A literal translation of one of my favorite passages

by FWP, Oct. 2008

*page 71*
That one had no intention at all of testing faithfulness
The project was to torment a single wretched and weak one

"Mirza Sahib, have you ever at all fallen in love with anybody?"

Rusva: No ma'am-- may the Lord forbid it! You, after all, must have loved hundreds. Please describe your own situation. We are eager to hear exactly such things. But you don't even tell about them.

Umra'o: Well, after all I'm a prostitute by profession. And this is our regular practice. When we want to draw somebody into our snare, we began to die of love for him. No one knows better than we do how to die [of love]-- how to heave deep sighs, to weep over the smallest things, to eat nothing for days together, *page 72* to sit dangling our legs over the edge of a well, to swallow arsenic. All this is done. No matter how stony-hearted a man he might be, he falls for our trickery. But I tell you truly, neither did anyone fall in love with me, nor did I fall in love with anyone [nah mujse kisii ko ((ishq hu))aa _ aur nah mujko kisii se]. Though indeed, Bismillah Jan had great command of romantic game-playing [((ishq-baazii]. Not to speak of a man-- not even an angel was able to escape from her snare. Thousands were in love with her, and she was in love with thousands. Among her true lovers there was also was one Maulvi Sahib, with a face that radiated sanctity. He was no run-of-the-mill maulvi. He gave instruction in the highest-level Arabic books. People used to come from far away to study with him. In the rational sciences [ma((quulaat] he had no equal or peer. At the time I speak of, his honorable age would have been very little less than seventy years. A light-filled face; a white beard; a shaven head, with a turban on it; an honorable cloak, an auspicious staff. Having seen his face, no one was able to tell that he was in love with a notorious, capricious young prostitute-- and in love in such a way.

I submit before you an event that happened one day. Please don't consider that there's any kind of exaggeration in it! It is entirely and absolutely accurate. Your friend ... the late venerable Mir Sahib, who had a connection with Dilbar Jan, was himself a poet, and used to die of joy over good verses; in this context also had an ardor for the pursuit of beauty [;husn parastii]--but with the greatest possible rationality [ma((quuliyat]; among the stylish [va.z((adaar] prostitutes of the city, would there have been any whom he didn't habitually visit?

Rusva: Oh no doubt-- but go on! I know all about him. May God exalt his station!

Umra'o: He too was present on that occasion. Perhaps you might remember that Bismillah Jan had quarreled with Khanam and had gone to stay for some days in that house that was behind the cloth-market.

Rusva: I never went to that house.

Umra'o: Well, anyway. But in order to see Bismillah, and also with the intention of reconciling mother and daughter, I made a practice of often going there. One day, about evening, she is seated on a wooden platform in the courtyard, reclining against a bolster. The late Mir Sahib reposes his noble self near her. The venerable Maulvi Sahib is seated politely, at a distance. His aspect of helplessness at that time *page 73*, I never will forget. With his olive-wood prayer-beads, he is perhaps silently reciting, "Oh Protector, oh Protector!" When I went in, Bismillah seized my hand and seated me beside herself. I made a salutation to the Mir Sahib and the Maulvi Sahib, and sat down. Bismillah softly said in my ear, "Would you like to see a show?"

I (with surprise): "What show?"

Bismillah: "Watch." With this word, she turned her attention to the Maulvi Sahib.

In the courtyard of the house, there was a single very big neem tree. An order was issued to the Maulvi Sahib: "Climb this tree."

The color fled from the Maulvi Sahib's face. He began to tremble. I was swallowed up by the earth [in embarrassment]. The Mir Sahib sat with his face averted. The poor Maulvi Sahib gazed sometimes toward the sky, and sometimes at Bismillah's face. For her part, having given one command, another command emerged; and then at once: "Third and final command-- climb, I say!"

Now I saw that the Maulvi Sahib, having said "In the name of God!" [bismill;aah], arose. He left his honorable cloak on the wooden platform. He went and stood beside the trunk of the neem tree, then looked once more toward Bismillah. She, with a slight frown, said "Hunh!"

The Maulvi Sahib rolled up his trousers and began to climb the tree. Having gone a little way, he looked toward Bismillah. The meaning of this look was perhaps "Enough, or more?"

Bismillah: "More."

The Maulvi Sahib climbed higher. Then he waited for a command./1/ Again the same "More!"-- and in this way he arrived near the summit of the tree. Now if he had gone any higher, the branches were so thin that he would certainly have fallen, and his life would have been surrendered to God. From Bismillah's lips a "More!" was about to emerge, when I fell at her feet [to beg her not to say it]. Mir Sahib, extremely imploringly, made [the same] recommendation. At length the command occurred: "Come down!" The Maulvi Sahib had managed to get up, but he had great difficulty in getting down. It seemed to me that at any moment he would fall./2/ But he came down in safety. The poor man was covered with sweat. He was gasping. He was on the verge of collapsing, but he *page 74* got hold of himself. He put on his shoes and approached the wooden platform. He made his auspicious cloark an adornment of his shoulders. Silently he sat down. He began to recite with his prayer-beads. He had sat down, but he had no kind of peace. Ants had entered into the noble trousers; by that he was extremely troubled.

Rusva: My friend-- by God, Bismillah was an extraordinary jokester of a prostitute!

Umra'o: What does it have to do with joking? That pitiless one sat silent. There wasn't even a trace of a smile on her face. The Mir Sahib and I both sat there with bated breath. An extraordinary mood of lesson-learning [((ibrat] had come over us.

Why will any style of cruelty remain left in the age?
That infidel finds pleasure in testing love.

Rusva: This story is sufficient amusement for a whole life. It's necessary only to have imagination. You described them, and I saw before my eyes Bismillah, the Maulvi Sahib with his saintly aspect, the Mir Sahib, you yourself, the neem tree. Pictures of all of them have been created. This is the kind of event that doesn't immediately evoke laughter-- all right, if I'd reflect upon iit, then I'd laugh. --No, Sahib, I won't laugh. The Maulvi Sahib's foolishness makes one weep. Undoubtedly Bismillah was a Doomsday of a prostitute! An old man of seventy years--and the command "Climb a tree"! And he too-- he climbed! I don't understand all this. It's a very subtle problem.

Umra'o: In truth, you can't understand it. There's a Doomsday kind of subtlety in it. After all, I'll be compelled to tell you about it.

Rusva: By God, please do tell me! Is there still some further disgraceful thing in it?

Umra'o: There are still many further disgraceful things left. All right, listen.

After the Maulvi Sahib's departure, I asked Bismillah:

Umra'o: Bismillah, what came over you?

Bismillah: What?

Umra'o: An old man of seventy years--and if he had fallen from the tree, he would have been killed for nothing!

Bismillah: What would I care if he had been killed! I was furious with that miserable old dotard. Yesterday he threw down my Dhanno with such force that her ribs could have been broken.

*page 75* The thing was that Bismillah Jan had brought up a female monkey, and treated her with an almost marital affection. Please just listen to an account of her pomp and splendor. A satin petticoat. An embroidered muslin shirt. A lacework shawl. Silver bangles. A collar with little bells. Golden earrings,. Jalebis and other sweets to eat. When she had bought her, the wretched thing was tiny. Having eaten well for two or three years, she'd become nicely fat. For people who knew her, it was fine. If she suddenly leaped upon a stranger, then he would gasp [with fright]. She also had such strength that if she gripped the hand of a strong man, then he wouldn't manage to free himself.

The day that the Maulvi Sahib had been caused to climb on the neem tree--just the day before that is the one I'm speaking of. He had brought his gracious presence. He had sat down on the wooden platform. Bismillah Jan thought of a practical joke. She made a sign to Dhanno. She silently came up behind him, and leaped up and sat on the Maulvi Sahib's shoulder. When the Maulvi Sahib turned and looked, the poor man panicked. He shook her off forcefully. She fell behind the platform, or I suspect that she probably went there of her own volition. She began to make scolding noises at the Maulvi Sahib. The Maulvi Sahib showed her his staff. She became fearful, and went and sat in Bismillah's lap. Bismillah soothed and cajoled her, and covered her with the end of her dupattah. And she cursed and abused the Maulvi Sahib to her heart's content. Even then, she wasn't satisfied. The next day she devised this punishment.

Rusva: The punishment was appropriate.

Umra'o: As to its appropriateness, there's no doubt. She made the Maulvi Sahib into a veritable "monkey on a string."/3/

Rusva: In truth, the Maulvi Sahib was deserving of punishment. Qais showed affection to Laila's dog, and took it up into his lap. And the Maulvi Sahib first of all flung off Bismillah Jan's beloved monkey, and then committed a discourtesy when he showed it his staff. That was very far from the proper glory/dignity [shaan] of passion.

= = = = = = = = = = =
/1/ The expression inti:zaar kaa ;hukm is obviously a calligraphic error; it should be either ;hukm kaa inti:zaar , or inti:zaar-e ;hukm .

/2/ Literally, that "now he fell!" and "now he fell!".

/3/ kha;Tke kaa languur : A toy consisting of a metal langur through which a double string is threaded. By putting one end of the string under the foot and pulling the other with the hand, the langur can be made to bob up and down. (--Glossary)



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