Notes on Boyle's “An Alchemist”
by Jennifer Dubrow
(whose dissertation is about this text)
This translation is a mystery, for while it looks
like an episode from Fasana-e Azad, I cannot find the Urdu
any version of the text. Perhaps Boyle
was working with an anthology of Urdu prose whose author had
concocted this episode. Or perhaps he
mistook another version or retelling of the text for the original—we
versions existed because no less an author than Premcand left one for
under the title, Āzād Kathā (Benaras: Sarasvati Press, 1947). Either way, I think we can be sure Boyle used
some kind of Urdu original, as his careful annotations refer to Urdu
and idioms, and there are unexplained page numbers in the margins.
The mysterious episode presented here shows many similarities with the ‘real’ Fasana-e Azad, composed between 1878 and 1883 by Ratan Nath Dar ‘Sarshar.’ The most conspicuous similarity is the episode’s language, which we can see from the translation was obviously colloquial, highly idiomatic, and multi-registered. This vigorous language was one of Fasana-e Azad’s trademarks. Then we have the independent, stand-alone nature of the episode, with stock characters from the bazaar and train station filling out the scene and no major characters present. These features characterized early chapters in Volume 1 of Fasana, before the main plotlines were established. The motif of the “fake faqir” who tricks superstitious villagers out of money also can be found in Volume 1, most memorably in an early chapter where Azad exposes a fake faqir by impersonating one himself (“Miyān Āzād kī Kārastānī aur Shāh jī kī Pareshānī”). Comical encounters with the police as seen in Boyle's translation feature several times in Volume 1. Finally and most interestingly, certain details of Boyle’s episode appear in a similar story in Fasana (“Bane Hu'e Sidh ki Durgat”): in both cases the fake faqir pretends to make gold in a pot by secretly switching the metal; a wife's jewelry gets involved; and the faqir eludes the police before getting caught.