The language of glances

Musharraf Ali Farooqi’s journey through the curious world of myths and folktales of South Asia


Illustration by Jayachandran/Mint
Illustration by Jayachandran/Mint

In our literature, glances are often a medium through which love enters and finds a seat in the heart, and many a stage of love is bridged with the exchange of a single glance. But sometimes it goes farther, with a mere glance giving both the lover and the beloved the full measure of each other’s passion, and all of love’s stages, to the lover’s complete annihilation into love, traversed in an instant through the language of the glance.

The Tareekh-i Salateen–i Afaghina of Ahmad Yadgar recounts that during the rule of Sikandar Lodi, noble Tatar Khan Farmali’s son was bringing his bride home in a wedding procession. When their party arrived at the riverbank, they loaded the bride’s palanquin on to a boat. Seeing the palanquin, those sitting in the boat got off to make room for it, and sat in another boat with the bridegroom and other members of the wedding procession.

Only a faqir did not leave his place in the boat when the palanquin was loaded.

When the wedding procession began the journey to cross the river, the bride’s boat was in the lead.

After some time, the bride asked her old attendant, who was accompanying her, if she might be allowed to come out of the palanquin and have a look at the boat and the river, as she had seen neither in her life.

The old attendant told her that she could as there was nobody there except a faqir. The girl emerged from her palanquin, and sat in the boat to admire the sights.

Soon the girl noticed that whenever she looked she felt the faqir’s gaze upon her, and when their eyes met he did not look away.

Then the girl extended her legs, and let her feet dangle above the water. The attendant asked her to desist, lest her shoes fall into the river. The girl said, “If my shoe should fall into the river, is there anyone who would fetch it?” As she spoke these words she looked at the faqir. The faqir nodded, and she tossed her shoe into the water. Without a moment’s delay, the faqir dove into the river after it. Then the water became quiet.

When quite some time had passed and the faqir had not surfaced, the bride felt great remorse at her actions. Bitterly lamenting her cruel act, she herself jumped into the water.

As the attendant cried out for help, the other boat reached the scene, and nets were thrown into the river to rescue her. The whole wedding procession was in shock.

When they finally pulled out the nets they found the bodies of the girl and the faqir entwined in each other’s embrace. The faqir held the shoe in one hand.

When people tried to separate them for burial, they found it difficult to do so. The wedding party became a funeral procession. With great difficulty, they were finally able to wrench them free from each other’s embrace. They carried the bodies across the river, and buried them in separate graves.

Two months later, some members of the bride’s family arrived to take her body for burial in their ancestral graveyard. But upon opening her grave they discovered no signs of her body.

Then the faqir’s grave was opened, and no signs were found of his body either. When they dug a little deeper, however, his grave revealed a small window within.

As they looked through it, they beheld an exquisite garden that was the envy of paradise. It had numerous resplendent golden palaces with lovely ponds that resembled the lakes of heaven.

Those looking through the window in the grave noticed that beside one of the ponds there lay a throne studded with pearls and jewels. They saw the girl and the faqir seated upon the throne, with a troop of female attendants respectfully waiting upon them.

The men were marvelling at this sight when a stone fell and sealed the view. It blocked the window, and obliterated all its signs. The girl’s family left after filling up the grave. It was as if the glance, having reached fulfilment, revealed its work to those who may have doubted its purity, and finally sealed itself with the eye closing.

Musharraf Ali Farooqi is an author, novelist and translator. He can be reached at www.mafarooqi.com and on Twitter at @microMAF.

This monthly column explores the curious world of the myths and folk tales of South Asia.

Read Musharraf’s previous Lounge columns here.

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