheard it at my back sometimes but always tried not to look back and let go. Whenever the fury began rising up from the bottom of my heart, I would to hit the gym or pedal kilometres on a deserted road.

I had nevertheless become afraid of the rage sulking inside me more than anything else. I made a promise to myself that I would let the word strengthen me, make me more patient and resistant to the hardships that life has in store.

But today, when this man called me by the same name in front of my child … the suppressed bitter froth of anger and humiliation resurfaced. This was unlike anything I had experienced before. I could never feel that these people I come across everyday are my compatriots, and I did not want my child to begin thinking the way I have been made to.

I have never said anything wrong to anyone throughout my life. They have been doing it, persistently. And today, I want to know what gives them the right to behave as if they are the landlords of the nation, and I, some loathsome vermin.

Yes, I hit that man. But it was just a blow. I did not know it would be fatal. I could sense drops of my bitter blood coming together in the veins crisscrossing my biceps and flowing down to the fist where the lava of my rage had accumulated. This all erupted together in that single blow.

But judge sahib! If circumcision is a part of my faith, why should one have a right to call me a katua?

Parminder Singh is a Research Scholar at the Department of English & Cultural Studies, Panjab University, Chandigarh. He was an IT Professional for over a decade. He the IT section of Panjab Digital Library since 2008 and has been instrumental in setting up this major resource on the preservation of the heritage of Panjab. He made a career-shift from the IT industry to teaching and also teaches English at DAV College, Chandigarh.

Parminder has presented papers at international and national conferences and seminars and his research papers have been published in peer-reviewed and refereed journals such as New AcademiaGalaxy and Langlit and in conference proceedings. He has recently published a book Sikh Dharma, a Punjabi translation of Appreciating Sikhism. He has also been part of three anthologies of poetry in Punjabi, Kosse Chaanan (Lukewarm Lamps) and Kosse Chaanan II and Ghazal Udas Hai. His poetry has featured in the refereed journals such as South Asian Ensemble and The Criterion, and on websites such as Preetlarhi, ApnaOrg, Punjabizm, HaikuPunjabi, UNP, Seerat and Sanjhi Kalam.
The Out of Print Workshop at the Chandigarh Literature Festival 2015

Out of Print-CLF Stories 2015: Jonaki Ray


Jonaki Ray

The Neighbour
I always knew that their marriage was too good to be true. A love marriage. Bakwas! There was something very fake about her. While everyone else in the colony was ga-ga over her ‘vivacious nature, her dynamism’, I could sense that it was all an act.

I mean, look at poor Teju. He got married in September, and by October, she was off, ‘touring’. Who does that? The poor guy had to take care of the house, do the groceries, manage the maids, look after his father, and run the family business. And what was madam doing, that is what I would like to know.

I wish Mrs Gupta had taken my doubts seriously when she first told me about Teju and Shefali’s engagement. I had murmured right then, ‘Don’t you think your nephew could do better?’ He is a tall, strapping, good-looking guy. He comes from a good family. So, why should it be such a big deal if Shefali is bright and a working girl? She isn’t much to look at – skinny and dark. And if her nature had been sweet, say, like Mrs Saran, who gets along with everyone, it would have still been all right. But the way she is, hoity-toity, flying in and out for her tours, getting dropped off at odd hours by her colleagues in their expensive cars, I tell you, I knew their marriage was a sham.

If you ask me, though, Teju was better off when he was a bachelor. He came and went as he pleased, dropped by for snacks and tea, and seemed like such a happy guy.

I knew that sooner and later some big trouble would come to them, and I was right, like always, ha! I mean, if a man is left alone and it is obvious that his wife doesn’t care for him, he will start looking elsewhere, won’t he? I tell you even my husband … but anyway, I digress. When that young chokri, Rinki, started hanging around their house, I knew it would spell problems. She is young and pretty, and we all know that these women from the jhopad-pattis are ready to do anything with anyone. I don’t blame Teju at all. Don’t use that ugly word, rape, please! We are decent people here in this colony, and no one does such things. What happened is that girl enticed Teju, and now they are trying to make some money. Bruises, you say? Bah, everyone gets a few bruises once in a while. I could show you mine, and all I had done was chat with my sister on the phone for too long and got a little late preparing the lunch dabba for Mr Patel. But, do I complain? Never. A good woman knows how to keep her husband straight, I tell you.

The Wife
I just know that Mrs Patel thinks I am to blame. I can see her glaring at me every time I walk past her flat. For what, though? I have worked hard all my life and I worked hard in my marriage as well.

When I got through IIT, I was ready to forget that cramped one-bedroom government quarter of my parents. I took every internship that was offered, enrolled in English classes, wore the right clothes ... and I have to say, it paid off.

When I met Tej, I thought he was like the Mills & Boon hero my cousins drooled over. I ignored him at the party where we met, didn’t give him my number, and refused to talk to him. It was only a few weeks later, when I was trying to repair my scooter, and his BMW slid by, that I took his help. I met him for coffee a few times after that, but made sure to keep a distance. But, the first time I saw his house – spacious, airy, decorated with antiques – I realised this is what I needed to have in my life. I let Tej kiss me for the first time that day. I could see it all, Mrs Shefali Shah, clad in chiffon and pearls, running my own business, living in this beautiful house.

I guess you could say I played the game well. I let him touch and kiss me, but no sex. And yet, I made it clear that I was interested. Men are actually quite stupid, you know! I kept him in a state of perpetual neediness, sometimes being nice, and sometimes just cutting off all communication. It worked! He proposed to me a month after that day at his house.

Tej wanted me to give up my job after our wedding. But that was the one thing for which I played no games. I straight up refused. I work a million hours, but all of it adds up to experience, and it will help me set up my own business. And now that their business, or rather his father’s business, isn’t doing well, my salary helps run the house. And I make it clear that makes me the boss in this house and family.

And what if we hardly meet or spend time? Why does he moan about intimacy? He should understand that money is what makes the world run; he is a businessman after all. The few times we have sex, it is horrible. But, that’s part of the effort I have made in this marriage. Let him have his few moments of ‘excitement’ from that, I don’t care. I take care of the house, the business, the money, and now, our image.

I really don’t want to find out if he did assault this woman or not. Oh, you think I am in denial, and should admit that he raped her? What nonsense! Why should I ruin all the work that I have put into this marriage? I will of course, stand by him. Even if he did do something with this Rinki-Tinki, whatever her name is, what does it matter? He is my husband, and one day, we will have a bigger house, perhaps at Nariman Point. Anything is possible.

The Husband
I can’t believe they are accusing me, Tejasvi Shah, of rape. I mean just because there are men who are animals, who beat and bite women, force them like beasts, doesn’t make every man one.

Yes, of course, I watch porn and get excited. And yes, I do visit women once in a while. I mean, who doesn’t? My father did. So did my uncle. Most of my friends do.

When I met Shefali for the first time, I was entranced. She was not pretty or rich. But, man, what attitude! She acted as if she owned the world. And that day, when she was kneeling by her scooty, she looked so grateful and vulnerable. I felt ten feet tall. It was this strange mix of arrogance and helplessness that had me hooked. I know I could have done better. But, I felt that with her, I had found someone who was a challenge. She was different from the other women who fell for me. I don’t want to boast, but there were two girls in college who had sex with me on the first date. I mean women would do anything to patao me.

And now that she is my wife, the times we have sex, I am on top, grinding into her, and she strains away, face all screwed up. I get so excited. But, I am not a bad guy, you understand. I didn’t force her. And I let her work even after marriage. Doesn’t that show that I am a good guy?

I know that the old biddies in the colony feel sorry for me, they murmur that Shefali runs the house. I just learnt to ignore them all. I mean, is it my fault that the diamond-polishing business is going through a slump? Or that the shares I invested in to make up for my losses, also tanked? What is a man to do when circumstances are such?

Shefali was away and I was bored. And I wandered into our kitchen and saw Rinki, our driver’s daughter, lounging by the door. She often came and waited for her father. I had seen her as a scrappy kid, and now she was about to start college. We chatted for a few minutes, and then I kissed her. She tried to move away, and yes, I got a bit excited. I pushed her against the wall, and had her. She said No a couple of times, but then was quiet. So, how can it be rape? In fact, if you ask me, she must have enjoyed it. She would have struggled otherwise, no?

At the most, I would admit that I took her by surprise, but it was definitely consensual. And how dare, Chotte Lal, her father, press charges? He has survived all these years thanks to the salary we gave him, and now, all of a sudden, he is talking about izzat, and how his daughter is going through trauma.

I am telling you it was not rape. I don’t need to rape women. Why are you looking at me with that expression?

Jonaki Ray studied Chemistry and Computer Science, and then returned to her first love, writing. Her work has been published in Silver Birch PressThe Times of India, Telegraph India, Down to Earth, Pyrta Journal, The Four Quarters Magazine, and Kitaab, among others. 

The Out of Print Workshop at the Chandigarh Literature Festival 2015