SIXTEEN -- Bakhtak’s mother
Hell-cave Bano spreads a rumor of Princess Mihr Nigar’s death, and the
Amir hears it and is distraught, and ‘Amar kills Hell-cave Bano and conceals
that worthless one in the leaves.
The fickleness of Fortune is well known, the
Conjurer’s marvelous tricks are clearer than clear. Sometimes right
in the midst of merriment, causes of grief make themselves felt; sometimes
in the midst of utter despair, the bright face of hope can be glimpsed.
Therefore this dastan follows the same pattern. The researchers of
tales say this: When the king entered the bedchamber of the harem,
he asked Queen Mihr Angez, “What was your intention in pardoning Landhaur
and rescuing him from execution?”
The queen said, “First, Landhaur is innocent;
despite his strength and power, he never grew intransigent. He is
constrained by his love for the Amir. Second, Landhaur too is king
of a country; kings do not kill kings in this fashion, they don’t
permit each other to be humiliated in this way. Third, word would
spread from country to country, and your reputation would be destroyed:
people everywhere would blame you, no one would trust your words or deeds.
Fourth, if Landhaur were killed in this way, Hamzah would put out the lights
of the whole land to avenge him. Don’t you see that Landhaur was
ready to give his head only at Hamzah’s command? Otherwise, who among
all your royal champions could have cut off Landhaur’s head? For
these reasons I gave Landhaur a robe of honor and permitted him to depart.”
The king praised and admired the queen’s wisdom,
and was very pleased. But growing downcast, he said, “It’s a pity
that no plan has been hit upon for getting rid of Hamzah.” *Hell-cave
Bano, Bakhtak’s mother, was in attendance at the time. With folded
hands she said, “If I am ordered, then by means of an elegant scheme I
will kill Hamzah, I’ll get rid of this pest at once.” Naushervan
said, “How?” She said, “Tomorrow, before the whole court, let Your
Majesty say to Hamzah, ‘A week from now your marriage with Mihr Nigar will
be celebrated; prepare for the wedding. We will order the royal servants
to help as well.’ And this handmaiden will take Mihr Nigar to the
underground apartments on the pretext of preparing her for the marriage,
and will keep her hidden there. Two days later you may falsely announce
Mihr Nigar’s illness, and on the fourth day after that, the bad news of
her death. When Hamzah hears this news, he will put an end to himself.”
The king liked this scheme of Hell-cave Bano’s.
The next day, before the whole court, he ordered Hamzah to prepare for
the marriage. The Amir, full of joy, took his leave and returned
to his own camp, and became absorbed in making preparations for the wedding.
And in the palace Hell-cave Bano, congratulating Mihr Nigar, took her to
the underground apartments to prepare her for the wedding and said, “Dear
daughter, for a full week you must not come out of these underground apartments,
for this is the universal custom.” And her companions assembled,
and began to exchange pleasantries and make jokes; desiring to tell her
about the pleasures of union, they explained to her whatever was to be
explained. Mihr Nigar, full of joy, remained in the underground apartments.
After two days, that deceiver made it known that Mihr Nigar was ill.
And four days later, mourning broke out in the palace: “Mihr Nigar
has gone to walk in the flower-beds of Paradise, she has gone to stroll
in the garden of Nothingness!”
The Amir, merely hearing of her illness, had
become the sickest of a thousand sick people. When he heard of her
death, he tried to thrust a dagger into his stomach. Landhaur and
Bahram fell at his feet, and took the dagger from his hands, and began
to say words of solace: “Never has anyone died with the dead--what
recourse can there be against fate?” The Amir said, “For the beloved
to die, and the lover to live, is forbidden by the creed of Love. Whatever
you do, I will give up my life; what concern have I with living?”
‘Amar saw that the Amir could in no way be persuaded. He said, “Please
just listen to me for a moment. It could be that someone has arranged
a deception in order to kill you; this trick could be the work of some
deceiver. Then Mihr Nigar would still be alive, and you would be
dead--she would have come to no harm, and you would have lost your life!
Be patient for a little while, let me go and find out about this.”
The Amir liked these words of ‘Amar’s, and the others also, when they heard
‘Amar’s opinion, admired and praised it.
‘Amar, running most swiftly, arrived at the
queen’s door, and sent word of his presence to the queen. Hell-cave
Bano said to Queen Mihr Angez, “At this time it’s quite suitable to bring
‘Amar into the palace. He will see the weeping and breast-beating,
and will tell Hamzah about it. When Hamzah hears this state of affairs
directly from ‘Amar’s lips, he will at once put an end to himself.”
The queen called ‘Amar into the palace. When ‘Amar entered the palace
and looked around, everyone was dressed in mourning, and everyone, small
and great, was grief-stricken. But after a little while Hell-cave
Bano came and whispered something in the queen’s ear, and went back at
‘Amar thought, “This is not without significance,
this is a trick of that deceiver’s; that base one has definitely been up
to something!” Evening had already come, and because of the mourning the
whole palace lay in darkness. ‘Amar quietly followed Hell-cave Bano;
looking cautiously all around, he swiftly took on the appearance of an
old woman. When that bitch Hell-Cave Bano entered the lower garden,
hearing the footfalls she hesitated and called out, “Who is there?”
‘Amar said in a low voice, “It is I. In a moment the Angel of Death
will carry you off instead of the princess!”
The instant Hell-cave Bano stepped forward,
‘Amar, dropping a loop of his noose around her neck, jerked it back sharply.
She fell unconscious to the ground. ‘Amar squeezed her throat so
forcefully that Hell-cave Bano’s spirit went to the cave of Hell.
He hid her body in a pile of dry leaves, and himself took on her appearance.
‘Amar went and stood on the path, but he was perplexed: “Where
shall I go, and whom can I ask about the princess?”
In the meantime a young servant-girl, carrying
a candle, came through the garden and said, “Auntie Hell-cave Bano, the
princess wants you! She has been asking for you for some time.”
‘Amar made no reply, but went with the servant-girl into the underground
apartments. He saw that Princess Mihr Nigar, richly adorned, was
sitting very happily on a bridal couch, and exchanging pleasantries with
her companions. A cup and a wine-flask had been placed before the
couch. Fitnah Bano kept refilling the cup and giving it to her, and
the princess drank to the name of the Sahib-qiran.
Mihr Nigar said, “Hell-cave Bano, lately you
have been very affectionate to me! Previously you were not so gracious,
or so attentive to my welfare.” ‘Amar said, “I was afraid that you
might, God forbid, suspect me of evil intentions: you might think
that Bakhtak’s mother, like that wretch Bakhtak, was hostile to you, God
forbid. So I kept apart from you. But present or absent I always
prayed heart and soul for your well-being, and only reluctantly kept myself
away from your feet. Now you know me as your well-wisher. Just
look at how preoccupied I am with the wedding preparations! I’m never
off my feet for a moment--I go running around here and there.” Mihr
Nigar said, “What you’ve said is true. Now tell me, how long till
the wedding procession arrives, and what preparations are they making over
‘Amar, sending everyone else away, said, “How
can there be a wedding procession, when the whole palace is in mourning
for you? You have died! Our camp too is in a turmoil of grief.
When the Amir heard this bad news, he would in fact have killed himself,
but I had an inspiration and said to the Amir, ‘Just be patient for a little,
I will go and determine the true state of affairs, and tell it to you quite
accurately. Your enemies might have arranged this trick in order
to kill you; those base ones might have concocted this trick!’ I
came here and killed this old whore and hid her in the leaves; taking on
her appearance, I reached you. Now let me go quickly and give the
Amir the good news of your well-being, to save his life and restore him
to his senses and revive him.”
When she heard this news Mihr Nigar was pleased,
and gave ‘Amar five packets of gold pieces, and permitted him to depart.
But as he was leaving ‘Amar had Mihr Nigar write a note to the Amir with
her own hand, so that the Amir would be fully reassured. And he went
and placed that note in the Amir’s hand. The Amir, reading that note,
was recalled to life, and at once rewarded ‘Amar with ten thousand gold
‘Amar said to the Amir, “Now if you will do
as I say, I’ll reveal this secret in the most elegant way; I’ll most thoroughly
disgrace those bastards who have created this mischief! I do believe
the king will regret this crude deed his whole life long, and will never
again treat honorable people so treacherously.” The Amir said, “What
could be better? Whatever you say, I’ll do, and I’ll abide by your
‘Amar said, “You and Landhaur and Bahram,
‘Adi, Sultan Bakht, etc., all your officers, dress in black, go to the
#Court of Kaikhusrau, and urge the king, ‘Please have the bier taken out
quickly, so that people won’t make taunting remarks: ‘The dead daughter
of the King of Kings of the Seven Realms was left lying around for so long!’’”
The Amir liked ‘Amar’s plan very much and, with Bahram and Landhaur, etc.,
dressed in black and went to the Court of Kaikhusrau. There all the
courtiers were seated, looking sorrowful and grief-stricken, in their respective
places. The Amir saw that the king, with all the Sasanians and *Kayanians,
was dressed in black. The court was tumultuous with cries and lamentations;
weeping and wailing resounded loudly from every direction.
After an hour, the Amir petitioned the king,
“Now what was to happen has happened. Now, to keep the bier in the
palace any longer will be a cause for disgrace; a longer delay does not
appear proper. Please order the bier to be removed from the palace
and placed somewhere outside.” The king sent word to Queen Mihr Angez.
The reply came, “Let Mihr Nigar remain a guest for one day more; at night
the bier will be taken out.” In short, that day passed in weeping
and breast-beating, the palace remained in a frenzy of lamentation.
When evening came, hundreds of Brahmans began
sounding conches and bells, and chanting the names of their one hundred
seventy-five gods. In the palace, a search was made for Hell-cave
Bano, and her corpse was found in the leaves. Mihr Angez, putting
that very corpse in a box, sent it out of the palace. Hundreds of
thousands of torches were lighted, and thousands of men accompanied the
bier. ‘Amar saw that the Brahmans were going along sounding conches
and bells, and embracing their co-religionists, and reciting the praises
of their one hundred seventy-five gods, and setting off fireworks at every
step. ‘Amar too, disguising himself, took a bell in his hand, praised
*Lat and Manat, and began embracing every single fire-worshipper.
Gradually, he made his way over to Bakhtak.
Lighting a “muskrat” fire-cracker,/1/
he put it down Bakhtak’s collar, and squeezed him in a very tight embrace.
Who besides ‘Amar would do such a thing to Bakhtak? Involuntarily
Bakhtak cried out, “Ah! I’m burning! Ah! I’m burning!”
and begged, “’Amar, let me go, for Hamzah’s sake! My whole chest
and stomach are burning, my whole body is turning into a blister!”
‘Amar said, “Your mother has died--if you burn from head to foot like a
people will say you’re a dutiful son!” With these words, he released
the unlucky Bakhtak, and himself went on forward. The muskrat fire-cracker,
having burned Bakhtak’s stomach and chest, shot out from his collar; his
skin had been burned all over.
Bakhtak, seeing a pit full of water by the
side of the road, threw himself into it; he completely lost control.
All those in the funeral procession, who had been weeping, now burst out
laughing, and some Brahmins put out the flames on Bakhtak’s body.
But Bakhtak couldn’t bear the pain. He confided his dead mother to
the Brahmans’ care, and he himself returned, weeping and beating his breast,
to his home.
When they had lowered Bakhtak’s mother into
the grave and returned, all the courtiers, seeing the king seated in the
audience hall grief-stricken and weeping, began to weep and wail.
When ‘Amar looked carefully, he saw that there was an onion in the king’s
handkerchief: when the king applied it to his eyes, its sharpness
made the tears flow. Going very close to him, ‘Amar said softly,
“A king as hypocritical as you has never been seen or heard of! Has
anybody ever gone back on his pledged word, or deceived nobles and faithful
servants, so basely?”
The king laughed and said, “The one who was
guilty of treachery and deceit has been suitably punished.” Although
the king said this, he was inwardly very much ashamed, and broke out in
a sweat of embarrassment. The Amir said, “Bakhtak has received his
punishment; nothing else seems to be clear.” ‘Amar replied, “Your
Excellency, that bier was his mother’s. He’s busy mourning for his
affectionate mother; he has gotten his just deserts. So he’s gone
home and is mourning in seclusion.”
Naushervan apologized profusely to the Amir
and said, “I was absolutely unaware of this deceit; please don’t have such
suspicions about me! The one whose trick this was has received her
punishment.” The Amir said, “In any case, I am at your command, I
am obedient to you heart and soul. Please tell me, now when will
the marriage be, when will my house be brightened?” The king said,
“After forty days the marriage will be celebrated; your wish will be fulfilled.”
The Amir, taking his leave, betook himself to Tal Shad Kam.
But ‘Amar stayed behind. When the king
dismissed the court, ‘Amar, seconded by Buzurchmihr, petitioned the king
on behalf of the Amir: “The Amir does not want a delay of forty days
before the marriage--it’s not necessary to postpone doing a good work!”
The king said, “The dowry is not ready yet, we are waiting for the wedding
arrangements to be completed.” ‘Amar replied, “Your Majesty is the
King of Kings, whatever you command is no sooner said than done--what delay
can there be in preparing things?” At length, after some discussion,
Buzurchmihr extracted from the king a promise of twenty days.
Khvajah ‘Amar was perfectly delighted with
this conversation. ‘Amar said, “Oh wise and enlightened Guide, please
write a letter to this effect to the Sahib-qiran, so that when he sees
it he can feel assured, and can make arrangements for the marriage on his
own part.” The king wrote a note by way of a formal agreement.
When ‘Amar went and put that document into the Amir’s hands, the Amir read
it and jumped with joy at ‘Amar’s shrewdness, and embraced him, and gave
him ten thousand dinars, and ordered a celebration. Congratulations
and good wishes filled the air.
Now please hear about the king: Entering
the harem, he embraced Mihr Nigar, and told her of the promise he had made
to hold the marriage in twenty days. After this, he described the
mischievous tricks ‘Amar had played while following the bier of Hell-cave
Bano. Queen Mihr Angez and Princess Mihr Nigar, when they heard about
‘Amar’s mischievous doings, laughed and laughed until they rolled on the
“muskrat” [chhachhuundar] is a type of fire-cracker still used in India.
It is cone-shaped, and when one side is lit, it moves around under its
fireworks-tree [sarv-e chiraa;Gaa;N] was a tree-shaped framework into which
the stationary, steadily glowing type of fireworks were inserted.
When lit, they made a tree of light.
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