There was once a jinni who lived in a lamp.
The lamp was very old, of course, and also very dirty. Why was it very dirty? It was very dirty because anytime anyone attempted to clean and polish it, the jinni was obliged to come pouring out of the spout and fulfil their desires. So the lamp never actually got cleaned, and as the years and decades went on it became dirtier and dirtier.
This wasn’t something the jinni liked, because nobody likes living in filth. Also, nobody had lit the lamp in decades, because nobody uses oil lamps any longer. So the lamp was not just dirty on the outside, it was all sticky inside with half-burnt oil, and furry with dust sticking in that half-burnt oil. And there was a lot of dust, because the lamp had been left on the top shelf of a shed for so long that nobody even remembered that it was there.
The jinni was not happy about this situation at all, but there wasn’t much he could do about it. He became morose and hardly even bothered to go out. He became, in fact, so morose and reclusive that the other jinn all became concerned.
“We have to find some way to make him happy,” they said to each other. “Or else he’ll become embittered and you know what that means.”
They all knew what an embittered jinni could do. Instead of giving wishes, he could actually punish some unwitting human who set him free. It was not behaviour that the jinn liked, because it gave them all a bad name, and jinn already had a bad enough reputation without wanting to make things worse.
So they all went to the jinni of the ring, who was the jinni of the lamp’s only friend. “What can we do for him?” they asked.
The jinni of the ring thought for a little while. “I’ve got it,” he said. “I’ll introduce someone to him.”
“Whom will you introduce to him?” the other jinn wondered. “And just what good will that do?”
“You’ll see,” the jinni of the ring said. “Just wait, you’ll see.”
So it was that a couple of days later, the jinni of the lamp was disturbed by a loud knocking on the lid. It was the jinni of the ring. “Come out,” he shouted. “There’s someone who wants to meet you.”
The jinni of the lamp had no desire to come out, but the jinni of the ring kept insisting. Besides, nobody had actually wanted to meet him for years and years. So, moaning and groaning all the while, he crawled up the lamp spout and poured himself out of the lamp, and out, and out.
In these degenerate days, almost nobody even believes in jinn, let alone has seen one, so you can only imagine what it looked like, inside that dark little shed, as the jinni of the lamp came pouring out in a cloud of ruddy smoke spangled with stars. He was tall as the roof and as broad again, as strong as the mountains, as handsome as the sun on a minaret in the dawn’s first light. He was so awe-inspiring that any woman seeing him for the first time could not help falling in love.
And that is precisely what happened. The person whom the jinni of the ring had brought along with him saw the jinni of the lamp and fell instantly, hopelessly, in love. Only she wasn’t a woman; she was a jinniyah, whom the jinni of the ring hastened to introduce.
“This is the jinniyah of the blue mountains,” he said. “She would love to meet you.” And then he didn’t say anything more, because he didn’t need to. All he did was go quietly away, congratulating himself all the while.
When the jinni of the lamp and the jinniyah of the blue mountains had finally found their tongues enough to talk to each other, they soon found they had so much in common that it seemed they’d known each other since the start of time. They both found pleasure in the same things, like the moonlight on the desert dunes and the wind in the leaves. They both intensely disliked careless chattering humans who could only think of their own gratification. They both disliked mixing with other jinn, and only made friends reluctantly if at all. They both had become increasingly reclusive as time had gone on and had come out into the world less and less. And only now had each one of them suddenly realised how lonely they had been.
Then the jinni of the lamp suddenly grew aware that a dusty little shed was no place to stand talking to the jinniyah of his dreams. Turning, he gestured courteously to his lamp. “Won’t you come in?” he asked.
And that, of course, was where he made his mistake.
Later, after she’d left, still crying and telling him that she’d never ever be able to be with him, no matter how much she was attracted to him, if he was so dirty, and she’d never been able to stand anyone who was the least bit dirty – later, as I was saying, the jinni of the lamp went sadly to find the jinni of the ring.
“Only now have I realised how lonely I have been, and how filled with yearning for a little love and affection,” he said. “Only now that I’ve found and lost her do I understand how much I love her. I’ve got to get her back.”
“Calm yourself,” the jinni of the ring said. “Let me go and talk to her, and ask her what’s wrong.” So he did.
The jinniyah of the blue mountain was just as miserable. “I love him,” she said. “But I can never be with anyone who lives in such a dirty lamp. Isn’t there something you can do?”
So the jinni of the ring went away to think. After much thought he came to a decision.
“Look,” he said to the jinni of the lamp. “I can solve your problem, but you have to do exactly as I say. Will you?”
And the jinni of the lamp, who would normally never, for an instant, agree to what anyone might tell him, nodded meekly. “I will.”
“See that you do,” the jinni of the ring said, and gave him his instructions.
“What will you do now?” the jinni of the lamp asked.
“Go and look for the one we need,” the jinni of the ring told him. “I have just the right person in mind.”
He always did.
The jinni of the ring, unlike the jinni of the lamp, had no problems with his accommodation. His ring, being old and valuable, spent all its time in an airtight safe deposit box, where there was no dust and nobody ever disturbed it. So he could do as he wished, secure in the knowledge that nobody would be likely to call for his services if he chose to spend most of his time roaming about.
Leaving the other jinni to go home to his dirty old lamp, he flew through the side of the jewellery box in which the ring was enclosed, and then through the safe deposit box, and past that to the city. Flying invisibly through the air – for jinn are invisible except when they wish to be, as far as human eyes are concerned – he reached the narrow, congested old quarter of the city, where he soon found a den of thieves.
Yes, dens of thieves still exist, and often you would never know that they were thieves to look at them. The most successful of them wear business suits and make policy on television, and people tell themselves they’re honest, or at least that they are less dishonest than the Other Guy. Dens of thieves are everywhere.
This particular den of thieves, however, was of the old school. Heavily muscled bouncers with thick facial stubble stood guard at the door, while scrawny little criminals with bad teeth negotiated deals in the corners over imperfectly washed glasses of bootleg liquor, under such thick clouds of tobacco smoke that the jinni emerging from his lamp might have been lost in the haze. Even the prostitutes avoided the place, because the thieves there never had anything but crime on their minds.
It was going on midnight when the jinni of the ring floated through a ventilator into the den. The ventilator, of course, had been closed, because the denizens of the place didn’t much like fresh night air, but there was enough of a crack left over for the jinni. If he’d wanted to, he could have come right through the wall, but jinn try and save energy when they can, like you or me or the cat sleeping on the sofa.
The jinni looked around for a moment, and then went right over to the darkest, most smoke-shrouded, corner of the den, where sat the scrawniest, most unshaven criminal in the place, who had the worst teeth besides. This thief had been waiting for a contact who was to buy the loot from his previous night’s depredations, and was getting more than a little tired of waiting. It was only because he had almost no money left that he hadn’t gone already.
Actually, the contact wasn’t going to come, and for an excellent reason: before entering the den, the jinni of the ring had ambushed him outside, dragged him into a dark alley, stripped him down to his underwear, and tied and gagged him with his own clothes. The terrified criminal was now still lying where he’d been trussed up, and would stay lying there until the morning, when he’d be found and liberated by a beggar looking for scraps to eat. Of course, the beggar would first relieve him of the money which he’d been carrying to buy the loot, and good thing, too.
Don’t judge the beggar. He deserved something good to happen to him, and this was the best thing that had happened in years.
Meanwhile, the jinni took the appearance of the contact and sat down next to the thief. “Sorry to keep you waiting,” he said. “I’m afraid I had a better offer than yours, and bought something else with the money.”
The thief was furious. “Here I’ve been waiting all evening, and I’m all but broke, and you dare tell me that you aren’t going to buy my goods? I’ve a good mind to cut your fat belly open for you.”
The jinni of the ring, in the guise of the contact, raised a placatory hand. “Don’t carry on so,” he said. “I don’t want the goods you have, that’s true. But I’m willing to pay double the amount for just one item, which I want you to steal for me.”
“What’s this item?” the thief said suspiciously.
“Right at the end of this town, where the highway begins,” the jinni said, “there’s a farm.” He gave the address. “Behind the farmhouse, on the slope up to the blue mountains, there’s an old shed. Inside the old shed, my sources inform me, there’s a lamp I want to acquire. You are to steal this lamp.”
“What’s so special about some old lamp?” the thief asked. Now, boys and girls, you see why you should actually read? If only the thief had read a few books, he’d have known what was going on. But he’d never even heard of jinn, let alone the story of the lamp (which, as we know, is no story, but only we and the jinn know that). “Why don’t you just buy a new one? Who uses lamps these days anyway?”
“It’s just got sentimental value,” the jinni of the lamp said, in as unconvincing a tone as he could manage. “My grandfather used to own that lamp, and willed it to me when he died. But one of his friends, an unmitigated rascal, seized it for his own. For all these years, I’ve been looking for it, and now I’ve found news of it. So I want you to steal it for me.”
The thief nodded. “All right,” he replied. “I’ll do it. Double the money, you say?”
“That’s right,” the jinni of the ring said. “Triple if you do it tonight.”
“I’ll go now,” the thief agreed. “You wait for me here. Don’t forget to pay for my drinks, too.” And without a further word, he left.
As soon as he’d gone, the jinni of the ring disappeared, oozing through the wall behind the table, and followed the thief. This worthy made his way to the farm, jumped over the back wall, and made his way to the shed. It was, of course, locked, but the lock was old and rusty because the shed hadn’t been used in so long, and the thief’s set of tools made short work of it.
This is not to say that the lock would have survived had it been stronger and newer. The thief might have been the scrawniest, most unshaven, and with the worst teeth in the den, but as a thief he was good. He was also very, very greedy, and this was exactly what the jinni of the ring was counting on.
The jinni of the ring watched as the thief looked around the shed, at all the boxes and crates and odds and ends filling it, and picked up and put the lamp in his bag. Then he began trying to break open one of the boxes, in the hope that there might be something in it worth stealing.
The jinni of the ring had, of course, no intention of causing any loss to the farmer, except for the rusty old lock which needed replacing anyway. So as soon as the thief raised his crowbar to break open the box, he began barking, exactly as though a huge and ferocious dog was rushing from the farm towards the shed.
The terrified thief forgot all about breaking the box, and – pausing only to snatch up his bag – rushed down the hill to the farm wall, jumped over it, and began running back to town. Where in the town did he go? To the den, where his contact was, he thought, waiting? Of course not – he went straight home, to see what was so special about this lamp and how much he could profit from it if he kept it for himself.
He really was a very greedy thief.
“It’s so dirty,” he muttered, looking at the lamp in the light of a bare bulb hanging from the ceiling. “I can’t even make out properly what it looks like. Maybe it’s made of gold or something. I’ll need to clean it up properly and see.”
This was exactly what the jinni of the ring had been waiting for, and what he’d warned his friend the jinni of the lamp about. As soon as the thief took up a rag and an old toothbrush to clean the lamp, the jinni of the ring rushed down into the spout. There he made himself solid, like a tiny little plug, and sealed the spout up tight.
The jinni of the lamp, of course, couldn’t help trying to come pouring out as soon as the rubbing began. It wasn’t his fault – it was in the terms of his binding to the lamp, so he had no choice in the matter – but at each rub, he threw himself at the spout, only to keep coming up against the plug formed by the jinni of the ring.
“I’m sorry,” he said to the jinni of the ring. “I’m doing my best, but I can’t help myself.”
“You’re doing fine,” the jinni of the ring assured him. “Remember what I told you: you’re only to try and leave the lamp by the spout, as always. Don’t, for the sake of Sulaiman ibn Daud, Harun al Rashid, and whoever it was who wrote the One Thousand And One Nights, try to leave by any other way. That’s all.”
So the thief scrubbed and rubbed and polished, until the lamp was perfectly clean and sparkling on the outside, and then looked at it, utterly baffled. “It’s just a battered old brass lamp,” he said. “Whatever did he want it for? Maybe he was telling the truth and it’s just a family heirloom? No, that’s impossible. There has to be something special about it, some treasure.” Then he had a brainwave. “Maybe whatever makes it so precious is on the inside?”
So he opened it and cleaned and cleaned all the oil and the dust until it was as clean inside as out. The poor jinni of the lamp, of course, beat and battered to pour himself out at every rub, but the jinni of the ring kept the spout sealed tight; and the jinni of the lamp did exactly as he’d been told and didn’t try to leave the lamp any other way.
“Bah!” the thief exclaimed angrily at last. “There’s nothing special about it. He just made the story up in order to get rid of me so he could escape and not have his belly cut open.” With a furious curse, he flung the lamp out of the window, whereupon it landed in the middle of a little triangle of scrubby grass which was called a ‘park’ by the people who lived there. And there we leave the thief; he doesn’t deserve a moment more of our attention.
Even before the lamp had hit the ground, the jinni of the ring had rushed out of it, and at the speed of the wind he flew to the jinniyah of the blue mountains. Grasping her by the hand, without even giving her the chance to speak (or, truth to tell, to put on any clothes, because she’d been sleeping), he dragged her to the lamp and thrust her towards the spout.
“It’s perfectly clean now,” he said. “It’s clean, inside and out. A palace fit for a king...and a queen, too.”
And so the jinniyah of the blue mountains crawled down into the lamp, where the jinni of her dreams was waiting for her with open arms; and people who have any taste and sense of delicacy know well not to interrupt lovers when they find themselves reunited, when they’d despaired of ever seeing each other again.
And what of the lamp? Well, early in the morning, a little girl was out in the street. She was a very poor little girl, who had only one ragged dress and nothing on her feet. But she was a nice and pleasant little girl for all that, with a good and generous heart, and it was her birthday, though only she knew it. And she knew that nobody else would remember it, not even her mother and father.
“It doesn’t matter if nobody gives me anything,” she said. “My parents are too poor to even think of a present, and it would be cruel to remind them that it’s my birthday.” And then she saw the lamp lying on the grass, glittering in the first rays of the morning sun.
“What a beautiful lamp,” she said. “Why would anyone throw away such a lovely thing? Never mind, lamp,” she said, picking it up and hugging it to her bony little chest. “You’ll be my birthday gift. I’ll take care of you and keep you nice and clean and pristine.”
But that, as they say, is altogether another story.
Copyright B Purkayastha 2016