Home/ Opinion / A king meets his dead self

A unique parable offered in the Tazkira-e Ghausia links our existence in the phenomenal world to our life in the realm of dreams, and suggests that a separate destiny could govern each existence.

The parable begins with a raja feeling hungry, and ordering his cooks to prepare food for him. While the food was being readied, the raja fell asleep. He dreamt that he had set out for a hunt with his retinue. Upon entering the forest he saw a deer and gave chase. He managed to kill the deer after a long pursuit during which he was separated from his companions. By this time he started to feel overcome by thirst.

Seeing the signs of a nearby village, and a well where a young girl was filling water, he headed there. As he approached her and demanded water, the girl formed a cup with her hands and let him drink from it. Once the raja had drunk the water, he asked the girl who she was. The girl replied that she belonged to the bhangi caste, whereupon the raja lamented that he had unknowingly polluted his piety by drinking from the hands of a low-caste person.

When that girl picked up her pitcher and headed home, the raja followed her.

The girl’s father recognized the raja. Surprised to see him there, he asked him the reason for his visit. Replying that his dharma had been polluted since he had drunk from the hands of a scavenger’s daughter, the raja announced that now he was fit only to live among them. The bhangi gathered his community, who admitted the raja into their society.

The bhangi married his daughter to the raja who now lived with the scavengers as one of them. He cleaned the streets and carried garbage. Twelve years passed in this manner, during which time he had children from his wife.

Then one day the raja fell sick, his condition worsened, and he died.

No sooner did he die in the dream than the raja awoke from his sleep.

Greatly puzzled, he asked those around him how long he had been asleep. They replied that he had barely napped for a few moments, and now the food was ready to be served. Declaring that the food must wait, the raja announced that he was departing on a hunt.

His retinue was assembled and he left the palace and passed the same forest, the village and the well, that he had seen in his dream. As he approached, he heard weeping and wailing from a hut. He went towards it and saw the wife and children he had had in his dream, gathered crying around the corpse of a man who was the raja’s exact likeness.

When the raja asked the villagers about the particulars of the dead man, they narrated to him the circumstances in which he had arrived there. These particulars matched exactly with what the raja had witnessed in his dream. The raja wondered how to differentiate between the one lying dead and himself, and which one was his real self.

Merely as a narrative, the parable offers fantastic possibilities of interpreting dreams as sequels of our waking life, and the realm of wakefulness as a continuation of these dreams. Moreover, the narrative embeds these two worlds into each other in such a way that they both originate and end in the other.

The parable also tells us that unbeknown to us, our existence could split: While one continues to play out in the phenomenal world, the other unfolds in the realm of dreams, ruled over by a new destiny and a new temporal dimension. And that it is possible one day for the wall separating the worlds of our lives and dreams to collapse, and for us to come face to face with our other existence.

It suggests that what we dismiss as dreams or nightmares may in fact be a vision of our parallel existence. And, that if we pursue the clues from our dreams upon waking, it is possible that we may learn of the adventures of our other self. It is not certain though, whether one of the selves must die for the encounter to come about, but the self which inhabits the realm of the dreams could become its casualty.

The Tazkira-e Ghausia describes the world in turn as an idea and a dream, and quotes the above parable as a reminder of its highly transient and unstable nature. It is a unique situation where the narrator witnessing and describing the world is perfectly reliable in his description of events, and how they transpire: we are unable to reconcile ourselves to the outcome because the world itself is unreliable.

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

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

Also Read | Musharraf’s previous Lounge columns

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Updated: 22 Jul 2014, 08:01 PM IST
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