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In the hagiography Tazkara-e Ghausia is related to the parable of a Lucknow native who had set out for Udaipur in search of employment. He stopped at a tavern in Rewari. While he sat in thought after tying his horse to a post, one of the prostitutes attached to the establishment came and asked him if he wished to order food. He sent her away with some excuse. She returned a second time with the same query, and again a third time, when she reported that even his horse was showing signs of hunger. The man then confessed to her that his weapons and his horse were his only possessions, and he would rather go hungry than sell them, for if he did he would not find employment anywhere. The prostitute went away and returned with ten rupees. Saying that there was no blemish attached to the money which she had earned making yarn on the loom and saved for her burial, she offered it to him without term, to return whenever he found the means, or keep as a gift from her.

The man took the money from her and proceeded on his journey. Soon after his arrival in Udaipur he found employment with the raja. His fortunes then changed for the better, and in just a matter of five years he was counted among the wealthy, possessing all the signs of prestige. Then his family in Lucknow sent for him to attend the marriage of his son, and he started from Udaipur with an entourage. On the way he stopped at the same tavern and enquired about the prostitute. He was told that she had been ill and was in a critical state. By the time he arrived by her bedside she had died, and he arranged for her last rites, and helped in lowering her body into the grave.

Later that night he searched his pockets for a promissory note of five thousand rupees he had on his person but could not find it. He became convinced that he had dropped it in the grave. He returned to the grave and started digging it up. He found neither the promissory note nor the corpse within, but a door that opened into the grave’s side. Upon entering it he emerged into a magnificent garden where a woman sat on a throne in great state surrounded by attendants. As he hesitated to approach her, she sent an attendant for him and introduced herself as the prostitute who had given him the money, telling him it was on account of that kindness that she had received the status in her afterlife.

She handed him the promissory note he had dropped, and asked him to leave without delay. The man expressed a desire to see the sights of the beautiful garden, whereupon she told him it would take him till the end of time to visit all its sights, and even then he would not have seen all. She again asked him to hasten away, saying that something may already have happened in the world while he was away. The man had been gone for a little over an hour, but upon emerging from the grave he found there neither tavern nor town, but a bustling city in its place, and all from whom he inquired about the tavern and his companions made light of his queries. Finally, someone took him to an old man who was knowledgeable about the area history, and he recalled his great-grandfather’s account that once there was a tavern in that place and a prostitute who lived there, and that on the night she died a noble staying at the tavern arranged for her last rites and then himself disappeared without trace. Some 300 years had passed to the event. Unable to reconcile himself to the present, the man went away to live in exile.

In the story of Rip Van Winkle, and its numerous forerunners, from the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus to Bhagavata Purana’s legend of King Muchukunda, the characters go to sleep and upon waking find that centuries have passed in the interim. The parable in Tazkara-e Ghausia offers a remarkable variation on this theme, where the character himself does not fall asleep but experiences a similar passage of time having occurred after crossing paths with someone in the sleep of death.

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

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

Also Read | Musharraf’s previous Lounge columns

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