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Hoshruba: The Land and the Tilism: Book 1, Episode 50

When Tilism-e Hoshruba was first published in Lucknow, India in 1883, it was already a beloved oral history that had been performed for years in public and private. What Hoshruba’s fans did not know, however, was that professional storyteller Mir Ahmed Ali and his disciples had engineered a massive literary hoax, writing Hoshruba themselves and falsely attributing it to the epic poem cycle The Adventures of Amir Hamza. But less important than Hoshruba’s provenance was its impact: The story of the tilism (an inanimate object transformed into its own world) of Hoshruba, defended by Emperor Afrasiyab against rival tilism as well as the trickster Amar Ayyar, has become one of the foremost fantasy tales in Urdu. For a more in-depth look at the epic’s sorcerers, formidable women, and grimdark (long before the genre existed) battles, read Mahvesh Murad’s Under the Radar review.

Hoshruba (which translates to “ravishing the senses”) is part of the dastan tradition of oral storytelling and is being translated into English for the first time as Hoshruba: The Land and the Tilism. In its original form, Hoshruba was published in Urdu, in eight volumes totaling over eight thousand pages. In translating the epic into English, Pakistani-Canadian writer Musharraf Ali Farooqi has split each volume into three, for a total of 24 volumes. Over the next few months, you will be able to read all 50 episodes—the entire first volume of Hoshruba—on Tor.com, with one new episode going up every day. You can also purchase the entire novel through Barnes & Noble or Amazon.

[Afrasiyab recited a spell and struck his hands.]

Series: Hoshruba: The Land and the Tilism

Hoshruba: The Land and the Tilism: Book 1, Episode 49

When Tilism-e Hoshruba was first published in Lucknow, India in 1883, it was already a beloved oral history that had been performed for years in public and private. What Hoshruba’s fans did not know, however, was that professional storyteller Mir Ahmed Ali and his disciples had engineered a massive literary hoax, writing Hoshruba themselves and falsely attributing it to the epic poem cycle The Adventures of Amir Hamza. But less important than Hoshruba’s provenance was its impact: The story of the tilism (an inanimate object transformed into its own world) of Hoshruba, defended by Emperor Afrasiyab against rival tilism as well as the trickster Amar Ayyar, has become one of the foremost fantasy tales in Urdu. For a more in-depth look at the epic’s sorcerers, formidable women, and grimdark (long before the genre existed) battles, read Mahvesh Murad’s Under the Radar review.

Hoshruba (which translates to “ravishing the senses”) is part of the dastan tradition of oral storytelling and is being translated into English for the first time as Hoshruba: The Land and the Tilism. In its original form, Hoshruba was published in Urdu, in eight volumes totaling over eight thousand pages. In translating the epic into English, Pakistani-Canadian writer Musharraf Ali Farooqi has split each volume into three, for a total of 24 volumes. Over the next few months, you will be able to read all 50 episodes—the entire first volume of Hoshruba—on Tor.com, with one new episode going up every day. You can also purchase the entire novel through Barnes & Noble or Amazon.

[Sorceress Khumar crossed over the Bridge of Magic Fairies and arrived near Baran’s camp.]

Series: Hoshruba: The Land and the Tilism

Hoshruba: The Land and the Tilism: Book 1, Episode 48

When Tilism-e Hoshruba was first published in Lucknow, India in 1883, it was already a beloved oral history that had been performed for years in public and private. What Hoshruba’s fans did not know, however, was that professional storyteller Mir Ahmed Ali and his disciples had engineered a massive literary hoax, writing Hoshruba themselves and falsely attributing it to the epic poem cycle The Adventures of Amir Hamza. But less important than Hoshruba’s provenance was its impact: The story of the tilism (an inanimate object transformed into its own world) of Hoshruba, defended by Emperor Afrasiyab against rival tilism as well as the trickster Amar Ayyar, has become one of the foremost fantasy tales in Urdu. For a more in-depth look at the epic’s sorcerers, formidable women, and grimdark (long before the genre existed) battles, read Mahvesh Murad’s Under the Radar review.

Hoshruba (which translates to “ravishing the senses”) is part of the dastan tradition of oral storytelling and is being translated into English for the first time as Hoshruba: The Land and the Tilism. In its original form, Hoshruba was published in Urdu, in eight volumes totaling over eight thousand pages. In translating the epic into English, Pakistani-Canadian writer Musharraf Ali Farooqi has split each volume into three, for a total of 24 volumes. Over the next few months, you will be able to read all 50 episodes—the entire first volume of Hoshruba—on Tor.com, with one new episode going up every day. You can also purchase the entire novel through Barnes & Noble or Amazon.

[After the armies returned from the battlefield, the tricksters set out on their mission, resolved to attack and kill sorceress Surat Nigar at the first opportunity.]

Series: Hoshruba: The Land and the Tilism

Hoshruba: The Land and the Tilism: Book 1, Episode 47

When Tilism-e Hoshruba was first published in Lucknow, India in 1883, it was already a beloved oral history that had been performed for years in public and private. What Hoshruba’s fans did not know, however, was that professional storyteller Mir Ahmed Ali and his disciples had engineered a massive literary hoax, writing Hoshruba themselves and falsely attributing it to the epic poem cycle The Adventures of Amir Hamza. But less important than Hoshruba’s provenance was its impact: The story of the tilism (an inanimate object transformed into its own world) of Hoshruba, defended by Emperor Afrasiyab against rival tilism as well as the trickster Amar Ayyar, has become one of the foremost fantasy tales in Urdu. For a more in-depth look at the epic’s sorcerers, formidable women, and grimdark (long before the genre existed) battles, read Mahvesh Murad’s Under the Radar review.

Hoshruba (which translates to “ravishing the senses”) is part of the dastan tradition of oral storytelling and is being translated into English for the first time as Hoshruba: The Land and the Tilism. In its original form, Hoshruba was published in Urdu, in eight volumes totaling over eight thousand pages. In translating the epic into English, Pakistani-Canadian writer Musharraf Ali Farooqi has split each volume into three, for a total of 24 volumes. Over the next few months, you will be able to read all 50 episodes—the entire first volume of Hoshruba—on Tor.com, with one new episode going up every day. You can also purchase the entire novel through Barnes & Noble or Amazon.

[While these events were underway, Raad’s attendants returned to their senses in Mahrukh’s camp]

Series: Hoshruba: The Land and the Tilism

Hoshruba: The Land and the Tilism: Book 1, Episode 46

When Tilism-e Hoshruba was first published in Lucknow, India in 1883, it was already a beloved oral history that had been performed for years in public and private. What Hoshruba’s fans did not know, however, was that professional storyteller Mir Ahmed Ali and his disciples had engineered a massive literary hoax, writing Hoshruba themselves and falsely attributing it to the epic poem cycle The Adventures of Amir Hamza. But less important than Hoshruba’s provenance was its impact: The story of the tilism (an inanimate object transformed into its own world) of Hoshruba, defended by Emperor Afrasiyab against rival tilism as well as the trickster Amar Ayyar, has become one of the foremost fantasy tales in Urdu. For a more in-depth look at the epic’s sorcerers, formidable women, and grimdark (long before the genre existed) battles, read Mahvesh Murad’s Under the Radar review.

Hoshruba (which translates to “ravishing the senses”) is part of the dastan tradition of oral storytelling and is being translated into English for the first time as Hoshruba: The Land and the Tilism. In its original form, Hoshruba was published in Urdu, in eight volumes totaling over eight thousand pages. In translating the epic into English, Pakistani-Canadian writer Musharraf Ali Farooqi has split each volume into three, for a total of 24 volumes. Over the next few months, you will be able to read all 50 episodes—the entire first volume of Hoshruba—on Tor.com, with one new episode going up every day. You can also purchase the entire novel through Barnes & Noble or Amazon.

[In the meanwhile, Sarsar found an opportunity to disguise herself as sorceress Mehshar Lightning-Bolt.]

Series: Hoshruba: The Land and the Tilism

Hoshruba: The Land and the Tilism: Book 1, Episode 45

When Tilism-e Hoshruba was first published in Lucknow, India in 1883, it was already a beloved oral history that had been performed for years in public and private. What Hoshruba’s fans did not know, however, was that professional storyteller Mir Ahmed Ali and his disciples had engineered a massive literary hoax, writing Hoshruba themselves and falsely attributing it to the epic poem cycle The Adventures of Amir Hamza. But less important than Hoshruba’s provenance was its impact: The story of the tilism (an inanimate object transformed into its own world) of Hoshruba, defended by Emperor Afrasiyab against rival tilism as well as the trickster Amar Ayyar, has become one of the foremost fantasy tales in Urdu. For a more in-depth look at the epic’s sorcerers, formidable women, and grimdark (long before the genre existed) battles, read Mahvesh Murad’s Under the Radar review.

Hoshruba (which translates to “ravishing the senses”) is part of the dastan tradition of oral storytelling and is being translated into English for the first time as Hoshruba: The Land and the Tilism. In its original form, Hoshruba was published in Urdu, in eight volumes totaling over eight thousand pages. In translating the epic into English, Pakistani-Canadian writer Musharraf Ali Farooqi has split each volume into three, for a total of 24 volumes. Over the next few months, you will be able to read all 50 episodes—the entire first volume of Hoshruba—on Tor.com, with one new episode going up every day. You can also purchase the entire novel through Barnes & Noble or Amazon.

[It so happened that a sorcerer named Zalim Kohi the Cruel lived on the mountain where Amar killed sorcerer Allama the Wise.]

Series: Hoshruba: The Land and the Tilism

Hoshruba: The Land and the Tilism: Book 1, Episode 44

When Tilism-e Hoshruba was first published in Lucknow, India in 1883, it was already a beloved oral history that had been performed for years in public and private. What Hoshruba’s fans did not know, however, was that professional storyteller Mir Ahmed Ali and his disciples had engineered a massive literary hoax, writing Hoshruba themselves and falsely attributing it to the epic poem cycle The Adventures of Amir Hamza. But less important than Hoshruba’s provenance was its impact: The story of the tilism (an inanimate object transformed into its own world) of Hoshruba, defended by Emperor Afrasiyab against rival tilism as well as the trickster Amar Ayyar, has become one of the foremost fantasy tales in Urdu. For a more in-depth look at the epic’s sorcerers, formidable women, and grimdark (long before the genre existed) battles, read Mahvesh Murad’s Under the Radar review.

Hoshruba (which translates to “ravishing the senses”) is part of the dastan tradition of oral storytelling and is being translated into English for the first time as Hoshruba: The Land and the Tilism. In its original form, Hoshruba was published in Urdu, in eight volumes totaling over eight thousand pages. In translating the epic into English, Pakistani-Canadian writer Musharraf Ali Farooqi has split each volume into three, for a total of 24 volumes. Over the next few months, you will be able to read all 50 episodes—the entire first volume of Hoshruba—on Tor.com, with one new episode going up every day. You can also purchase the entire novel through Barnes & Noble or Amazon.

[Before long, Qiran the Ethiope arrived at Sharara’s pavilion in an attendant’s disguise.]

Series: Hoshruba: The Land and the Tilism

Hoshruba: The Land and the Tilism: Book 1, Episode 43

When Tilism-e Hoshruba was first published in Lucknow, India in 1883, it was already a beloved oral history that had been performed for years in public and private. What Hoshruba’s fans did not know, however, was that professional storyteller Mir Ahmed Ali and his disciples had engineered a massive literary hoax, writing Hoshruba themselves and falsely attributing it to the epic poem cycle The Adventures of Amir Hamza. But less important than Hoshruba’s provenance was its impact: The story of the tilism (an inanimate object transformed into its own world) of Hoshruba, defended by Emperor Afrasiyab against rival tilism as well as the trickster Amar Ayyar, has become one of the foremost fantasy tales in Urdu. For a more in-depth look at the epic’s sorcerers, formidable women, and grimdark (long before the genre existed) battles, read Mahvesh Murad’s Under the Radar review.

Hoshruba (which translates to “ravishing the senses”) is part of the dastan tradition of oral storytelling and is being translated into English for the first time as Hoshruba: The Land and the Tilism. In its original form, Hoshruba was published in Urdu, in eight volumes totaling over eight thousand pages. In translating the epic into English, Pakistani-Canadian writer Musharraf Ali Farooqi has split each volume into three, for a total of 24 volumes. Over the next few months, you will be able to read all 50 episodes—the entire first volume of Hoshruba—on Tor.com, with one new episode going up every day. You can also purchase the entire novel through Barnes & Noble or Amazon.

[Now hear of Amar Ayyar…]

Series: Hoshruba: The Land and the Tilism

Hoshruba: The Land and the Tilism: Book 1, Episode 42

When Tilism-e Hoshruba was first published in Lucknow, India in 1883, it was already a beloved oral history that had been performed for years in public and private. What Hoshruba’s fans did not know, however, was that professional storyteller Mir Ahmed Ali and his disciples had engineered a massive literary hoax, writing Hoshruba themselves and falsely attributing it to the epic poem cycle The Adventures of Amir Hamza. But less important than Hoshruba’s provenance was its impact: The story of the tilism (an inanimate object transformed into its own world) of Hoshruba, defended by Emperor Afrasiyab against rival tilism as well as the trickster Amar Ayyar, has become one of the foremost fantasy tales in Urdu. For a more in-depth look at the epic’s sorcerers, formidable women, and grimdark (long before the genre existed) battles, read Mahvesh Murad’s Under the Radar review.

Hoshruba (which translates to “ravishing the senses”) is part of the dastan tradition of oral storytelling and is being translated into English for the first time as Hoshruba: The Land and the Tilism. In its original form, Hoshruba was published in Urdu, in eight volumes totaling over eight thousand pages. In translating the epic into English, Pakistani-Canadian writer Musharraf Ali Farooqi has split each volume into three, for a total of 24 volumes. Over the next few months, you will be able to read all 50 episodes—the entire first volume of Hoshruba—on Tor.com, with one new episode going up every day. You can also purchase the entire novel through Barnes & Noble or Amazon.

[Meanwhile, in Mahrukh’s camp the news circulated that Prince Shakeel had been captured.]

Series: Hoshruba: The Land and the Tilism

Hoshruba: The Land and the Tilism: Book 1, Episode 41

When Tilism-e Hoshruba was first published in Lucknow, India in 1883, it was already a beloved oral history that had been performed for years in public and private. What Hoshruba’s fans did not know, however, was that professional storyteller Mir Ahmed Ali and his disciples had engineered a massive literary hoax, writing Hoshruba themselves and falsely attributing it to the epic poem cycle The Adventures of Amir Hamza. But less important than Hoshruba’s provenance was its impact: The story of the tilism (an inanimate object transformed into its own world) of Hoshruba, defended by Emperor Afrasiyab against rival tilism as well as the trickster Amar Ayyar, has become one of the foremost fantasy tales in Urdu. For a more in-depth look at the epic’s sorcerers, formidable women, and grimdark (long before the genre existed) battles, read Mahvesh Murad’s Under the Radar review.

Hoshruba (which translates to “ravishing the senses”) is part of the dastan tradition of oral storytelling and is being translated into English for the first time as Hoshruba: The Land and the Tilism. In its original form, Hoshruba was published in Urdu, in eight volumes totaling over eight thousand pages. In translating the epic into English, Pakistani-Canadian writer Musharraf Ali Farooqi has split each volume into three, for a total of 24 volumes. Over the next few months, you will be able to read all 50 episodes—the entire first volume of Hoshruba—on Tor.com, with one new episode going up every day. You can also purchase the entire novel through Barnes & Noble or Amazon.

[In the meanwhile, Afrasiyab returned to his court and consulted the Book of Sameri to learn what had passed with Sarsar after she left to capture Amar.]

 

In the meanwhile, Afrasiyab returned to his court and consulted the Book of Sameri to learn what had passed with Sarsar after she left to capture Amar.He learned of her misadventures and discovered that Baghban sat listening to Amar Ayyar’s song.

Enraged, Afrasiyab said to himself, It is a great shame that my first minister should embrace my enemy; a travesty that one of the most celebrated officers of the empire joins hands with the foe. He shut the book in anger and clapped. A magic slave popped up from the ground. Afrasiyab commanded him, “Amar is singing in Baghban’s garden. Go and bring both Amar and Baghban to me.” After receiving his orders the magic slave departed.

In Baghban’s garden, Amar took a pause during singing and heard a whirring sound. When he looked up he saw a magic slave swooping down. Amar quickly put on the cape of invisibility and disappeared. When the magic slave came down with a blinding flash, it did not find Amar. It caught Baghban by his waist, shouted, “I CAME FROM EMPEROR AFRASIYAB!” and carried away the minister. A terrified Gulchin realized that calamity would now strike them.

The magic slave brought Baghban to Afrasiyab. At the sight of him the Emperor rose with a whip in his hand, gave Baghban a few lashes and said, “O traitor! How dare you socialize with and entertain my enemy in your house?” Baghban truthfully related to the emperor all that had passed from the time the sorcerer brought Amar, to Sarsar’s feuding with Amar Ayyar. Then Baghban entreated Afrasiyab, saying, “This meek subject,

“Being a humble slave of Your Majesty

Beholden as always to the salt of your vassalage

would never ever dream of treason. Now the just emperor should release me so that I may produce that sly trickster in your excellent presence.”

Afrasiyab detected the redolence of truth in his minister’s words. He released Baghban, who departed in a fury to arrest Amar.

Now hear of Amar Ayyar. After the magic slave carried off Baghban and the threat moved away, Amar removed his cape of invisibility and said to Gulchin, “I have thought of a way to ward off Afrasiyab’s anger. I would share it with you if you accompany me to the summerhouse.”

Gulchin rose and followed Amar. When they entered the summerhouse Amar made her unconscious with an egg of oblivion, wrapped her in a rug and hid her in a corner of the summerhouse. Then Amar took out his trickster’s paints and lotions and disguised himself as Gulchin. He attired himself in her clothes and returned to take her seat in the garden. The slave girls asked, “Where did Amar Ayyar go?” The false Gulchin answered, “He possesses the power of invisibility. God knows where he disappeared.” The slave girls believed her and did not ask further questions.

In the meanwhile, Baghban returned and made the same query of the false Gulchin. She replied, “Amar disappeared even as the magic slave swooped down.” Baghban said, “I’m going in search of that wretch; the emperor humiliated me before everyone on account of him. I’ll arrest him because he won’t be able to cross the river, and take him before the emperor.” Baghban then recited a spell and flew away.

Amar said to himself, When Baghban is unable to locate me after a close search, he will use magic to discover where I’m hiding. He will learn that I am in his garden in Gulchin’s guise and speedily arrest me. The false Gulchin sent for Baghban’s daughters, sorceresses Nihal and Samar, who arrived at their mother’s summons. After expressing tokens of maternal love and affection for the girls, the false Gulchin said, “Your father has gone in search of Amar, who is a veritable monster. Let us depart and track Amar too, lest he should inflict any harm on your father, or we attract the emperor’s anger in case your father is unsuccessful in catching him.” Sorceress Nihal said, “Very well, mother, let us go.”

The false Gulchin asked her to send for a flying throne. Nihal hit a magic citron on the ground. The earth cleft and smoke issued out in a column rising up to the heavens. After a moment, a flying throne approached and descended near them. The false Gulchin left sorceress Samar behind to safeguard the house and sat on the throne with Nihal, to whom she said, “Let us see whether you know enough magic to make this throne fly, or if you’ve been wasting your time in idle play.” Nihal recited a spell and the throne became airborne. As they flew near the banks of the River of Flowing Blood, the false Gulchin began to mumble, pretending to recite a spell. A moment later, she said to Nihal, “My magic has alerted me that Amar has crossed the river into Zahir. However, he has not yet emerged from the wilderness. If we hurry, we can apprehend him yet.”

Nihal hastened the throne onwards. They flew over the River of Flowing Blood and crossed into Zahir.

Now hear of Baghban Magic-Gardener. He searched for Amar in all directions but failed to find any trace of him. Baghban finally untied a statue from his wrist, recited a spell and said, “O image of Sameri, I ask you in Lord Sameri’s name to give me Amar’s whereabouts.” The statue spoke, “AMAR HAS LANDED ACROSS THE RIVER DISGUISED AS YOUR WIFE. HE IS ACCOMPANIED BY YOUR DAUGHTER, WHOM HE IS ABOUT TO KILL AND THEN MAKE HIS ESCAPE.”

Upon hearing this, Baghban tied the statue to his wrist again and speedily flew toward Zahir. He soon arrived where Amar had landed. As Amar was about to make Nihal unconscious with an egg of oblivion, Baghban shouted, “Beware, O wretch! I have arrived! You won’t escape from me now!”

When sorceress Nihal heard her father’s voice, she looked in all directions, wondering whom he challenged. Amar then cuffed Nihal, put on the cape of invisibility, and jumped from the throne shouting to Baghban, “Beware, O bastard! I am the Sun of the Sky of Trickery,

“I am Amar who stole headgears from emperors’ heads

I am the one who drains Bakhtak’s face of all blood

In the assembly of kings if I am a cupbearer appointed

Swords and shields, ewers and goblets I would embezzle

“You escaped my hand, O Baghban, otherwise I would have dispatched you and your whole family hellward.” Amar escaped after uttering this threat.

Baghban approached Nihal and said, “You made a terrible mistake conducting Amar across the river into Zahir.” Nihal excused herself by professing her ignorance about the matter.

Finally, Baghban and his daughter returned home. Baghban searched for Gulchin and found her lying unconscious in the summerhouse. He restored her to her senses and gave her the entire account of what had occurred. Baghban said, “I will now go and arrest Amar from Mahrukh’s court, where he is certain to make an appearance after taking off his cape of invisibility.” Gulchin threw herself at Baghban’s feet and said, “O Baghban, I beg you in the name of lords Sameri and Jamshed not to interfere in the tricksters’ affairs. Since the tricksters cause even the emperor such grief, imagine how ill we would fare against them. You must desist from pursuing them lest the tricksters kill you in their exasperation. You saw how Amar traveled from Batin to Zahir in a trice, and the emperor was unable to do anything about it.”

At Gulchin’s advice, Baghban finally desisted from his plan. He went before Afrasiyab and gave him the details of how Amar escaped. Afrasiyab remained silent out of consideration of the fact that if he censured Baghban further, he might also join Mahrukh’s side.

In the meanwhile, Amar Ayyar arrived in his camp. His presence caused great joy among his commanders and he joined the court.

Now hear of the trickster girl Sarsar. After she left Baghban’s garden, she realized that Amar would be unable to cross the River of Flowing Blood, Qiran would be in his abode in the wilderness and the remaining tricksters would be occupied with their own errands. She considered breaking into Amar’s unprotected camp to capture someone eminent, like Queen Mahrukh or Bahar, so she could humiliate Amar in the same way he had disgraced her.

Sarsar crossed the river and entered Mahrukh’s camp in disguise. She rested and waited all day long for an opportunity. When the Trekker of the Desert of Heavens123 disappeared in its westerly pavilion and Night’s Beloved124 showed its moon-like face in the mirror of sky, the bride of heaven filled up her parting with stars.

Mahrukh adjourned her court and all her commanders returned to their pavilions.

It has been recounted that Queen Mahrukh’s son, sorcerer Shakeel, was enamored of Heyrat’s daughter, Princess Khubsurat. As Afrasiyab did not approve of the union, Khubsurat was put under magic incarceration in Batin. Every night upon returning to his pavilion, Shakeel remained engrossed in the memory of his beloved’s locks; separation from her tormented him relentlessly. He recited these verses constantly,

“Entangled in her enticing locks

I myself made my heart her captive.”

That night too, as was his wont, Shakeel returned to his pavilion with a heavy heart and restive soul and cried copiously like a cloud of spring quarter. In his grief, he rent his robe from collar to hem. Although it was a moonlit night, it was the same to him as utter darkness without the light of his beloved’s beautiful, luminous aspect. Shakeel called out, “The old man of heavens has become my enemy. It’s not the moon but a torch lit in the heavens to burn me! What glares at me from amidst stars is a ball of pitch!”

He recited,

“O Tyrant, on torment bent

Pardon all this sinner’s sins

Given that beloveds are by nature cruel

Known to break their word and oaths

Yet be not so despotic that your subjects should die

Be not so excessive that your lovers breathe their last

If you truly wish to keep

Your lover from your presence away

I ask you – as a sacrifice for your charming locks,

May your coldness, cruelty and harshness flourish!

I ask you – in the name of your indifference,

May your airs of vanity and conceit endure!

Draw your relentless dagger, O lovely executioner

And slaughter me once, for all time

Then your lover would receive what he covets

All his griefs and sorrows would come to an end.”

In this way, Shakeel made a hundred plaints

Without finding redress or eliciting a single reply

His passion grew stronger with every moment

He recited fervently these verses in love

“My eyes were made a vessel that overflows with tears

Their charity has not yet ceased

That you and I are irreconcilably apart

Makes life for me a worthless exercise

Who sleeps? Sleep seeks not my eyes

I am sought alone by tears and nights of separation

You disgraced my love first, then of my plight made light

None so disgraced as I could hope for last rites

She who never counted me among her favored ones

Finally counts the breaths that now remain to me

When alive I was driven away from her assembly, from her presence

In death none would expel me; I dance in her alley now as dust.”

As he sat grieving, it occurred to Shakeel that he should lighten his heart by a jaunt in the desert and, Majnun-like, while away the night in the memory of his beloved. Shakeel’s hands spoke to him, saying, “Let us reach again for the collar.” His feet longed to roam the desert.

Shakeel told himself that he would return to his camp in the morning and no one would notice his absence. His laden heart would be lightened and grief would lift its dark shadow from his soul. Driven by these thoughts, crying and weeping, Shakeel headed into the wilderness, at every step shedding ears from his unrequited heart. He recited the verses:

“How to recount what became of my heart

It counts its beats in my beloved’s alley, my heart

Neither I nor my heart wish to witness the other’s despair

My heart avoids me and I avoid my heart

Now beside me now beside my beloved

Regard how omnipresent is my heart

Do not put it under the lodestone of separation

The frailest of all frail creatures is my heart

How can I call anyone my friend

When my own breast has borne an enemy – my heart

The caravan of past lovers has left in its wake the dust

In its cloud it dances particle like, my heart.”

As Shakeel proceeded alone on his way, he was sighted by Sarsar, who awaited an opportunity. The trickster girl stealthily pursued him.

Once he entered the desert, Shakeel sat down under a hill on a stone slab and engrossed himself in the scenery to soothe his heart.

Sarsar was well aware of Shakeel’s unhappy love for Khubsurat. Seeing Shakeel in a pensive mood, she disguised herself as Princess Khubsurat’s attendant, approached and saluted the prince. Sarsar said, “Do you recognize me, O prince?” Shakeel replied, “I don’t know who you are; I no longer even know who I am.

“Although I appear to be of this world

I don’t know who I am, where I am.”

Sarsar answered, “I am the attendant of your beloved, Princess Khubsurat. I have lived in this desert ever since she was exiled and imprisoned.” When Shakeel heard that she was his beloved’s attendant, he broke into tears all over again.The false attendant said, “Just as you are infatuated with the beauty of your beloved, she too, suffered pangs of separation from you. Such was her condition that,

“Each other’s friends and familiars, you two

Became prisoners of longing and grief before long

While her love in your heart resided

Your love was kneaded into her very essence

Like Majnun you desert-wards headed

Crying, ‘Ah! O beloved!’ Crying, ‘Ah! O longing and pain!’

And that picture of excellence, the princess

Dressed herself like the night in black

Candle like she melted away

But did not her secret suffering reveal

She ate neither a morsel nor drank a drop

The only thing that passed her lips, your name

Her story is a tale ripe with sorrow

This account is a fable most tragic

She is kept imprisoned in great pain and suffering

Her legs clasped in fetters, iron chokers round her neck

No longer of her past circumstances, no longer her former self

Like all tales of love hers too, in endless woe ends.”

When Shakeel heard this account of his beloved, he embraced the false attendant and cried without cease.

He said, “O tyrannical heavens,

“Now to this miserable state I am reduced

Unable to seek union with my beloved, Khubsurat

In this life I will pine away in separation

My soul too, would remain unrequited in afterlife

This longing for union with my beloved will cause

My last breaths to leave with difficulty my breast

With the writhing and turmoil of my restless heart

 I would raze my house, the tomb, once interred

I did not leave happy this life in love

Unfulfilled and unsated in love I left this world.”

Seeing him in such agony, the false attendant took out a small box from her belt and placed it before the disconsolate lover. She said, “O sojourner on the path of commitment! O wanderer in the alleys of love! At the time of her imprisonment the princess touched her delicate lips to some green cardamoms and betel nuts and put them in this box. She asked me to bring these to her lover wherever I might find him, and to narrate to him her tragic state.”

Shakeel ate the drugged cardamoms from the box and fell unconscious. Sarsar tied him into a bundle and headed for Heyrat’s court.

In the meanwhile, the eastern lover with his bleeding heart emerged into the field of sky searching for his beloved,125 and the dark old woman night disappeared behind the screen of light.

Pass me the ewer of wine, O cupbearer

For I while away the night in shedding tears

The sun of troubles dawns on me again

And the morning of sorrows begins anew

Sarsar arrived in Heyrat’s court carrying the bundle containing sorcerer Shakeel, saluted the empress and put the bundle before her. Heyrat asked, “Whom have you brought?” Sarsar replied, “I brought you Mahrukh’s son and Princess Khubsurat’s lover, Shakeel.”

Heyrat put an incarceration spell on Shakeel and ordered that he be restored to his senses. When Shakeel opened his eyes he found himself a prisoner in Heyrat’s court. He called out,

“If you look with kind eyes toward the sufferers of ill repute

Throw one glance at me, for you yourself took my repute away

I do not want the Tooba tree’s126shadow when I die

I wish that cypress beloved’s shadow to fall on my grave one day

If out of desiring you I have hundreds of troubles

I will never expel this desire out of my heart

“O Empress, I am already imprisoned in the depths of grief. The locks on my beloved’s forehead keep me chained. What purpose would it serve to imprison me further? I will die shortly on my own, even without any hardships you may inflict.” After speaking these words Shakeel cried bitter tears of love.

Heyrat took pity on his condition and said, “O Shakeel, you are no stranger to me. You are the son of Mahrukh and the uncle of Afrasiyab’s daughter Mahjabeen. If you submit allegiance to me and do not side with your mother, I will marry you to Khubsurat.” Shakeel answered, “I wish neither to take sides with my mother nor you. I abhor the world. All I know is that I am helplessly in love with Princess Khubsurat. Set me any task you wish and I will fulfill it to attain my beloved. Order me and I will even go and fight my mother.”

Heyrat removed the incarceration spell from Shakeel and conferred a robe of honor on him. She asked one of her attendants, sorceress Taus, to release Princess Khubsurat from her magic prison, bring her to the Pleasure Garden and bathe and dress her so that she could be restored to times of happiness and joy before meeting Shakeel.

As ordered by Empress Heyrat, sorceress Taus removed the spell from the magic Ferris wheel where Princess Khubsurat sat and brought her to the Pleasure Garden.

The arrival of the rosy-cheeked Khubsurat augmented the beauty of the garden. The princess, whose narrow mouth resembled a rosebud, adorned and decorated herself when she heard the news that she would soon meet her lover.


123. Trekker of the Desert of Heavens: an allusion to the sun.

124. Night’s Beloved: an allusion to the moon.

125. Eastern lover…his beloved: an allusion to the sun searching for the moon.

126. Tooba tree: the name of a tree in heaven.

Series: Hoshruba: The Land and the Tilism

Hoshruba: The Land and the Tilism: Book 1, Episode 40

When Tilism-e Hoshruba was first published in Lucknow, India in 1883, it was already a beloved oral history that had been performed for years in public and private. What Hoshruba’s fans did not know, however, was that professional storyteller Mir Ahmed Ali and his disciples had engineered a massive literary hoax, writing Hoshruba themselves and falsely attributing it to the epic poem cycle The Adventures of Amir Hamza. But less important than Hoshruba’s provenance was its impact: The story of the tilism (an inanimate object transformed into its own world) of Hoshruba, defended by Emperor Afrasiyab against rival tilism as well as the trickster Amar Ayyar, has become one of the foremost fantasy tales in Urdu. For a more in-depth look at the epic’s sorcerers, formidable women, and grimdark (long before the genre existed) battles, read Mahvesh Murad’s Under the Radar review.

Hoshruba (which translates to “ravishing the senses”) is part of the dastan tradition of oral storytelling and is being translated into English for the first time as Hoshruba: The Land and the Tilism. In its original form, Hoshruba was published in Urdu, in eight volumes totaling over eight thousand pages. In translating the epic into English, Pakistani-Canadian writer Musharraf Ali Farooqi has split each volume into three, for a total of 24 volumes. Over the next few months, you will be able to read all 50 episodes—the entire first volume of Hoshruba—on Tor.com, with one new episode going up every day. You can also purchase the entire novel through Barnes & Noble or Amazon.

[Laqa growled angrily like thunder...]

 

Laqa growled angrily like thunder and shouted, “That bastard Afrasiyab has courted a terrible calamity. I will now destroy him with an inauspicious fate and dispatch him hellward.”

Witnessing Laqa in a rage, sorceress Khumar shook like an aspen leaf and said, “My Lord, this was indeed not the message sent by the Emperor of Hoshruba. It appears that along the way someone replaced the original. After Amar was captured and brought before Emperor Afrasiyab, he told his court secretary to write you to request sending your devil designate Bakhtiarak to kill Amar with his own hands and return leading an army of sorcerers to Mount Agate. Instead, I heard abuses written in this letter. It confounds me to think of an explanation for this marvel. But you are the Lord Almighty! To your eye all mysteries must be manifest and clear.”

When he heard this speech, Bakhtiarak said, “Now I know how the letter was changed. Indeed, it is impossible to capture Amar. I know that he must have disguised another in his likeness and had him arrested. Amar must have accompanied you here secretly and found his chance to make you unconscious and replace the letter.”

Bakhtiarak then asked Khumar, “O Princess, is it a fashion in Hoshruba for the women to shave their heads?”

Khumar thought that Bakhtiarak spoke in jest. She replied, “O devil designate of Lord Laqa, it is indeed your function to make light of everyone. But I am too insignificant a creature and a mere devotee of our Lord to be a worthy target of your quips. Why do you imagine the women of Hoshruba would shave their heads when it is reputed that their ringlets are the fetters for lovers’ hearts and those bitten by the dark snakes of their captivating locks do not draw another breath?” Bakhtiarak said, “In that case, did you make a vow that you would shave your head before your audience with Lord Laqa? Feel your head; you will know whether or not you have any hair left on it or if I spoke in jest.”

Khumar felt her head and realized that Bakhtiarak spoke true. Her head was shaved clean; not so much as a bristle was left standing. She broke into tears and cried, “O Bakhtiarak, you spoke true when you said that Amar must have accompanied me here. Indeed, I felt a heavy burden on my shoulders. I am sure he rode me all the way. Today I was given fruit to eat by a macebearer that made me unconscious. That man must have been Amar. He had shaved my head once before.”

Bakhtiarak cried loudly, “Blessings upon Muhammad and his progeny! Curses upon Laqa! Regard, O Khumar, what a favored creature Amar is of Lord Laqa that he showed you this day! You will presently see him make an appearance.”

Be it known that Bakhtiarak said these words only to check whether or not Amar Ayyar was present in Laqa’s court, for he knew well that Amar revealed himself whenever he was praised. Next, Bakhtiarak said, addressing Amar, “O True Master, pray show us your face if Your Honor has arrived here!”

Chalak, who was present in Laqa’s court, had witnessed all these proceedings. He said to himself, I should appear before them in Amar Ayyar’s disguise. When Khumar sees him in Laqa’s court she will be satisfied and tell Afrasiyab that she saw Amar at Mount Agate. Afrasiyab will become doubtful and think that the one he captured was not Amar. He will release the real Amar and everyone would praise my trickery, which secured Amar Ayyar’s release from hundreds of miles away.

Chalak went out of the court to assume the disguise. Bakhtiarak had not finished eulogizing about Amar when Chalak jumped over the pavilion and landed in the center of the court in Amar Ayyar’s disguise. To make sure that Bakhtiarak was satisfied with his identity, he conspicuously displayed a false mole on the white of his left eye and cried, “O Khumar! You barely escaped my hands! I had every intention of killing you!”

When Khumar saw Amar she rushed at him, shouting, “O wretch deserving of beheading, you have invited your death by shaving my head a second time and disgracing me in the tilism and the court of Lord Laqa.” As she neared him, the false Amar Ayyar hit her in the face with an egg of oblivion. Khumar fell unconscious upon impact and the false Amar leapt away and escaped. Laqa’s attendants were well accustomed to the tricksters’ ways and knew better than to waste their time by giving them chase. None of them stirred from their place.

Bakhtiarak restored Khumar to consciousness and said to her, “O Princess, now you should go back and show your shaved head to Afrasiyab, describe to him what passed with you, and take the reply to his missive.”

Bakhtiarak dictated a reply to Afrasiyab’s letter from Laqa, which read:

“I bestow my mercies on the Emperor of Hoshruba, Afrasiyab, who is a favorite among my favored creatures. Be it known to him that he is an unmindful king, easily tricked by his servants. His trickster girl brought him someone in the disguise of Amar Ayyar and he never felt the least suspicion. Amar Ayyar followed his messenger to our court. It would be little wonder if one day Amar killed him too, taking advantage of his lax guard. It is unworthy of our devil designate to visit the court of such a negligent and unaware person. He will pay the Emperor of Hoshruba a visit when he arrests the real Amar Ayyar. Now it is incumbent upon the emperor to send an army of sorcerers to the aid of His Lord or else His Lordship will visit his divine wrath on his tilism and go away in anger.”

The court secretary wrote the letter, stamped it with Laqa’s seal, and handed it to sorceress Khumar. After receiving the letter, she prostrated herself before Laqa and said, “O Lord! Make my hair grow back.” Laqa replied, “Come to me on the day of Nowruz.119 I will grant you such beauty and charm that even the houris of my heaven will envy you and you will receive eternal youth.”

Laqa sent her off after offering her such words of comfort and hope.

Sorceress Khumar flew away with Laqa’s letter. She soon arrived in the court of Afrasiyab, where he awaited Laqa’s reply. Khumar presented it, along with the letter trickster Chalak had written, showed the emperor her shaved head, and narrated all that had passed.

Afrasiyab trembled with fright upon learning that abuses were addressed to Laqa in his name. He was also deeply grieved that his beloved Khumar’s hair had been shaved off. Afrasiyab became convinced that Sarsar had produced someone in Amar’s disguise to impress him with her resourcefulness. He ordered that Amar, who had been tied to a column in the Apple Garden, be brought before him.

Amar had already heard Khumar’s entire account. He said to himself, One of my disciples must have shaved this whore’s head and created a ruse for my release.

The sorcerers untied Amar and put spells on him so that he could not escape and presented him before Afrasiyab. When the emperor asked him who he was, Amar replied, “Your Excellency, Sarsar told me that she would present me before you in Amar’s disguise, that I would be imprisoned, and when it was night, she would set me free and give me five thousand rupees. In return, I had to state before you that I was Amar when, in fact, I am a prostitute from the region of Zahir.”

Afrasiyab said to the sorcerers, “Remove your spells from Amar.” Then he said to him, “You are free to go where you please.” He also rewarded Amar five thousand rupees for revealing the truth of the matter. Amar saluted Afrasiyab, collected his reward, and left the Apple Garden. Thinking that a calamity might soon follow upon the discovery of the truth and that he would be recognized and recaptured, Amar wrapped himself in his cape of invisibility.

In the Apple Garden, Afrasiyab called out, “Send for that whore and sham trickster girl Sarsar!”

The sorcerers conveyed the message to Sarsar, who rested in another part of the vast Apple Garden. When she heard the emperor’s unexpected summons she arrived shaking and trembling with fear. Afrasiyab ordered, “Tie her up!” The sorcerers tied Sarsar to a column and gave her a thrashing at Afrasiyab’s orders. Sarsar cried out, “What is my crime?” Afrasiyab replied, “O evil bitch, this is your reward for disgracing me before Lord Laqa! Read this message from him! You brought me a prostitute disguised as Amar Ayyar. Tell me the truth now or I will have your nose cut off from the root.”

Sarsar replied, “That is not true. I satisfied myself that the man was Amar.” Sorceress Khumar said, “See for yourself! Amar shaved off my hair. Why would I shave my own head just to show you to be a liar?” Sarsar addressed Afrasiyab, “Your Excellency should not believe me or anybody else but consult the Book of Sameri. If I have lied you should put me to death. But I would not have my name sullied for anyone who had her head shaved to bring disgrace on others.” Khumar was incensed and said, “O whore! Do not cast aspersions on me! You have some cheek covering your crime by accusing others!” Sarsar retorted, “You are a whore yourself! Except for my lord emperor’s, I won’t listen to anyone’s abuse!”

Feeling angry at them, Afrasiyab said, “Such altercations are unseemly in my presence.” Then he looked into the Book of Sameri and learned that Khumar’s head had been shaved by Chalak, that Sarsar spoke the truth, and that he had made an error in releasing Amar. Afrasiyab now set Sarsar free, conferred a robe of honor on her and said, “Amar will not be able to cross over the River of Flowing Blood. Hasten and arrest him and bring him to me.”

Sarsar departed in Amar’s pursuit and Afrasiyab adjourned the court. His ministers, commanders, and courtiers returned to their homes.

Sorceress Khumar nursed malice in her heart toward Sarsar for what had happened in the court that day. The trickster girl felt the same toward Khumar. We will hear more about it in the following pages.

Now hear of Amar Ayyar. He had put on the cape of invisibility as he came out of the Apple Garden. When he had traveled far enough away, he took it off and disguised himself as an Aghori fakir.120 He tied on a waistcloth, covered himself with a rag and, carrying a carafe of wine in one hand and holding a human skull under his other arm, he headed onwards, shouting inanities. It was his plan to find and kill a sorcerer in whose disguise he could cross the River of Flowing Blood.

Amar was engrossed in these thoughts when he was sighted by the trickster girl Sarsar, who had pursued him. She recognized Amar in the fakir’s disguise and challenged him by blocking his path and drawing her short sword. Amar had no choice but to fight.

As the two tricksters fought together, a sorcerer who lived in that wilderness happened on the scene.

When Amar saw him coming, he shouted, “Look who is behind you!” Amar got closer and hit Sarsar with an egg of oblivion as she turned. He caught Sarsar in his arms as she sank unconscious to the ground and put her into the zambil. He tried to run away but the sorcerer was already on his head and recited a spell that made Amar’s feet stick to the ground.

The sorcerer said, “O Aghori, why did you fight with the woman? And what did you do with her when I approached? How did you make her disappear all of a sudden?” Amar replied, “That woman was my wife. As I was hungry, I ate her up.” The sorcerer marvelled when he heard this and said, “I always sought but never found a way to gain admission to the court. Now I have found a wonderful one; there would be no sorcerer at the emperor’s court who could swallow a person whole in one bite.” The sorcerer caught Amar with a magic claw, recited a spell, and flew away with him.

It so happened that after Afrasiyab’s court adjourned, his first minister, Baghban Magic-Gardener, retired to his garden where he sat drinking wine with his wife, sorceress Gulchin.

As the sorcerer carrying Amar flew past, sorceress Gulchin saw him carrying a man and said to her husband, “Send for him. Let’s find out who they are.” Baghban recited a spell to stop the sorcerer. He was an ordinary sorcerer and could not fly after Baghban’s spell was cast. He descended and saluted the emperor’s minister. Baghban asked, “Who did you take captive?” He replied, “I saw him fighting with his wife. Then all of a sudden he ate her up. I was surprised by that and decided to take him before the emperor.”

Baghban also marvelled when he heard that account and scrutinized Amar with his magic gaze. As Baghban was a mighty sorcerer, the power and heat of his gaze made Amar’s makeup evaporate and fly in sparks from his body. Baghban removed his magic gaze from Amar’s body and said to the sorcerer, “This is Amar Ayyar, not an Aghori fakir.” He asked Amar, “Who was the woman you ate up?” Amar replied, “I don’t let my wife come out before strangers nor leave her alone at home, I keep her with me in my zambil. She is a matchless trickster girl herself. When I took her out from my zambil in the wilderness she started fighting. Then this sorcerer arrived. As he was a stranger, I put her back into my zambil. I did not eat her.”

When sorceress Gulchin heard this she said to Amar, “I wish to see your wife. Take her out of the zambil.” Amar answered, “I will not take her out before strangers. Dismiss the men and give me some money. Then I will show her to you.” Gulchin dismissed the men from the garden. Baghban, however, kept sitting there. He said, “O Amar, bring out your wife before me. I will liberally reward you.” Amar said, “There would be no harm done if you showed me the money first.” Baghban and his wife sent for much gold and riches and offered it to Amar, who stowed it away. Amar then retired to a corner of their garden, pulled out Sarsar’s head and changed her appearance with trickster’s makeup. Then he returned, pulled Sarsar out of his zambil and put her before them.

Gulchin saw a comely girl of breathtaking beauty and said, “O Amar, your wife is indeed very pretty. Now restore her to consciousness.” Amar replied, “She will run away if I do so.” Gulchin said, “She would not dare run away from my presence.” Amar said, “If she is unable to escape she will tell you all kinds of lies. She will say that she is the trickster girl Sarsar. Then you will turn against me.” Both Baghban and Gulchin swore that they would not believe a word she said. Amar tied Sarsar to a tree and gave her a restorative.

When Sarsar came to, she saw Baghban and Gulchin sitting before her. She said, “O emperor’s minister, why have you tied me to this tree? Don’t believe a word this cameleer’s son Amar tells you. Give him to me so I can take him before the emperor, who awaits his capture.” Amar said, “O whore, why would you wish to take me before your lover, the emperor? Today I will cut off your nose.” Sarsar cursed Amar.

Both Baghban and Gulchin took it for a marital feud. Gulchin said to Amar, “Your wife has a sharp tongue, indeed.” Amar slapped Sarsar roundly and said, “O whore, will you ever wag your tongue again in my presence?” Baghban and Gulchin laughed at this spectacle. Sarsar said to them, “Ridiculing me will not bode well with you. I’ll tell the emperor that his minister has joined hands with Amar.” Baghban asked, “How would you gain entrance to the emperor’s court?” Sarsar answered, “I am the trickster girl Sarsar. I have a seat at the emperor’s court.” Amar interjected, “Didn’t I tell you that she would claim to be Sarsar? She is a sly one, surely.” Amar slapped Sarsar some more.

Sarsar related to Baghban all that had passed in the court, including Afrasiyab’s intentions before Amar’s arrest and the counsels held in the court, and said, “If I were not Sarsar, how would I know these details?” Baghban became apprehensive and plucked a fruit from a tree; he recited and blew a spell over it whereupon the fruit opened and a bird of beautiful plumage emerged and warbled melodiously, “THE WOMAN WHO IS TIED UP IS SARSAR!” After making this utterance the bird flew away.

Baghban apologized to Sarsar and set her free. While Baghban and Gulchin were occupied with Sarsar, Amar found the opportunity to put on his cape of invisibility and disappear. When Sarsar was released, she shouted, “Where did that wretch of a trickster go?” Amar replied, “I am here.” Baghban felt frightened as he could hear Amar’s voice but not see him. Sarsar said to them, “I must leave now.” Amar called out, “I will also accompany you.”

Sarsar exited the garden but Amar stayed behind to think of some way to rob the place and murder the sorcerers. After Sarsar was gone, Gulchin said to Baghban, “Because of Sarsar’s threats, Amar also went away. I have heard of his many talents. If he were here I would have liked him to display them for us.” Amar answered, “I am here but invisible to you because you are sorcerers; you would arrest me and take me before Afrasiyab.”

When Gulchin heard his voice, she said, “I swear by Lord Sameri that we would not deceive you.” Amar said, “Very well. Arrange for some money so that I may reveal myself.” When Gulchin put out an offering for Amar he took off his cape of invisibility and appeared.

Gulchin greeted Amar with respect and seated him. Then she said, “We are very anxious to hear you sing. Please regale us by singing a little for us.” Amar produced a pipe and tied ankle-bells to his feet. He sang and danced and sent the audience into raptures of joy. The birds in the garden forgot their songs and listened, entranced, to Amar’s voice. The flowers in that garden lent their ears to his melodious strains and the leaves rustled in applause of his honeyed notes. The tress swayed, the flower buds sat tight-lipped on branches, and the hearts of love-struck nightingales filled to bursting with fervor.

He sang the tappa121with such mastery

That every strain set the soul aflutter

The strains, they rose with a power that

Made restive every accompanying beat

His gatkari122 was a string of light drops

Like a sparkler it continuously sparkled

The narcissi looked up at its sound

The flowers lent it their fragrant ears

The trees swayed with an enchanted fervor

And the cypress stood riveted and straight

The birds fell down from the trees entranced

The doors and walls became wonderstruck

The stones in the lake bed turned to water

The fountains, they broke into sprays

The odes of love the ringdoves sang

The nightingales flooded the garden with their tears

The strange power that the ragashave

Their talent to melt to water stones

Such an air and ambience in the garden it created

All hearts became of tenderness full

A scene of such marvel was painted there

Even the breeze issued dancing from the trees

Amar received jewels worth hundreds of thousands of rupees in reward and won over the assembly with his talent.


119. Nowruz: the first day of the Persian New Year. Laqa and his religion are an amalgam of many faiths of which Hinduism and Zoroastrianism are only two. Here he describes Nowruz as his day for granting requests and prayers.

120. Aghori fakir: a caste of Hindu fakirs who worship the god Shiva (Aghor is a title of the god Shiva). The Aghori fakirs are known for their unclean habits and a reputation for eating human carcasses.

121. Tappa: a style of Indian classical singing developed and refined by the musician Mian Shora associated with the court of Asaf-ul Dawla in Avadh, India.

122. gatkari: the throatal, resonating sound produced by Indian classical singers

Series: Hoshruba: The Land and the Tilism

Hoshruba: The Land and the Tilism: Book 1, Episode 39

When Tilism-e Hoshruba was first published in Lucknow, India in 1883, it was already a beloved oral history that had been performed for years in public and private. What Hoshruba’s fans did not know, however, was that professional storyteller Mir Ahmed Ali and his disciples had engineered a massive literary hoax, writing Hoshruba themselves and falsely attributing it to the epic poem cycle The Adventures of Amir Hamza. But less important than Hoshruba’s provenance was its impact: The story of the tilism (an inanimate object transformed into its own world) of Hoshruba, defended by Emperor Afrasiyab against rival tilism as well as the trickster Amar Ayyar, has become one of the foremost fantasy tales in Urdu. For a more in-depth look at the epic’s sorcerers, formidable women, and grimdark (long before the genre existed) battles, read Mahvesh Murad’s Under the Radar review.

Hoshruba (which translates to “ravishing the senses”) is part of the dastan tradition of oral storytelling and is being translated into English for the first time as Hoshruba: The Land and the Tilism. In its original form, Hoshruba was published in Urdu, in eight volumes totaling over eight thousand pages. In translating the epic into English, Pakistani-Canadian writer Musharraf Ali Farooqi has split each volume into three, for a total of 24 volumes. Over the next few months, you will be able to read all 50 episodes—the entire first volume of Hoshruba—on Tor.com, with one new episode going up every day. You can also purchase the entire novel through Barnes & Noble or Amazon.

[In the meanwhile, Amar and his trickster companions also presented themselves. ]

 

In the meanwhile, Amar and his trickster companions also presented themselves. Amar took sorcerer Aafat and Princess Hilal Magic-Wringer out of the zambil.Finding themselves rescued from the jaws of death and in the safety of the royal pavilion, they looked around in surprise.

Amar gave them all the details and said, “O Aafat, it was I who rescued you from the pyre in the disguise of the sati.” Aafat prostrated himself before Amar, who raised him into his embrace. Aafat made an offering to Queen Mahrukh and was awarded a robe of honor. Aafat and his wife Hilal were assigned their own pavilion, where they retired to rest and celebrate.

The bodies of Empress Heyrat’s slain sorcerers were carried away on her orders and her army returned crying and wailing to its camp. Heyrat thought of avenging herself on Mahrukh’s camp but decided to wait for Afrasiyab’s instructions in the matter.

By this time, a downcast Afrasiyab returned from Zulmat to the Apple Garden. He angrily ordered his first minister, Baghban Magic-Gardener, “Bring Amar a prisoner from Mahrukh’s court and punish anyone who interferes.”

Baghban sank into the ground by magic to travel subterraneously to avoid the danger of encountering tricksters.

In Mahrukh’s court, Amar Ayyar suddenly felt disquieted and became apprehensive. He realized that after suffering that terrible humiliation at his hands, the Emperor of Hoshruba would not let the matter pass but would try to take revenge. Amar said to himself, Afrasiyab will certainly dispatch someone to arrest me. It would be best for me to go into hiding.

Amar brought out a Kashmiri warrior from his zambil.

Be it known that Amar keeps many infidel sorcerers and warriors as prisoners in his zambil. They are fed by their jinn guards and the confines of the zambil appear to be a city to these prisoners. Furthermore, there are seven cities within the zambil. This zambil, which appears to the human eye in the shape of a small purse, was gifted to Amar by Prophet Aadam the Friend of God.

Amar made the Kashmiri unconscious, disguised the man as himself, put him into a bed in the front yard of the royal pavilion, and then disappeared by putting on the cape of invisibility.

In the meantime, Afrasiyab’s minister tore out of the earth in Mahrukh’s court and shouted, “Baghban Magic-Gardener is my name!” Mahjabeen’s sorcerer commanders hurled steel magic balls and magic citrons at him. Baghban foiled them and recited a spell that started a cold breeze that put Mahrukh’s entire court to sleep. When Baghban did not find Amar in the court, he decided to search outside before looking for Amar in the wilderness. He searched for Amar in the yards and inside the tents until he found him asleep in the yard and carried him off, putting a magic claw around Amar’s waist.

Before flying away, Baghban removed his spell from Mahrukh’s court. As they returned to consciousness, he shouted from the sky, “O rebels, the emperor only gave me orders to arrest Amar or else I would have beheaded all of you. I am taking Amar away. Is there any among you powerful enough to snatch him from me?”

The sorcerers in Mahrukh’s court readied their magic coconuts and magic devices to fight him again but Amar, who was present there in his cape of invisibility, whispered into Mahrukh’s ear, “I am hidden under the cape of invisibility. Stop your sorcerers from challenging him.”

Mahrukh intervened and said to her courtiers, “Do not confront him. God will protect Amar. Let Baghban take him away.” The sorcerers did not challenge Baghban, who flew away and in a short time arrived in the Apple Garden and threw the false Amar before Afrasiyab.

The emperor summoned the headman and ordered that the prisoner be brought to consciousness and executed. The sorcerers restored the false Amar to his senses. When the Kashmiri warrior opened his eyes he was confounded to find himself in the court of the majestic emperor. When he saluted Afrasiyab, the emperor said, “Regard O wretched trickster how quickly I apprehended you. Now you will die a most painful death!” The warrior said, “O Emperor, I am your humble servant, not a trickster. I am of your own faith – a Laqa worshipper.” Afrasiyab replied, “I will never be deceived by your false words again.” He ordered the executioner, “Kill him!”

The warrior again beseeched Afrasiyab, “O Emperor, satisfy yourself by every means but do me justice. I am from Kashmir. The True Believers defeated me and wished to convert me to their faith but I did not accept. Then Amar imprisoned me in his zambil. I am still perplexed by the way I was released and brought here.” Afrasiyab became doubtful when he heard his imploring and pleading and looked into the Book of Sameri. It read:

“The warrior tells the truth. Amar disguised him in his likeness. Then Baghban carried him away.”

Afrasiyab ordered that the face of the warrior should be washed. The paints and lotions washed away and the warrior’s real face was revealed. Afrasiyab released him and conferred a robe of honor on him, and the warrior entered the emperor’s service.

Afrasiyab now said to Baghban, “It was not Amar whom you produced before me.” Baghban answered, “I brought him here thinking he was Amar. I should not be faulted since I am not adept in the art of tricksters; I truly thought it was Amar.”

Afrasiyab accepted Baghban’s excuse. The emperor now sent a magic claw to fetch the trickster girl Sarsar from Heyrat’s camp. The magic claw produced Sarsar in no time. When Sarsar saluted the emperor, Afrasiyab said, “You are a trickster. Search for Amar Ayyar and bring him to me a prisoner. If you fail me I swear upon my faith that I will kill you with my own hands. Do you not see the daring deeds performed by the enemy tricksters? What is the purpose of my having you as a trickster girl?”

Sarsar went away trembling in fear of the emperor’s wrath. She armed herself and departed on her mission. When she crossed the River of Flowing Blood, she met up with the other trickster girls and gave them the news. While they left to perform their trickeries, Sarsar disguised herself as an attendant and arrived in Mahrukh Magic-Eye’s camp.

As Sarsar made her rounds, she saw one of Mahrukh’s slave girls leave her pavilion on an errand. Sarsar approached her and said, “I request that you find me employment with the queen.” The attendant answered, “Go and submit your request in the court. I have no say in these matters.” Sarsar accompanied her and they went conversing together until they reached a deserted spot. There, Sarsar made her unconscious with an egg of oblivion and assumed her appearance, putting on the attendant’s costume and making herself into her likeness.

Then Sarsar returned to Mahrukh’s court. When she appeared before the queen, Mahrukh said, “Go and put a water bowl by the chair in the privy chamber. I have to attend to the call of nature.” Sarsar filled the water bowl and carried it there. In the meanwhile, Mahrukh also made her way there. Sarsar found her chance to make Mahrukh unconscious with an egg of oblivion. She then sat down to make herself into Mahrukh’s likeness and put on her clothes. Sarsar tied Mahrukh into a bundle and carried it dangling from one hand, heading for the storage area. She asked the attendants of the storage to step out as she wished to put something away in privacy. After they left, the false Mahrukh locked the real Mahrukh in a chest. Then she sent for the attendants, showed them the chest and said, “You are warned on pain of death not to open this chest!” The attendants put the royal seal on the chest.

The false Mahrukh now returned to the court and sat on the throne.

After some time, she said, “Lay out the food in the front yard. I wish to have my meal.” As ordered, the cook laid out the food and the false Mahrukh sat down to eat.

Amar Ayyar removed his cape of invisibility and returned to the royal pavilion. When he came in and did not see Mahrukh on the throne, he asked for her. The courtiers told him she was having her meal in the front yard. When Amar came out, the false Mahrukh said, “Please have some food with me.” At first Amar declined but when the false queen insisted that he eat a little, Amar joined her.

After they had eaten, the slave girls brought the bowls to wash their hands. The false Mahrukh offered Amar her hand towel, pushed her betel box toward him, and dismissed her attendants, saying, “You may wait for me in the court. I now wish to consult with Amar privately.” After they left, Amar wiped his mouth with the hand towel, which was steeped in a drug. Amar sneezed and immediately fell unconscious. Sarsar made a bundle of him, slit open the tent, and made her way speedily toward the River of Flowing Blood.

The guards and soldiers saw her carrying a bundle but as she was disguised as their queen, they did not dare challenge her. However, Burq the Frank, who came from the direction of the wilderness, sighted the false Mahrukh flying out of the camp and recognized her as a trickster girl. He immediately drew his short sword and attacked her. Sarsar too, unsheathed hers and fought back. She approached Burq fighting and targeted him with her snare rope. Burq jumped up to clear its coils and upon landing hit Sarsar with an egg of oblivion, which made her sneeze and fall unconscious.

As Burq reached for the bundled up Amar, he heard Saba Raftar’s war cry from the wilderness. She challenged Burq and fell upon him with her dagger drawn. As Burq fought her, Saba Raftar reached over to Sarsar and hit her in the face with an egg of awareness, which brought Sarsar to consciousness. Seeing Burq and Saba Raftar busy fighting, Sarsar saw her chance and ran away carrying Amar. As Burq tried to follow her, Saba Raftar blocked his path. Burq blew his trickster whistle so that another trickster would hear his call and stop Sarsar.

Sarsar realized that if other tricksters came to Burq’s aid she would be cornered. She headed for the path that passed through the second tier of the Bridge of Magic Fairies. Sarsar called out, “O Bridge, give me way in the name of Emperor Afrasiyab!” The smoke parted immediately at her words, a path was revealed and Sarsar disappeared into it while Burq watched helplessly. Saba Raftar also dodged Burq and escaped, and the trickster returned to his camp.

Upon arrival, Burq heard cries that Amar and Mahrukh had disappeared while having their meal. When Burq learned the details he said, “It appears to me that Sarsar carried away Amar and the real Mahrukh is lying unconscious somewhere in our camp.”

The storekeeper said, “The queen had put something away in a chest. We should check its contents.” When Burq opened the chest he found Mahrukh locked within. He restored her to consciousness and seated her on the throne. The slave girl who had been rendered unconscious by Sarsar also returned to the court. Mahrukh was greatly distressed to hear of Amar’s capture and the whole camp continuously discussed the sad and tragic event.

Now hear of the trickster girl Sarsar. As she escaped from Burq and passed over the Bridge of Magic Fairies, Amar regained consciousness. He opened his eyes and found himself tied in a bundle and carried on Sarsar’s back through a narrow, dark, and dreadful passageway that would turn the gall of braves to water. Amar regarded all this and kept silent.

Sarsar now reached the Desert of Flames and called out, “O Desert of Flames, give me way in the name of Emperor Afrasiyab!” The flames made way too, and Sarsar crossed the Desert of Flames and came to stop when her path was blocked by a wall of darkness so intense that it could not be ascertained where the world ended and the heavens began.

Suddenly, a sorcerer whose body glowed like a flame, materialized and caught Sarsar around her waist with a magic claw. He swung her over his head and hurled her into the air. Amar closed his eyes in fear and when he opened them after a moment he saw that a fiery magic slave was carrying them away. It arrived at a river of fire and dove into it where there was nothing but utter darkness. Amar was frightened out of his wits and kept silently reciting “Help, O Merciful God!” The fiery magic slave swam across the river and came out on the other bank. There, a magic trooper materialized and flew away, holding Sarsar by the hand.

Finally, Amar saw a mountain appear in the distance. The magic trooper landed there and threw Sarsar down the mountain. Amar closed his eyes as Sarsar fell tumbling down. When he opened his eyes he saw Sarsar had landed in Afrasiyab’s Apple Garden.

It was a garden that was created as a tilism. Protected from the hands of autumn, and the revolutions of time and chance, trees laden with flowers in eternal bloom lined the garden. Verdure and bright shrubbery refreshed the sight wherever one turned his gaze. The song birds and creatures made of magic sang and warbled in their honeyed tones,“O AFRASIYAB! O AFRASIYAB!” The garden’s entire landscape and buildings were a tilism. Every chamber and house was as charming as a fairy, with the columns and roof fitted with intricate fixtures and the summerhouse clustered with jewels.

An array of aromatic herbs and flowers grew there

An array of tilisms populated that expanse

The walls and doors were made with magic

On a different scheme than all doors and houses

Neither fire could burn nor rain soak them

Neither summer nor winter within were felt

If one desired a thing within its walls

That object presently appeared on a shelf therein

The birds and beasts there of jewels were carved

They ambled and flew far within its walls

Roamed in the shape of animals all day

And worked in the form of humans all night long

Lustrous night lamp rubies embedded in walls

In the day shone as rubies, in the night glowed as lamps

Every flower, every thorn in that garden was of magic made

Its roses and rose buds had no equal in creation

The hours of clocks chimed and invisible, rang

With the sound of dancing and clapping

When left open the garden chambers

Rang with the music of a myriad instruments

And once closed the chambers gave off

A thousand pleasant strains organ like

Velvet carpets laid out and spread on its floors

With the runes from Suleiman’s time on it inscribed

The drapes and curtains in that garden’s tilism

Drew at one’s desire and closed at one’s wish

Afrasiyab sat on a throne in the center of the summerhouse and gave audience. Thousands of sorcerers stood humbly before him with their arms folded on their breasts.

Upon arrival, Sarsar saluted the emperor and put the bundle of Amar before him. She said, “I present the emperor’s enemy. Your Honor’s slave girl performed the mission given her and risked her life to produce Amar before you.” Afrasiyab conferred a precious robe of honor on Sarsar and said, “Open the bundle.”

The bundle was not yet opened when a magic claw brought the letter from King Suleiman Amber-Hair in which he had given an account of sorceress Hasina’s death and sought Afrasiyab’s aid at Laqa’s behest.

Afrasiyab read Suleiman Amber-Hair’s note and wrote to Laqa in reply:

“Your humble slave has captured Amar Ayyar, the deadly enemy of Your Lordship. I request you to send your devil designate, Bakhtiarak, to kill him with his own hand. On his return journey, I will accompany him with an army of sorcerers that will destroy Hamza’s forces.”

Afrasiyab handed the message to sorceress Princess Khumar to take immediately to Laqa.

 

Sorceress Khumar

Bearing the emperor’s reply, Princess Khumar flew away by magic and speedily arrived at the fortress of Mount Agate. In deference to Laqa, she decided to announce her arrival at the gates of the court.

It so happened that the trickster Chalak had come to Mount Agate to spy on Laqa and his court in a macebearer’s disguise. Sorceress Khumar saw him standing at the gates and said to him, “O macebearer, announce in the court that Emperor Afrasiyab’s messenger sorceress Khumar has arrived from Hoshruba with a letter from the emperor.” The false macebearer replied, “Wait here, I will go and announce your arrival.” He stepped inside, waited a few moments, then came out and said to Khumar, “Come with me, O Princess, and receive your instructions.”

Khumar followed Chalak, who brought her to a deserted corner and gave her a fruit, saying, “Lord Laqa has sent this fruit for you to eat before you appear in his presence. It will make your body glow with our lord’s divine light.”

Khumar prostrated herself and said, “O lucky me! His Lordship shows such munificence, even toward his insignificant creatures. No sooner have I arrived than I receive a gift from his bounty!” After expressing her gratitude, Princess Khumar ate the fruit. The effects of that drugged fruit became manifest to Khumar immediately upon eating it. Her head went down and her feet went up and she fell unconscious.

Chalak saw his chance. He took out his razor and shaved Khumar’s head clean. Then he took out Afrasiyab’s message from her bag and replaced it with one of his own composition. Afterwards, Chalak headed for Laqa’s court to await Khumar’s arrival.

After some hours, Khumar regained consciousness. She got to her feet and said to herself, I must have lost consciousness from eating the fruit Lord Laqa sent. Indeed, such must be one of its properties. Surely, when the pollution and contamination of the former self are purged and the soul is renewed, a person would lose consciousness. Clearly, I am as clean and pure today as the moment I came out of my mother’s womb. Engrossed in these thoughts, Khumar headed for Laqa’s court. Every now and then she inspected her limbs to see if they had started glowing with divine light. It never occurred to her that her hair had been shaved off.

Khumar entered the court and prostrated herself when she saw Laqa on the throne. The courtiers started laughing at the sight of the shaven-headed sorceress. Laqa said to Khumar, “Raise your head, O being of my creation! I bestow my mercy upon you.” Khumar finally raised her head and Laqa offered her a chair beside his throne. As she took her seat, Bakhtiarak addressed the court, reciting,

“Neither her beauty altered nor my passion showed variance

Even with her locks shaved I remain as miserable as before.”

Khumar did not understand the import of what Bakhtiarak said. She produced the envelope from her bag and offered it to Laqa. At a sign from Laqa, his court secretary took the envelope from Khumar, opened it and took out the letter. Seeing that it was full of invectives and insults, he humbly said to Laqa, “I am unable to read this letter as it seems to be written in a talismanic hand.”

Bakhtiarak said, “Let me read it.” When the court secretary gave him the letter and Bakhtiarak read it, he laughed uproariously and said, “Listen to the words of this missive, O Lord! It reads:

‘Hear, O disgraced bastard, clown, ass, idiot, pimp, inane bear of the dark path, who is monkey-like, swine-natured, hideous of face, ill-born, astray, foolish-faced, dark of complexion and darker of disposition – to wit, Zamarrud Shah, alias Laqa – who is eternally cursed in the court of heavens and blighted by God. Hear this, O accursed creature after thousands upon thousands of curses, and may God make you a burning log in hell! You turned thousands of creatures away from the True Faith. You are ordered to present yourself forthwith in the dignified court of Amir Hamza the Lord of the Auspicious Planetary Conjunction to convert to the True Faith and renounce your false claim of divinity, otherwise my forces will march against you and I will depute an army of sorcerers to bring you to the door of ruin and destruction; the eyes of regret will shed tears at your terrible end and none will remain who will even remember your name. Consider this short message a memorandum of ample warning. End of Letter. Thousands of curses upon your head!’”

Series: Hoshruba: The Land and the Tilism

Hoshruba: The Land and the Tilism: Book 1, Episode 38

When Tilism-e Hoshruba was first published in Lucknow, India in 1883, it was already a beloved oral history that had been performed for years in public and private. What Hoshruba’s fans did not know, however, was that professional storyteller Mir Ahmed Ali and his disciples had engineered a massive literary hoax, writing Hoshruba themselves and falsely attributing it to the epic poem cycle The Adventures of Amir Hamza. But less important than Hoshruba’s provenance was its impact: The story of the tilism (an inanimate object transformed into its own world) of Hoshruba, defended by Emperor Afrasiyab against rival tilism as well as the trickster Amar Ayyar, has become one of the foremost fantasy tales in Urdu. For a more in-depth look at the epic’s sorcerers, formidable women, and grimdark (long before the genre existed) battles, read Mahvesh Murad’s Under the Radar review.

Hoshruba (which translates to “ravishing the senses”) is part of the dastan tradition of oral storytelling and is being translated into English for the first time as Hoshruba: The Land and the Tilism. In its original form, Hoshruba was published in Urdu, in eight volumes totaling over eight thousand pages. In translating the epic into English, Pakistani-Canadian writer Musharraf Ali Farooqi has split each volume into three, for a total of 24 volumes. Over the next few months, you will be able to read all 50 episodes—the entire first volume of Hoshruba—on Tor.com, with one new episode going up every day. You can also purchase the entire novel through Barnes & Noble or Amazon.

[Now hear of what passed in the tilism.]

Sorcerer Aafat and Princess Hilal Magic-Wringer

Now hear of what passed in the tilism. Afrasiyab sat in the Apple Garden when the magic claw that had carried off sorceress Lamae Lightning-Bolt brought her before him. The emperor removed the spell that held her and returned her to consciousness. After hearing sorceress Lamae’s account, Afrasiyab beat his head in shame and chagrin. He sent off sorceress Lamae to her land and thought of assigning sorceress Chashmak Zan Lightning-Bolt to the campaign against Mahrukh.

At that moment, a sorcerer named Aafat, who was one of the emperor’s close confidants and illustrious commanders, laughed at Afrasiyab.

Afrasiyab, who grieved at his recent reversals, was enraged by Aafat’s ill-timed laughter. The emperor said, “O insolent man, how dare you laugh instead of consoling your master and weeping at his circumstances?” Aafat replied, “O Emperor, I laugh when I consider the rising fortunes of Amar Ayyar and Mahrukh Magic-Eye and how they humiliate your devotees, the renowned sorcerers of the tilism, who are the equals of Sameri and Jamshed. Amar trounced them and all of them turned tail. Verily, it’s a near impossibility to triumph over Amar.” Afrasiyab was incensed by these inauspicious words and said, “O ill-natured, worthless man, go away and never come back! How dare you dispirit and dishearten my courtiers by impertinently praising the enemy before them?”

Being of a noble nature, Aafat could not hold back after hearing Afrasiyab’s harsh words. Aafat said, “O Afrasiyab, it is such displays of vanity that brought Lord Sameri’s wrath down on you. As we know,

Any who raised the head of vanity was condemned

To this day the Tutor of Angels115 walks in ignominy

“You have not renounced your arrogance despite repeated humiliations. I speak true. You will never be able to kill Amar Ayyar. Everyday I feel more inclined to believe that his faith is indeed the true faith.”

Afrasiyab said, “It appears to me that you have joined Amar, which is why you sing his praises and take his side. I’ll teach you a lesson for your insolence. I would like to see how Amar saves you now.”

Afrasiyab ordered the sorcerers present in his court to arrest Aafat. When the sorcerers rose to arrest him Aafat tried to counter their spells but was overwhelmed by their greater number and was pinioned by them.

Afrasiyab ordered, “Take him across the River of Flowing Blood into Zahir and burn him alive in the open field that stretches from the Dome of Light and overlooks Mahrukh’s camp so that she too, may witness his terrible end and take admonition from it. That area is also accessible to the tricksters. I would like to see who dares to release him. Tonight this man of ill fortune should remain imprisoned in the execution grounds. Come morning, I will arrive at the Dome of Light and sit in the window that overlooks Mahrukh’s camp to witness the burning of Aafat on the pyre, and the helplessness of his sympathisers.”

Several thousand sorcerers led Aafat away. The entire region of Batin rang with the news and sorceress Aafat’s wife, Princess Hilal Magic-Wringer, also received the tidings. She headed out with several hundred beautiful slave girls to see her husband for the last time. Aafat’s friends and attendants wept and wailed and accompanied the princess, their hair dishevelled and collars rent. But they followed her at a distance because of their fear of the Emperor of Hoshruba.

When the party of sorcerers leading Aafat as prisoner arrived in Zahir a great hue and cry arose in that region.

Empress Heyrat’s magic birds brought her the news and she rode out on her throne to witness the sight. All the officers of her camp accompanied her. Magic bugles tooted and the criers made proclamations that anyone who rebelled against the Emperor of Hoshruba would be likewise punished and experience a similar plight.

In due time, the news also reached Queen Mahrukh’s camp that Aafat was condemned to be burned alive for the words he spoke in favor of Amar and Mahrukh. Everyone, including Amar Ayyar, received the news and became restive. Mahrukh ordered that the magic trumpet should be sounded and readied her army to attack and snatch Aafat from Afrasiyab’s clutches. Then Amar said to her, “O queen, if you were able to triumph over the armies of the Emperor of Hoshruba, we, the tricksters, would have speedily killed the emperor instead of undergoing any hardships. It is impossible for you to snatch Aafat from them. I advise instead that some of your sorcerers should fly into the sky by magic and hide there, and some more should invoke magic to sink into the ground. A part of our army should lie in wait here and another part should prepare to ambush. When they hear my war cry and witness Afrasiyab lying unconscious, they should attack the enemy camp and start the carnage. However, you must make these arrangements under cover of night. Let the remainder of the day pass without these preparations or your intentions will be revealed to the enemy. I must, however, start now and plan some trickery.”

Amar Ayyar went on his way. He arrived in the wilderness and blew his whistle to summon his trickster companions. When they gathered, Amar informed them about their mission. Each trickster described the trickery he would perform to achieve his end. Amar approved of the trickery they described, which will be revealed in due time. Afterwards, the tricksters left on their respective missions and Amar went his own way.

On the other side, villainous sorcerers led Aafat into the field. Empress Heyrat’s entourage also arrived and was stationed on one side of the field. Afrasiyab had ordered that a pyre be built and Aafat kept incarcerated during the night.

When the bride of the day arrived in the house of lamentations dressed in black, and the evening of sorrows displayed her mourning face, a guard and vigil was deputed on sorcerer Aafat. Empress Heyrat’s entourage bivouacked in their place. The vigil squads remained on the alert and constantly made rounds of the camp. A sorcerer named Tadbir, appointed to supervise the building of the pyre, ordered that the forest be cut down to obtain wood.

As advised by Amar, Queen Mahrukh and half of her army slipped away under cover of darkness. Once they arrived near their marks, they invoked magic, flew to the sky, and sank into the ground as planned, to lie in ambush.

The trickster Burq the Frank reached the open field and saw sorcerer Tadbir supervising the arrangements for the pyre. Burq disguised himself as a woodcutter and, carrying an axe on his shoulder, went before him.

He said to Tadbir, “As I was cutting a tree, a flame leapt out of its trunk and turned into a fairy and started dancing. I ran away in fright and came to report it so that you may also witness this marvel.” Tadbir was greatly surprised. He accompanied the false woodcutter, who led him to a deserted place where he made Tadbir unconscious with an egg of oblivion, put on his clothes, and assumed his disguise. He bound the real Tadbir and threw him into a cave, then returned to the field and resumed work.

When building the pyre, Burq left a cavity in the middle that could accommodate up to three persons. While Burq made these arrangements, Qiran the Ethiope dug a tunnel from the forest leading up to the cavity in the pyre. Disguised as sorcerers, the tricksters Zargham and Jansoz helped prepare the pyre and threw large amounts of drugs onto the logs.

While the tricksters made these preparations, Amar Ayyar headed along the bank of the River of Flowing Blood and arrived at a colorful garden that was the envy of paradise. Tall and soaring trees lined the garden. Every plant was bestowed richly by the bounty of the Eternal Gardener. And yet the garden was draped in sorrow and every flower sat on its branch with a rent collar, robbed of its beauty and charm.

Amar entered the garden and witnessed a woman dressed in black, who sat surrounded by several hundred slave girls wailing and lamenting. The woman was none other than the wife of sorceress Aafat, Princess Hilal Magic-Wringer. In the past, she had used that garden in Zahir for her pleasure jaunts; now she stopped there to spend the night in mourning before joining her husband to burn alongside him. That luminous moon of beauty sat marked by the eclipse of dread in the midst of her attendants, remembering her husband and suffering violent pangs of grief.

When Amar heard her lamentations, he realized she was sorcerer Aafat’s wife. Amar hid in a garden nook and disguised himself as an old woman. White-haired, with bent back and walking with the help of a stick, the false old woman arrived before Princess Hilal crying, “Ah, my son!” She introduced herself as Aafat’s nanny, vowed her life’s sacrifice to keep the princess from harm, and cried copiously in her embrace. Then she said to Princess Hilal, “O Princess, accompany me to the gate of the garden. Come alone as I am going to attempt your husband’s rescue and want you to hear the details.” Princess Hilal left her slave girls behind and followed the false old woman, who led her to a deserted spot and made her unconscious with an egg of oblivion. Amar now disguised himself as Princess Hilal, put on her clothes and put the real princess into his zambil.

The false Princess Hilal returned to her companions. After a few moments, she declared, “Lord! Lord!”116 Her companions and slaves fell down at her feet and cried, “O delicate flower of beauty’s garden, consider your youth and desist from the thoughts of dying with your husband. For the sake of lords Sameri and Jamshed, keep the fire of separation from burning your heart away.” The false Hilal answered,

“The one struck by fatal love’s arrow

Finds life a veritable burden to pass.

“I would not feed my body to the fire of disunion. I find it far preferable to die united with my lover and escape separation’s blaze.” The false princess cried bitterly after calling out,

“No one should witness the flame of searing love rising

Lovers burn and turn to ash without giving out smoke.”

Then the false princess sang,

“If my lips utter a sigh it would burn up the world, set aflame the forest

But this wicked heart remains unburned though my sighs fill it.”

Then she ordered her attendants, “Bring my bridal dress and costume. I will decorate myself for my last journey on the path to eternal union when I enter the assembly of spirits in the company of my husband.”

The attendants brought out the dress and jewelery and carried them on trays to the false Princess Hilal, who decorated her locks, strung pearls in her hair, and left it loose. As she adorned herself, the layer of missi and lac dye on her lips was so captivating it robbed the lovers of all their sensory possessions and bled their souls. She decked herself in a red dress to further ignite the flame of love in the hearts of lovers; her attire showed her breasts to advantage with their high angle, further robbing the lovers of their peace of mind.

In short, after she was all dressed, fragrant as the jasmine and adorned as asati,117 her lovely slave girls worshipped her and placed garlands and sweetmeat offerings around that delicate beauty. The false Princess Hilal sat on her throne and laughed joyously, for

Happy and cheerful she headed for her lover’s court

The false Hilal tossed and played with a magic coconut as the carriers led her throne to the pyre.

As she was carried along the paths of the tilism, sorcerers, citizens of the tilism and other creatures followed her. All of them promised offerings in her name if she answered their prayers. They worshipped her and asked for her blessings. When the false Princess Hilal saw throngs crowding the way, she stopped the procession and sang the denunciations of the worthless world. She enjoined everyone to engross themselves in thoughts of God. She said, “Hear that the one who loves his Lord, in whose soul the Lord resides, whose heart the Lord fills with Himself, the one who gives up his body and soul in His name, for such a one it is easy to give up life too. Without the oppressive garb of bodily existence, he discovers true happiness. The perfect act in this world is to love the Lord, for it leads to being in His presence every moment and becoming one with Him in the end.”

Pipes and cymbals played before the sati’s throne. She offered some the flowers torn from her garlands; to others she gave the ashes from the ceremonial worship fire. She went along her path offering injunctions to all who would listen.

Finally, the bright and luminous star emerged from the dome of the east, burning in the fire of separation of the Night Sky’s Beauty,118 and rode out on the throne of heaven to show the world the burn marks of his lover’s heart.

By the time it was daylight, the sati’s procession arrived in the field where the pyre had been built. Afrasiyab came out of his bedchamber and took his seat in the Dome of Light.

The calamity-struck Aafat, with his grieving heart, prayed continuously to God. He importuned the Lord and prayed to Him in the name of His favored ones, saying, “O my Lord, like Mahrukh, I too have converted to the True Faith. Ward off this calamity from my head.”

Sorcerer Aafat had not finished praying when a commotion suddenly rose and the false Princess Hilal’s procession arrived there. All those assembled rushed to see her. They thronged around her throne and inquired of her about their prospects. Some were curious to know when a child would be born to them. One who was destitute inquired when he would come into riches and estate. The false Princess Hilal answered their queries and her procession kept moving onward.

Witnessing the hubbub, Afrasiyab asked the sorcerers in his court, “What is the reason for this disturbance?” One of them answered, “The wife of sorcerer Aafat has arrived to burn with her husband as a sati.” When Afrasiyab sent for the false sati and she arrived before him, the emperor nearly lost consciousness, overwhelmed by her great beauty.

Afrasiyab endlessly reasoned with her, saying, “O charming beloved, give up the thought of dying a sati and ask me for land and riches and take me for your slave in love.” That false, moon-faced beauty answered, “O Emperor, my spirit would attain peace only when the fire of separation is quenched in my heart. Without it, gold and riches and estate are all as dirt to me.”

The sorcerers had already seated Aafat atop the pyre as instructed by the emperor. The false princess jumped down from the throne, joined Aafat and seated him in her lap.

The sorcerers approached and burned a lamp under her palm to collect lamp black and test whether or not her love was true and whether or not the fire of love had already consumed her body and soul. Everyone bore witness to the truth of her love: the flame did not burn her hand, the false princess Hilal kept smiling as lamp black collected on her palm.

By now the field was fully crowded. Empress Heyrat and her sorcerers stood around the pyre. Zargham and Jansoz, who were busy making arrangements in sorcerers’ disguises, brought canisters of oil and butter they had mixed with drugs and poured them on the logs of the pyre. Burq the Frank, disguised as sorcerer Tadbir, lit up a bunch of dried grass and threw it on the logs. Immediately, a flame blazed and sheets of fire rose up from the pyre. Amar – still disguised as the false Hilal – wrapped Aafat in the Net of Ilyas, stuffed him into the zambil and jumped into the cavity at the center of the pyre. Qiran already awaited him at the tunnel’s mouth and led Amar out the other end.

In the meanwhile, the whole pyre caught flame and smoke rose from the drugs sprinkled on the logs. The drug potions mixed in the oil and butter that Zargham and Jansoz had poured on the pyre spread for miles. One after the other, the sorcerers who were gathered around the pyre, including Empress Heyrat, sneezed, and fell unconscious.

With faint repellent plugs in their noses, Amar and Qiran made their war cries, drew their daggers and began beheading enemy sorcerers. Soon Burq the Frank, Zargham and Jansoz also joined the killing spree.

Hearing the war cries of the tricksters, Queen Mahrukh, Princesses Bahar, Nafarman, Surkh Mu and others appeared in the sky and emerged from the ground to wreak havoc with their spells. They hurled steel magic balls, magic citrons and magic limes that shattered the spines of enemy sorcerers. As they died, the flames conflagrated higher and whirlwinds swept the field. The smoke rose so densely and in such abundance that it filled the chamber of the Dome of Light from where Afrasiyab surveyed the scene. All his courtiers were drugged senseless upon inhaling it. The Emperor of Hoshruba, who leaned out of the window, became unconscious himself and fell tumbling down the Dome of Light. Suddenly, the earth cleft and magic slaves emerged from the ground and caught him to break his fall.

Mahrukh Magic-Eye’s army came out of their hiding place and ambushed Afrasiyab’s sorcerers, who were killed, not in the thousands but in the hundreds of thousands. A wave of carnage surged and covered the foe. A river of blood began to flow.

When Mahrukh unsheathed the magic sword

Sparks flew in the thousands

Lightning and thunderbolts everywhere struck

The enemy corpses piled up in the battlefield

Such a terrible din rose from the arena

The old man heavens trembled with fear

The foe disappeared into fires of hell

Where Mehshar Lightning-Bolt fell

Like death, come to separate the body from soul

Like a thunderbolt it hovered on the head of the foe

The Cow of the Earth averted its eyes

From the blinding flash in the heavens

Even the bright star of the skies trembled with fear

When it recalled its flash and glare

From the sword’s dazzling flash

All vegetation burned up all of a sudden

The flames of the sword burned brighter

And like clouds heads began to shower blood

Amar looted the enemy’s goods and belongings and stripped the dead of their clothes. During the ensuing commotion, magic slaves carried Empress Heyrat to safety. They also restored Afrasiyab to consciousness. When he opened his eyes, Afrasiyab beheld the field in a doomsday like ferment, with his men swimming in blood and gore. Too ashamed by the sight, he awakened Heyrat from her faint and, by growing magic wings with a spell, flew away toward the region of Zulmat.

After Heyrat regained her senses, she invoked a magic cloud that rained and brought everyone to consciousness. As Heyrat prepared to repulse the attackers, Queen Mahrukh and Princess Bahar realized that they would be unable to capture the Dome of Light, and if Heyrat ordered the River of Flowing Blood to do so, it would surround them and they would become its prisoners. They immediately sounded the clarion to call their armies back to camp. The tricksters retreated into the wilderness. Thus, after the bloodshed and slaughter of the foe, Queen Mahrukh’s triumphant force returned to the safety of their encampment where large scale celebrations and revels were planned.


115. Tutor of Angels: according to Islamic folk belief, Azazil (Satan) was a jinn who lived on earth and on account of his piety he was invited to teach the angels and received the title of Muallim al-Malakoot (Tutor of Angels) until he was driven away from the Heavens for refusing to prostrate himself before Adam.

116. Lord! Lord: the original words are sat! sat! which can be interpreted variously. It could also mean “Right is Right!” but since Princess Hilal plans to burn herself and become one with her Lord the above interpretation was chosen by the translator.

117. Sati: a Hindu woman who burns herself alive in her husband’s funeral pyre. However, Princess Hilal Magic-Wringer is not Hindu because her gods are Sameri and Jamshed.

118. the bright and luminous star…of the Night Sky’s Beauty: an allusion to the unrequited love between the sun and the moon who must forever remain separated in day and night.

Series: Hoshruba: The Land and the Tilism

Hoshruba: The Land and the Tilism: Book 1, Episode 37

When Tilism-e Hoshruba was first published in Lucknow, India in 1883, it was already a beloved oral history that had been performed for years in public and private. What Hoshruba’s fans did not know, however, was that professional storyteller Mir Ahmed Ali and his disciples had engineered a massive literary hoax, writing Hoshruba themselves and falsely attributing it to the epic poem cycle The Adventures of Amir Hamza. But less important than Hoshruba’s provenance was its impact: The story of the tilism (an inanimate object transformed into its own world) of Hoshruba, defended by Emperor Afrasiyab against rival tilism as well as the trickster Amar Ayyar, has become one of the foremost fantasy tales in Urdu. For a more in-depth look at the epic’s sorcerers, formidable women, and grimdark (long before the genre existed) battles, read Mahvesh Murad’s Under the Radar review.

Hoshruba (which translates to “ravishing the senses”) is part of the dastan tradition of oral storytelling and is being translated into English for the first time as Hoshruba: The Land and the Tilism. In its original form, Hoshruba was published in Urdu, in eight volumes totaling over eight thousand pages. In translating the epic into English, Pakistani-Canadian writer Musharraf Ali Farooqi has split each volume into three, for a total of 24 volumes. Over the next few months, you will be able to read all 50 episodes—the entire first volume of Hoshruba—on Tor.com, with one new episode going up every day. You can also purchase the entire novel through Barnes & Noble or Amazon.

[Meanwhile, Mahrukh advanced and her army clashed with Heyrat’s forces.]

 

Meanwhile, Mahrukh advanced and her army clashed with Heyrat’s forces. Magic was deployed on both sides;Raad continuously emerged from the ground and roared; Mehshar continuously struck. A great pandemonium and uproar was witnessed in both camps as magic citrons and magic limes were hurled by sorcerers at their opponents.

With her spell, Princess Bahar summoned a magic spring that captivated the enemy sorcerers. Surkh Mu Wonder-Mane unfurled her hair and shooting stars showered on the foe, killing them in great numbers, Princess Nafarman wreaked havoc on the enemy with the magic she cast. Sorcerer Shakeel piled up the enemy sorcerers on the field.

Wherever the flaming lightning bolts fell

They cleared the expanse of enemy’s existence

The army submerged in the waves of blood

Where blood-splashing swords in every surge struck

The warriors ready with their swords unsheathed

The archers shot at targets that came into view

Necks fell under the curved blade as if it were the prayer hall arch

Every headstrong infidel was a humbled soul

The shining blade of the dagger swam in life blood

The skulls of the foe as dagger handles were already marked

When Heyrat beheld this picture of her army’s defeat, she struck the drums to announce the cessation of hostilities. She flew to the sky where she invoked magic to cause a surging river of fire to pour down into the arena and it began raining flames. Mahrukh also struck the drums to call her army back to camp. Heyrat extinguished the river of fire and returned to her court.

Mahrukh entered her encampment and held an assembly of her commanders.

Sorceress Mehshar and Raad Thunder-Clap made offerings and submitted their allegiance. They were welcomed by all the commanders in the camp and Mahrukh conferred robes of honor on them. She took off her precious necklace to present to Raad Thunder-Clap and gave him the rank of commander. Soon, preparations began for the celebrations. Mahrukh feted Mehshar and Raad and goblets of wine were passed around.

Leaving Queen Mahrukh’s camp busy in these revels,

Let us wheel around the steed of pen

And write of sorceress Hasina’s adventures

Hasina had put Prince Alam Shah under her beauty spell and issued the call to war at Bakhtiarak’s advice. One day, when the world-illuminating greater star111 retired to its westerly abode and its luminous minister, the lesser star,112 took over the reign of the land, war drums were struck in Laqa’s camp in the name of Prince Alam Shah.

The messengers of Amir Hamza’s camp delivered this news to the auspicious ears of their just king. King Saad ordered that war drums be beaten in answer from their camp. The valiant champions and warriors began their preparations for battle. The armory distributed arms and armor to soldiers, who decorated themselves with weapons of their choice. The steeds were fitted with reins and saddles. For four watches of the night, everyone remained busy in these measures.

When the eastern mint issued the coin of the sun and it became currency in the bazaar of the heavens in lieu of the moon’s dinar,113 the King of True Believers emerged from his private pavilion and received the salutations and blessings of his commanders. His Excellency led his army to the arena astride his battle charger, Siyah Qitas. The ceremonial royal horse trotted beside him.

From the other side, Laqa, in the company of Prince Alam Shah and sorceress Hasina, descended like a scourge. Alam Shah sat astride a fairy-faced horse beside Laqa’s throne. All the commanders and officers of Laqa’s army were arrayed out behind him. Hasina had magically augmented her beauty and anyone who laid eyes on her was captivated by her charm.

The grounds keepers of the two armies dug up and levelled the elevated patches and filled up depressed areas of the arena to make it smooth and level for battle.

Next, the battle arrays were formed, and after they were established, Alam Shah sought Laqa’s leave for combat and took the reins of his steed. He raced his horse into the arena and challenged the valiant True Believers thus: “Any of you who considers himself my match should come out and face me.” Everyone in the army of True Believers wept at his words and said, “We would never raise our hands in combat to harm our prince.”

At that moment, the steadfast pillar of the army of True Believers, the heart and soul and second in command of Amir Hamza the Lord of the Auspicious Planetary Conjunction, and the Lord of the lands of India, to wit, King Landhoor bin Saadan came forward astride his battle elephant. He sought and received his king’s leave to go and counsel the prince.

When Landhoor confronted him, Alam Shah said, “O pheni-eating,114 worthless Indian, you think you are my equal? Very well then! Give me the best blow from your repertoire of knocks.” Landhoor said, “O Prince of lofty station, I dare not fight with you as I am your slave and you my master. But it is most lamentable that you not only rebelled against your king but also challenged your noble father against all considerations of duty and honor in the quest of a shameless harridan, whore, and prostitute.” Alam Shah fiercely answered, “O Indian, how dare you utter these vile words against your mistress and owner, and my honored and pledged wife. I shall make an example of you!”

He brought down his sword on Landhoor’s head but Landhoor deflected the blade with a strike of his hand, foiling the prince’s blow and catching his wrist. Alam Shah took hold of Landhoor’s collar. As they struggled, their mounts collapsed under them. The two combatants emptied their saddles. They tied up the skirts of their coats, rolled up their sleeves, grappled with each other, and exerted themselves against the other’s might. It seemed as if two rutting elephants or two demons were locked in combat and clashed their heads together.

Sorceress Hasina cast a spell that drained Landhoor’s power and might; he felt his limbs become lifeless. Alam Shah pinned Landhoor to the ground and gave him prisoner to Laqa’s soldiers, who incarcerated Landhoor with other commanders of Amir Hamza’s camp. As the trickster, Tarar the Speedster, had already captured and imprisoned Amir Hamza in a cave, there was nobody who could challenge Alam Shah. The prince now drew his sword and attacked the army of True Believers.

Amir Hamza’s surviving army commanders saw no choice but to fight back. The King of the True Believers charged into the arena and Laqa’s armies also attacked. King Saad made his war declaration,

“I am the king of kings, majestic as Faridun the Great

I am the spring to the splendorous garden of Kaikaus and Jamshed

My arm is as strong as Bahman’s arm

I am brazen-bodied like Isfandiar!”

The two surging armies clashed with a roar and merged in sword combat. The cling-clang of arms and war slogans of champions mixed with the cries of the injured and dying.

The commanders of the True Believers’ army showed consideration to Alam Shah and avoided harming him. The prince, however, injured and maimed many and martyred several of them.

When Alam Shah injured King Saad too, the royal attendants carried their king away on a movable throne. The tricksters valiantly transported the women of Amir Hamza’s camp on their backs to the safety of the hills. The army commanders emptied out their camp and pavilions and, along with King Saad and their men, took refuge in a mountain pass.

Alam Shah charged into the empty camp and secured the Pavilion of Suleiman. Finding that he had no challengers, Alam Shah ordered his attendants to carry away the pavilion. Later, he ordered that drums be struck in Laqa’s camp to call the warriors to camp.

Alam Shah declared, “Tomorrow I will attack the mountain hideout where the True Believers have taken refuge and kill every single one of them.” Laqa returned to the fortress showering gold on Alam Shah’s head as a holy offering to ward off any harm that might befall him. The warriors rested and celebrations began in the fortress of Mount Agate.

Alam Shah said in the court, “Now I should be married to Princess Hasina. I have obtained the Pavilion of Suleiman. Soon I will bring back Hamza’s head too.”

Hasina, who was only too eager to lie with the prince, said to Bakhtiarak, “Do not make further delays. Marry me now to the prince.” Bakhtiarak answered, “You will spoil my plan with your impatience, but I will do as you wish. Prepare yourself to be married so that you can take your pleasure with the prince.”

Sorceress Hasina returned to her abode and ordered her attendants to decorate the garden and adorn her quarters. They released water in the watercourses, pruned the trees, and festooned the summerhouse where all the instruments of musical assembly were provided. Revels were organized in the Pavilion of Suleiman too, for the pleasure of Prince Alam Shah. Musicians, singers and dancers regaled the assembly. Goblets of roseate wine were passed. The revels continued and Alam Shah sat bedecked as a bridegroom on the throne.

Leaving Laqa’s camp occupied in merrymaking, let us hear an account of Amir Hamza’s camp. King Saad lay bleeding and unconscious in the mountain pass and his champions and nobles were also injured. When the king regained his senses, he said, “Raise me onto my steed’s saddle, fasten me to it and send me into the battlefield. To lay down my life fighting is far preferable to me than an ignoble existence such as this!” At these words, the women gathered there wept and wailed. When the dizziness subsided and the king again opened his eyes, he said, “Our camp encountered all these troubles because Amar Ayyar was not with us. We have many tricksters but they are tricksters in name alone. There are none that are capable of getting us out of this trouble.”

The trickster Chalak was cut to the quick by these words. He said to himself, I should kill that whore Hasina or lay down my life in the endeavor. He put on his trickster’s livery and set out for the Fortress of Mount Agate.

When Chalak arrived in Laqa’s court he witnessed wedding arrangements underway. He disguised himself as an attendant and asked a passerby, “Whose wedding is taking place here?” The man gave Chalak all the details regarding sorceress Hasina’s nuptials with Prince Alam Shah and told him that Hasina would be wed from her garden. Chalak obtained the directions to Hasina’s garden and headed there.

Chalak disguised himself as a sorcerer, marked his body with sandalwood powder, plaited his hair and smeared it with dust. He tied the portraits of Sameri and Jamshed to his arms, put on a saffron-colored waistcloth and affixed a diamond tablet on his forehead; it was carved with the words, “Special Aide to Emperor Afrasiyab.” It made his forehead look like it was carved out of diamond. Carrying a trident and chaffing dish, the false sorcerer entered Hasina’s garden. To any who asked his particulars, Chalak replied, “I am sent by Emperor Afrasiyab.”

When the news was conveyed to sorceress Hasina she came out of her bridal chamber to welcome the false sorcerer, who introduced himself as Makkar the Cunning. Hasina took him into the summerhouse and asked him to make himself comfortable. Makkar gave her a letter and said, “I don’t have orders to sit down. The emperor has sent you this message and awaits an answer.”

Hasina read the letter given her. It read:

“Well done, O Hasina! You accomplished a great deed by destroying Hamza’s camp. I brought back some fruit from my visit to the Garden of Sameri, which I distributed among my faithful servants. I offer you your share by the hand of the sorcerer Makkar. By eating this fruit you will receive the gift of longevity, since the Garden of Sameri is full of marvels. I bind you by an oath on my life that you eat this fruit when you receive it. Allow only your close confidantes to remain in your presence when you eat it lest the shadow of an impure person is cast on the fruit and defiles it. Then you must speedily put an end to the battle and return to court to receive lands and riches as your reward. End of the letter. Regards.”

Hasina was overjoyed upon reading the letter and sent all her slave girls to await her outside the garden. She allowed only a handful of close confidantes, who were most immaculately clean, to remain by her side. After making these arrangements, she said to Makkar, “Please present the fruit sent by the emperor.”

The false sorcerer sent for trays, then took out many brightly colored, shining and fresh fruit from his pocket and arranged them on the trays. He made a respectful bow before the fruit then offered it to Hasina. The sorceress put the tray on her head as a sign of respect and said, “There is no end to the emperor’s kindnesses. He never fails to remember or show favor to his slave girls. As the emperor has bound me by an oath on his life to eat the fruit, I wish to eat it in your presence, O Makkar, so that you can bear witness to my actions before the emperor.”

Then Hasina ate the fruit and also offered some to her confidantes. As soon as they ate the drug-laced fruit, Hasina and her companions fell unconscious. Chalak slaughtered Hasina and beheaded her attendants. Immediately, their magic spirits caused an uproar and sorcerers and sorceresses ran into the garden.

Chalak took advantage of the spreading darkness to remove Amir Hamza’s protective necklace from Hasina’s neck and escape after jumping over the garden wall.

In the meanwhile, the turmoil continued and sorcerers ran in all directions in the ensuing confusion.

Now hear of what passed in the Pavilion of Suleiman, where Alam Shah sat dressed as a bridegroom. When Hasina was killed the spell she had cast on him was removed. The prince fell unconscious as the spell was broken. When he came to he found himself sitting in Laqa’s court dressed like a Laqa worshipper.

He asked the courtiers, “What are my circumstances?” They replied, “You prostrated yourself before Lord Laqa and today is the day of your wedding.” Then they gave Alam Shah a complete account of how he fell in Hasina’s love and fought and routed the camp of the True Believers.

Alam Shah rose in a blazing rage and cried, “Alas, that infidel made a staunch True Believer like me prostrate myself before him and murder my companions by my own hand!” Alam Shah drew his sword and made his war declaration,

“Alam Shah, the Prince of Elephant Might

My might made the throne of Marzuq tremble

I am the one whose name in every assembly

Will be now proclaimed Rustam Elephant-Body!”

A sword fight broke out in Laqa’s court. Amir Hamza’s army commanders Landhoor, Hashim Swordfighter and others, who had been imprisoned together in a tent, were also freed of sorceress Hasina’s spells upon her death. When they heard Alam Shah’s war cry and the rising racket reached them, they broke their fetters and rushed out swinging the chains that had imprisoned them. They killed the guards, snatched their weapons and charged into Laqa’s court.

In the meanwhile, Alam Shah fought his way out of the court and fell upon Laqa’s camp. Taken unawares, Laqa’s soldiers defended themselves as best they could but by that time Alam Shah had already killed thousands, throwing Laqa’s camp into upheaval.

Chalak rushed to the mountain pass to apprise his army of the news. The commanders who were not too badly injured quickly marshalled their men and charged Laqa’s forces.

It is recounted that Amir Hamza, who was thrown into a cave by the trickster Tarar the Speedster, regained consciousness after a day. He broke his bonds, removed the stone that blocked the cave entrance and came out.

However, he lost his way in the mountains and wandered for two days. Then he came upon a woodcutter and hired him as a guide to find his way back to his camp. Amir Hamza arrived at his camp when Alam Shah charged Laqa’s camp. Amir Hamza recited the Most Great Name and rendered useless the magic spells cast by sorceress Hasina’s companions. A pitched sword battle now raged between the two camps. Heads flew off shoulders and were kicked around like beggars’ bowls.

Finally, Laqa’s army was defeated. The false god took refuge in the fortress of Mount Agate while the sorcerers retreated into Hoshruba.

Amir Hamza’s army captured the war booty and brought back the Pavilion of Suleiman. It was set up at the same spot in Hamza’s camp where it had stood earlier. The wounds of the injured were sutured. The army bivouacked, the bazaars opened up, and the women of Amir Hamza’s camp returned from their mountain refuge. The trickster Chalak presented the protective necklace to Amir Hamza, who rewarded him with a robe of honor.

In the meanwhile, at Bakhtiarak’s behest, King Suleiman Amber-Hair again sent a message to Afrasiyab. It read:

“O Afrasiyab, I request you in Lord Laqa’s name to send someone else to aid our lord. Sorceress Hasina crossed Lord Laqa by falling in love with Hamza’s son, therefore our lord destroyed her. Now he again awaits your help. It is hoped you will presently carry out his wishes.”

The message was sent to the mountain, the gong was rung, and the magic claw materialized and carried off the letter.


111. Great star: an allusion to the sun.

112. The lesser star: an allusion to the moon.

113. The dinar coin was minted in many denominations but they were usually silver, hence the association with the moon. A gold dinar was called a surkh (red) dinar.

114. Pheni-eating: pheni is an Indian vermicular sweetmeat that is served soaked in milk. Here the term is used in a derogatory sense. By calling Landhoor a pheni-eater Prince Alam Shah is suggesting Landhoor is less powerful than the meat-eating prince.

Series: Hoshruba: The Land and the Tilism

Hoshruba: The Land and the Tilism: Book 1, Episode 36

When Tilism-e Hoshruba was first published in Lucknow, India in 1883, it was already a beloved oral history that had been performed for years in public and private. What Hoshruba’s fans did not know, however, was that professional storyteller Mir Ahmed Ali and his disciples had engineered a massive literary hoax, writing Hoshruba themselves and falsely attributing it to the epic poem cycle The Adventures of Amir Hamza. But less important than Hoshruba’s provenance was its impact: The story of the tilism (an inanimate object transformed into its own world) of Hoshruba, defended by Emperor Afrasiyab against rival tilism as well as the trickster Amar Ayyar, has become one of the foremost fantasy tales in Urdu. For a more in-depth look at the epic’s sorcerers, formidable women, and grimdark (long before the genre existed) battles, read Mahvesh Murad’s Under the Radar review.

Hoshruba (which translates to “ravishing the senses”) is part of the dastan tradition of oral storytelling and is being translated into English for the first time as Hoshruba: The Land and the Tilism. In its original form, Hoshruba was published in Urdu, in eight volumes totaling over eight thousand pages. In translating the epic into English, Pakistani-Canadian writer Musharraf Ali Farooqi has split each volume into three, for a total of 24 volumes. Over the next few months, you will be able to read all 50 episodes—the entire first volume of Hoshruba—on Tor.com, with one new episode going up every day. You can also purchase the entire novel through Barnes & Noble or Amazon.

[In the meanwhile, the throne of sorceress Khatif arrived before Emperor Afrasiyab in the Apple Garden. ]

 

Sorceress Mehshar Lightning-Bolt and Raad Thunder-Clap

In the meanwhile, the throne of sorceress Khatif arrived before Emperor Afrasiyab in the Apple Garden. He looked into the Book of Sameri, wherein he read the following:

“It was your own magic water with which Amar Ayyar humiliated her and rendered her unconscious. Amar would have killed her but because she is a powerful sorceress her magic spirits bore her away on the throne.”

Afrasiyab recited a counterspell to remove the magic from Khatif and she came to. Because she had been splashed with the powerful magic water, however, she became ill and the Emperor of Hoshruba gave her leave to return to her land.

Afrasiyab now sent a magic slave to summon sorceress Mehshar Lightning-Bolt. When Mehshar received the call she started out with great preparations, along with her sorcerer son, Raad Thunder-Clap, and arrived in the emperor’s court.

Afrasiyab said to her, “O Mehshar, I order you to assist the empress and fight the rebels.”

Sorceress Mehshar Lightning-Bolt took a hundred thousand sorcerers with her. Flying on the throne with lofty ambitions, flashing, raining flames, she and her son disappeared into the clouds, followed by their entire army and its tents and pavilions.

The marching army behind its commander

Was like the stars following the moon

The page of the field was scribbled

By the dark scrawling lines of riders and troopers

The myriad colors of their standards

Made the desert floor a colorful bouquet

Throwing the world into unearthly commotion

They caused a turmoil greater than a tempest

The gall of the Cow of the Earth they turned to water

Let alone the Earth, they made the heavens tremble

Countless like the grains of sand

The armies filled the horizon from end to end

Be it known that the Emperor of Hoshruba had constructed many sight-seeing stations and pleasant gardens for his excursions throughout the tilism. When sorceress Mehshar’s army was at two days’ distance from Mahrukh’s camp it halted in one such garden, situated in a lush, green forest.

A sorceress named Baran was the ruler of a nearby majestic mountain. She was unmatched in beauty and comeliness; many a sorcerer pined away for love of her. Mehshar’s son, Raad Thunder-Clap, was among those marked by the love of her calamitous beauty. When the army landed, Raad decided to soothe his eyes with the sight of his fairy-like beloved, and set out for her abode.

Upon arrival, he bribed one of Baran’s sorceress attendants with gold and jewels to inveigle her mistress to come out on the palace balcony so that her listless lover could derive some comfort in admiring her beauty.

The attendant brought Baran out on the balcony on some pretext. Enthralled by her beauty, Raad Thunder-Clap was lost in admiration.

In the meanwhile, Baran’s other lovers also arrived on the scene. Seeing Raad before the palace of their beloved, a blaze of jealousy lit up in their hearts. They cast a spell to render Raad deaf and mute and arrested and pinioned him. Then they led Raad into the wilderness to kill him, keeping far away from his mother’s camp.

At the same time, Amar arrived in the wilderness, thinking to himself, Sorceress Khatif escaped but it is certain that before long Afrasiyab will send another scourge on us.

Absorbed by these thoughts, Amar saw three sorcerers leading a young man into the wilderness as prisoner. From the youth’s noble physiognomy, Amar reckoned him to be a renowned sorcerer. Amar thought, If I deliver him from their clutches he might feel indebted to me and join our cause. Amar put on the dev jama that changed into seven different colors, adopting a new hue every moment. He covered his face with ten pasteboard masks that had several mouths from which snakelike tongues darted out. He stuck pasteboard arms onto his body and smeared it with a lotion that made every pore of his skin appear to spew flames. Then Amar blew the White Conch that struck terror even into the hearts of demons.

The sorcerers leading Raad into the wilderness froze in their tracks upon hearing the blast of the White Conch and felt their feet turn to sand. As they looked around with frightened eyes, Amar appeared. They beheld, advancing toward them, a ten-headed creature of horrible mien, whose body was covered with flames and whose attire changed colors from red to blue to black to green to yellow every moment.

Frightened out of their wits by this sight, the sorcerers prostrated themselves before the creature. Amar called out, “I am the Angel of Death of Lord Laqa!” The sorcerers trembled with fear and asked, “What is the reason for your visit?” Amar answered, “I come to extract the soul of the sinner you lead to death. But your lives too, have reached their end and I must claim them too.”

The sorcerers entreated him, “O Angel of Death of Lord Laqa, tell us some way to defer our doom that we may taste of life’s pleasure awhile longer.” Amar answered, “If you offer alms, that may move Lord Laqa to show mercy on you.” The sorcerers bestowed on Amar all the gold and jewels they carried on their persons.

Amar took out an apple from his zambil and offered it to them, saying, “Each of you should eat a slice of this. It will extend your lives.” The three sorcerers had a piece each. After a moment, when the drug-laced apple’s effects were felt, they shouted, “O Angel of Death, we feel our hearts palpitating!” Amar answered, “It is because the blood vessels lengthen as one receives longevity.” The sorcerers soon fell unconscious and Amar unsheathed his dagger and beheaded all of them. The slain sorcerers’ magic spirits made a hue and cry and a racket rose.

Having been rendered deaf and mute by magic spells, Raad Thunder-Clap now regained the faculties of hearing and speech. Once the commotion subsided, he glared suspiciously at Amar, who said, “You glower at me now even though I saved your life?” Raad asked, “What is your name?” Amar answered, “I am an angel of Lord Laqa.”

Raad Thunder-Clap said, “O angel of our Lord, I was taken unawares by these sorcerers. I am the son of sorceress Mehshar Lightning-Bolt. With my magic I can dive into the ground to emerge beside the foe and roar like the sound of a thunder clap. The sound bursts the skulls of the enemies and even if mighty sorcerers should escape death, the impact of my thunder clap yet makes them fall unconscious. My mother strikes them in the form of a lightning bolt and can cleave them in two. Afrasiyab sent us to battle Mahrukh Magic-Eye and we are headed to decimate her camp.”

Amar said to himself, It was most fortunate that I ran into him. Otherwise they would have proved a terrible scourge. Now I must find a way to kill him too. While Amar made these calculations, a puff of cloud materialized and sorceress Mehshar Lightning-Bolt arrived on the scene. After she had found Raad missing from the camp, she searched for him frantically, anxious that no enemy trickster should kill her son.

When Amar saw her coming he put on the cape of invisibility. Witnessing Amar’s sudden disappearance, Raad was convinced that Amar was, indeed, the angel of Laqa. Sorceress Mehshar recognized her son and descended. She changed into the form of a woman and embraced her son. Seeing the dead sorcerers lying around, she asked Raad who had killed them.

He told her how he had been captured and how the angel of Laqa had brought him freedom. Mehshar said, “It is most unfortunate that he left. Had I seen him I would have filled the skirts of his hopes with riches of desire.” Raad said, “The angel of Lord Laqa disappeared all of a sudden. Perhaps he is still present but invisible. Let me call to him.”

Raad called, “Show us favor if you are present O angel of Lord Laqa. My mother wishes to see you.”

Amar took off the cape of invisibility and appeared. Sorceress Mehshar bowed her head reverently before Amar and said, “You are our benefactor. Because of you Lord Sameri again conferred the robe of life on my son. I wish you would accompany us to our camp as an honored guest and visit our quarters. I will do all I can to recompense your act of kindness.” Amar answered, “I have no objection.”

Sorceress Mehshar recited a spell that summoned a jewel-encrusted flying throne. She seated Amar and Raad Thunder-Clap on the throne and accompanied them to her camp, flying in the form of a lightning bolt. They arrived above her camp and descended into a vast garden in full bloom. Amar saw the garden was lined with fruit-laden trees and clustered with flowers. A majestic palace furnished with the rarities of the world rose in the nave of the garden.

Sorceress Mehshar seated Amar on a couch and presented salvers laden with gold and jewels as offerings. She said, “While these offerings may not be worthy of Your Lordship, I hope you will accept them. And do tell me your real name.” Amar answered, “I already told you that I am an angel of Lord Laqa. You repeat yourself to no purpose.”

The sorceress sent for her box and took out the Folios of Jamshed to ascertain whether or not Amar told the truth. The Folios of Jamshed read:

“The man before you is Amar Ayyar, the supporter of Mahrukh Magic-Eye, who disguised himself to save Raad’s life. Before he creates any trouble, you must make him an offering and send him away. You are further advised to kill him should an opportunity offer itself, for Amar is a great menace.”

Mehshar turned fiercely toward Amar upon learning this.

Amar said, “What harm have I done you? Have you taken leave of your senses that you look fiercely at me? It reminds me of the saying that no good deed goes unpunished.” Mehshar replied, “You fooled me with your talk before but you can do so no more. I know your name is Amar. Now tell me, O enemy of my emperor, what should I mete out for your punishment?” Amar replied, “It was on account of your humility that I spared your life earlier. Now do your worst and show me not the least compassion.” Mehshar said, “I am indebted to you. How can I return your kindness with evil? Take these offerings of gold and jewels and depart.” Amar answered, “Rest assured, I have no plans of taking up residence with you.”

While they had this conversation, Afrasiyab consulted the Book of Sameri to learn what had passed with sorceress Mehshar. He saw written there:

“The sorceress Mehshar has brought Amar into her camp and seated him on a couch. She converses with Amar and makes him offerings of gold and jewels.”

Afrasiyab raged marvellously when he learned of this.

 

Sorceresses Khumar and Makhmur Crimson-Eye

Be it known that at that moment two powerful sorceress sisters, Makhmur Crimson-Eye and Khumar were present in the court.

Makhmur Crimson-Eye was loved by Afrasiyab just like her sister Khumar and Princess Bahar. And like them, Makhmur Crimson-Eye did not respond to Afrasiyab’s advances because of her fear of Empress Heyrat’s vengeance. She was sitting elegantly beside her sister when Afrasiyab angrily ordered her, “Go at once to the garden near Mahrukh’s camp where Mehshar Lightning-Bolt sits with Amar Ayyar. Bring Amar to me as a prisoner and punish Mehshar if she intervenes.”

Makhmur invoked her magic and flew off. She soon arrived in the camp of Mehshar, who gave her a seat beside herself. Makhmur censured Mehshar, saying, “You have angered the emperor by receiving his enemy, Amar, with honor. You would do well to end the matter here and let me take him to the court as a prisoner, or else you will invite the emperor’s wrath and forfeit your life.”

Mehshar answered, “My sister, it is against my faith and principles to allow any harm to come to Amar after he saved my son’s life.” Makhmur said, “Abandon such thoughts. Drop all your scruples and fear only Afrasiyab. You will lose your life if you show intransigence in this matter. You may wish to lay down your life for Amar but I will not disobey the emperor. I will take this wretch as a prisoner with me.”

While they argued, Amar found his chance. He splashed some magic water from the carafe on Makhmur Crimson-Eye’s face. She immediately fell unconscious. As Amar drew his dagger and ran toward her, a magic claw swooped down and carried Makhmur away.

Mehshar said to Amar, “You must leave immediately. I too, must go and hide somewhere in the tilism. Afrasiyab has now become my enemy. He will kill me upon sight. You made a terrible mistake by trying to harm Makhmur.”

Amar answered, “O Mehshar, remember,

“If the enemy be strong,

The Protector is stronger still.

“Why must you go and hide in some nook in the tilism? Come with me to Mahrukh’s camp and bide your time there in peace. Regard that all who have joined our ranks are still alive with their honor intact. It’s a matter of time before, God willing, the tilism is conquered. Then you will witness that those who joined us will receive higher ranks and greater honor in Amir Hamza’s court. Even if we are overwhelmed by Afrasiyab – as you fear – you would fare no better or worse than the rest of us. Sharing a calamity reduces its severity. The choice is up to you. I have given you my best counsel.”

Mehshar said, “You speak true. Come, we are with you. I will not escape and hide, I will join you and die fighting. Let us start in the name of God.”

Sorceress Mehshar Lightning-Bolt rose and ordered the drums of departure to announce the march. Her orders were carried out and the tents and pavilions were packed and loaded onto the magic conveyances. Mehshar ascended the flying throne and seated Amar beside her. Then she departed for Mahrukh’s camp with great majesty.

 

Sorceress Lamae Lightning-Bolt

When sorceress Makhmur regained her senses she found herself in Afrasiyab’s court. She said to the emperor, “As I argued and quarrelled with Mehshar, Amar splashed magic water on my face and I fell unconscious.”

When Afrasiyab looked into the Book of Sameri, he saw this written there:

“Amar made Makhmur Crimson-Eye unconscious with the magic water. Now Mehshar Lightning-Bolt has joined ranks with Amar and departed for Mahrukh’s camp.”

Afrasiyab immediately clapped and a magic slave materialized. The emperor ordered, “Summon sorceress Lamae Lightning-Bolt!”

The magic slave delivered the message without loss of time.

When sorceress Lamae presented herself, Afrasiyab said, “Go and arrest sorceress Mehshar Lightning-Bolt, who is headed for Mahrukh Magic-Eye’s camp.”

Sorceress Lamae took along a one-hundred-thousand-strong sorcerer army and flew away on her mission, flashing majestically in the form of lightning.

On the way, it occurred to her that instead of intercepting Mehshar on the way to Mahrukh’s camp, she should arrest her there along with other rebels. It would not only save her two separate campaigns but also earn her greater renown too. She proceeded with dispatch to Empress Heyrat’s camp. The empress welcomed her upon arrival and Lamae Lightning-Bolt’s army set up camp and bivouacked.

Sorceress Lamae remained in the form of a lightning bolt all day long for fear of the tricksters’ attacking her. When one watch of the day remained, the torch of the sun slowly burned up in the assembly of heaven and the moon’s candle lit up and spread its light in the cosmic congregation. Only then did the sorceress show herself in her court in human form. She ordered the war drums to be beaten. The call to war was given and the whole camp was thrown into turmoil as they made preparations for battle.

The magic birds brought these tidings to Queen Mahrukh. At her orders, bugles trilled to answer the enemy’s call to war. The preparations for battle and carnage started and remained underway for the next four watches of the night.

When the Lord of Darkness110 retreated and the King of Golden-Headgear came out of his eastern palace and gave audience on the throne of sky, sorceress Lamae and Empress Heyrat entered the arena; one flashing brilliantly in a magic cloud, leading her one-hundred-thousand-strong army of sorcerers, the other in her enamelled palace accompanied by her numerous force.

Queen Mahrukh and Princess Bahar rode in on magic thrones at the head of their army. The blaring magic bugles deafened the ears of heaven and a great turmoil shook the earth as the sorcerers’ hordes marched. The sorcerer groundsmen dropped thunderbolts to clear the arena of shrubbery. Magic clouds cast by their spells rained and settled the ashes and dust.

Criers from both sides came out to enthuse the warriors, and called out, “You must return triumphant to your camp and earn renown for your noble and valiant ancestors.”

After the criers emptied the field, sorceress Lamae flickered in the arena in the form of lightning. With a flashing bolt, she cleft all her challengers from Mahrukh’s camp into two. Then she flashed with a blinding light that filled the sky. When no challenger came out from Queen Mahrukh’s camp sorceress Lamae struck Mahrukh’s army columns, killing and burning thousands.

Mahrukh’s army ranks were thrown into upheaval and her celebrated sorcerers recited counterspells to avert sorceress Lamae’s magic.

Mahrukh took off her crown and supplicated in the court of God Almighty in the name of Fatima.

“Send aid O Fatima, daughter of Muhammad

Send aid O light of the Majestic Prophet’s house

This feline army has come to kill me

Send aid O Lioness of God.”

The arrow of Mahrukh’s prayer reached the mark of acceptance. Everyone on the battlefield saw a magic cloud arise from the wilderness with the standard of Mahrukh’s camp fluttering above it. Next, thousands of sorcerers riding magic dragons came into view, led by sorceress Mehshar, who sat with great magnificence beside Amar Ayyar on a flying throne.

Mehshar’s army took position on one side of the arena while she made her war cry and struck sorceress Lamae’s army in the form of a thunderbolt, killing thousands. When she regarded this sight, sorceress Lamae stopped attacking Mahrukh’s army and charged at Mehshar. The two became entwined. The spectators saw two entangled, quivering, flashing lightning bolts in the sky and flashing bolts filled the arena. Whenever the lightning bolts struck, sorcerers in Heyrat’s camp shouted, “O Sameri! O Jamshed!” They tooted their bugles, struck drums and raised and unfurled their colors. The racket resembled the din of doomsday.

In the meanwhile, Raad Thunder-Clap dismounted his throne and dove into the ground by invoking his magic. As Mehshar and Lamae fell entangled to the ground and rolled across the arena in combat, the earth suddenly cleft and Raad raised his head beside sorceress Lamae. He made a booming roar like thousands of thunderclaps striking simultaneously.

Because Lamae was a powerful sorceress, the impact did not shatter her skull. Instead, she fell unconscious. As sorceress Mehshar rose, rumbling into the sky and flashed, ready to strike down Lamae, a magic claw swooped down and carried sorceress Lamae away.

Raad Thunder-Clap now tore out of the ground in the midst of Lamae’s ranks and roared, shattering the skulls of countless sorcerers. Many fell unconscious. Sorceress Mehshar flashed and fell, cleaving bodies in two wherever she struck. Lamae’s army started to retreat even as Heyrat ordered Lamae’s commanders to defend their positions.


110. Lord of Darkness: an allusion to the night.

Series: Hoshruba: The Land and the Tilism