The Ingenious Farkhanda and the Two Conditions, translated by Musharraf Ali Farooqi, is a story in five parts. Originally compiled in the early 19th century by Rai Beni Narayan as Qissa Chaar Gulshan [The Story of Four Gardens]it remained unpublished until 1967. The translator’s note suggests that the qissa was most likely written by a woman.

The tale is part of a series published by the Getz Pharma Library of Urdu Classics and the Urdu version is titled Qissa Shahzadi Farkhanda Ka.

The story begins with a faqir selling three rather mundane philosophical ideas to King Kevan Shah, at the exorbitant price of 100,000 gold each. Under the guise of offering profound wisdom, these are: wake up instead of continuing to sleep, get up instead of lying idle in bed, and walk instead of sitting.

Despite obvious dismay at his unnecessary purchase, the king maintains his composure, acts in accordance with injunctions, and is rewarded that very night with an excellent opportunity to catch his daughter in a secret garden, fornicating with an Abyssinian.

“After beheading them, the king prostrated himself before God in thanksgiving and proclaimed: ‘They have reaped as they had sown!'”

The Last 19th Century Qissa translated by Musharraf Ali Farooqi is a short and vaguely amusing read, which will provoke much discussion and debate.

The same happens to the royal vizier’s daughter in part two. She too has an Abyssinian lover. With the lover of the princess, he too is buried. Interestingly, while the men are buried, the bodies of the two now decapitated women are stripped and displayed outside the palace with instructions to its scribes that any comments made by onlookers be noted and brought to the king.

The translator notes preventively: “At first, the qissa can be read as a violent and misogynistic narrative, where the body of women is an extension of the honor of men… But this point of view is called into question as soon as Princess Farkhanda go down in history.

And so far it really seems that the qissa has only succeeded in justifying the karo kari [so-called ‘honour killing’] with a bit of racism and sexual insecurity for good measure. Nevertheless, looking beyond the superficial is often the goal of fables and so, with the encouragement of the translator, we continue.

The third part introduces the four daughters of Raja Baidar Bakht. Independent and headstrong, they shun traditional gender roles for a life where they occasionally wear men’s clothes and go hunting and the like.

During one of these outings, they stumble upon the headless corpses on display outside the palace. Their cryptic remarks when observing the corpses are so insightful that the king, upon hearing them, becomes fascinated. He decides he must have all four sisters as wives.

One wonders if the king’s actions afterward are a consequence of his shock and dismay at his only daughter’s behavior, or if he was really just a hypocrite and a fool to begin with. The following story supports this last hypothesis. And it is beyond this point that the qissa quickly reaches its peak when the king has to deal with Farkhanda – the youngest and wisest of Bakht’s daughters and the only one smart enough to expose, so to speak, that the emperor has no clothes.

Overall, the tale rests on the idea of ​​fate, placing great value on those who face their destiny with serenity and place their trust in God and divine justice. He also favors intellect over power, but acknowledges that the former without the latter would be entirely inconsequential.

Consider it one of those charming fables in which a fox outwits a lion for the sake of dignity and self-preservation, always acknowledging that in the jungle if a lion chooses not to eat you, it’s sufficient cause for gratitude.

And while the qissa does well to knock down the powerful by a peg or two, it’s ultimately a product of its time and can’t help but place justice (divine or otherwise) several measures below what’s due to the king, given his stature as a king. : a rapist, a bully and a fool that he is, Kevan Shah will not be punished for his iniquity in the same brutal way that he hastened to deliver “justice” when the culprit (according to him) was the his daughter.

Instead, his fate will be to appreciate Farkhanda’s wisdom. Rather than death, he will receive enlightenment. The status quo will thus be preserved: the king will continue as before, only now Farkhanda will not have to lose her mind – a fate she never deserved in the first place.

The reader can feel a sense of elation at how things turn out in the end for Farkhanda’s sake. And then there is also the pleasure and the excitement of following his character as his projects progress. But really, the fact that the best she can hope to accomplish in life is to be stuck forever with a goofy despot is hardly a cause for celebration, even if that’s how the story ends. .

One wonders if there is a moral lesson here and if it should be drawn from the fact that, of the four intelligent young women linked to the king by a holy marriage, only the one who defies him and succeeds – at the risk of her life – to expose his buffoonery, receives the great honor of being impregnated by his royal highness in an act that can only be qualified as rape.

Farkhanda then proceeds to deliver the childbirth alone in a prison to the future king, before being patted on the back by the current king – her husband – for a job well done, thus being saved from a situation she might have chosen to escape at any time. indicate.

We can also pin our hopes on Farkhanda who is biding her time until Kevan Shah inevitably dies – probably as a direct result of her natural idiocy – and she can rule the kingdom in peace, either directly or vicariously, just in case. his son ascends the throne and shows better sense than his father.

Perhaps the story is representative of a time when the divine right of kings, or the conventions of a society, couldn’t really be questioned, even in fiction. Consider it one of those charming fables in which a fox outwits a lion for the sake of dignity and self-preservation, always acknowledging that in the jungle if a lion chooses not to eat you, it’s sufficient cause for gratitude.

The Ingenious Farkhanda and the Two Conditions is a short and vaguely amusing read, but the general reader and the serious student of literature will find much to discuss and debate in it. And, as such, it has great value beyond the fact that it is a work of art that preserves within itself a particular stage of our literary tradition.

The critic is a bibliophile

Qissa Shahzadi Farkhanda Ka (Urdu)
By Rai Beni Narayan
Kitab, Karachi, in association with Getz Pharma Library of Urdu Classics
ISBN: 978-9696160762

The ingenious Farkhanda and the two conditions (English)
Translated by Musharraf Ali Farooqi
Kitab, Karachi, in association with Getz Pharma Library of Urdu Classics
ISBN: 978-9696160656

Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, February 27, 2022

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