Monday, August 05, 2013

The Adventures of Amir Hamza

The Adventures of Amir Hamza, an Indo-Persian epic translated by Musharraf Ali Farooqi, opens as a rollicking tale of war and romance, but turns into a repetitious cycle of fruitless attempts by Hamza to return from fairyland to his one true love. I find his faithful retainer, Amar the prankster, much more interesting a character. Hamza, the idealized hero and lover, is consistently faithful and loyal throughout. Amar, however, is more liable to upset established order. From the wise counselor Buzurjmehr, he receives a special codpiece called an aafat-band. A brocade pouch that protects Amar's testicles when he races, jumps and gambols, it has "flowers and leaves embroidered on it in seven colored silken threads, and a priceless ruby hanging from its sash for a button."

The Adventures have long existed in the South Asian oral narrative tradition of dastan-goi (dastan narrative). They also existed in different versions in multiple handwritten manuscripts. In 1855 they were published in a compilation by Navab Mirza Aman Ali Khan Bahadur Ghalib Lakhnavi, who identified himself as the son-in-law of Prince Fatah Haider, the oldest son of Sultan Tipu of Mysore. Sixteen years later, Abdullah Bilgrami, an instructor of the Arabic language in Kanpur, brought out an amended version of Lakhnavi's text. Bilgrami added ornate passages and poetry. Farooqi's translation is based on this amended version, as he explains in his Note to the Text.

The fanciful comparisons of writing to the sun rising or horse racing or love making at the start of each chapter gave me the idea of starting every section of "A Position of Defeat" with a reference to the sun.

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