Saturday 2 March 2013

On the Cult of the Messiah Barack Obama.

Religion is a strange thing.

It comes in different shapes and sizes, in all kinds of strange disguises. Sometimes something that appears to be a formal religion turns out, on examination, to be nothing of the kind – I’d certainly venture to say that Hinduism, for instance, isn’t really a religion at all but more an agglomeration of social practices and tradition.

And sometimes something that isn’t, on the face of it, a religion, actually is.

I will make a statement here of a fact which I completely believe:

Obamaism is a genuine religion, and Obama religionists are fundamentalist believers.

 We’ve all of us seen them online in the last four years...the reflexive supporters of the Nobel Peace Prizident Barack Obama, people so unthinkingly supportive of his activities that they will seek to defend anything and everything he says and does. Some of them I have personally come across claim, for instance,

* Obama EARNED (block letters as in the original) the Nobel Peace Prize.

* Obama is being treated badly by his political opponents.

* Obama’s drone programme is all about fighting terrorism.

Of course, none of these “facts” stand up to the slightest scrutiny. Obama did not “earn” the Nobel Peace Prize, he was given it for the stupendous feat of not being George W Bush. Obama’s alleged political opponents do not treat him “badly”, unless putting up a sham opponent so as to ensure his re-election constitutes treating him badly. As for the drone programme, it is a war crime pure and simple; and to a normal person Barack Obama is a vile corporate shill and war criminal and nothing more.

But Obama religionists are not normal people. They are as much fundamentalist believers in the religion of Barack Obama as any other religious fundamentalist, and as impervious to logic and facts as a jihad warrior or a Christian Creationist.

To a fundamentalist believer, the facts don’t count. Where normal people assess facts and draw conclusions, religious fundamentalists start from conclusions and selectively choose and manipulate facts to fit that conclusion. When facts are lacking, they either invent their own or dismiss the requirement for facts altogether, settling for attacking the actual facts and evidence proving the opposite of what they have decided.

Then there is the religious trick of setting up a counterpoint to the deity, call it what you will – the devil, or the evil one, or the asura, or whatever...the polar opposite of the goodness of the object of worship. A neutral person might find that this counterpoint isn’t really very different from the deity, and may even come across as a less obnoxious alternative; but to the religious fundamentalist, all evil flows from that source, and the deity is nothing but good. To this end, they’ll point to the positive comments and actions of the deity, however minuscule they be, and ignore the evil. They will deny the evil exists, and condemn anyone who points it out as a heretic and apostate.

This will be true even if the religion is a transparently fraudulent scheme, like Scientology or the Moon cult, and the more of a hollow sham it is to those standing on the outside, the more passionately will its adherents defend it against critics. As a general rule, the more insecure a cultist is, the more aggressive he is.

Every one of these characteristics is present in the worshippers of the Cult of Barack Obama...and George W Bush serves as a handy devil, even though by any objective parameter Bush wasn’t markedly worse than Obama and in several respects (like his refusal to countenance attacking Iran or openly backing jihadist terrorists) was better. (I will not comment on their domestic record since I am not an American, but from what I know Bush didn’t formalise murdering people, including American citizens, on suspicion as a matter of policy, and was probably less restrictive on civil rights.)

It’s a strange fact that a large number of Obama religionists characterise themselves as liberals and either atheists or agnostics. I’d call their liberalism a faux-liberalism, the kind of liberalism which handily supports war when it’s presented as a “civilising mission”; and as for their alleged atheism, the substitution of a human and mortal deity for a notional celestial one doesn’t make it any less of a deity. 

One might wonder how many of these Obama religionists are actually believers of his cult - and how many were conned by him and don't possess the intellectual honesty to admit they were duped. Those features, too, are present in believers of any religion, and in no way detract from the religious nature of the Obama Cult.

The only question is, to me, how far these worshippers are ready to take their religion. What happens if the Holy Messiah Obama – or, to be more exact, his corporate sponsors and controllers, whom his worshippers refuse to admit exist as such – decide that he will make a great Perpetual Puppet, and declare the end of the two-term limit for US Presidents? Will his worshippers, who defend the same policies under him as they condemned under Bush, go along with the decision?

I am certain that they will.

We shall see for ourselves soon enough, assuming we don’t get droned first.

Ah men.

Note: There is a tendency online for people to refer to Obama religionists as "Obamabots". Such a term is insulting to robots, who are programmed to act in a certain way and are not responsible for their actions...unlike Obama worshippers, who have consciously chosen their god.

Raghead: The Whistle-blower

Copyright B Purkayastha 2013

Friday 1 March 2013


And when the one thousand and twentieth night had come,



O King of Time, there was once, in the passage of an age and of a moment, a fisherman in a far and distant land, beyond the isles of India and China, called Bunglistan.

The fisherman had a hard life. Each morning, he would load his nets in his little boat, and row out into the great river which flowed through that land. When he reached the middle of the stream, he would throw out his nets, and if he was fortunate, he might catch enough fish to be able to sell in the markets and keep body and soul together for the day. But the river was deep and swift, and often the fisherman would have nothing to show for his pains. But he never complained, for he said to himself that if it was Allah’s will that his net be full one day, it was equally his will that the boat be empty on another.

The fisherman was a widower, and all he had in the world was a daughter, whom he had called Bidyutjhalak, or, in our language, Flash-Of-Lightning. This little girl could neither read nor write, but still was a prodigy, full of wisdom far beyond her years, and could indeed hold her own among the sages of that land. And she was as beautiful as the pearl shining in the light of the moon, and her smile was as bright as her name. 

Years passed, and Flash-Of-Lightning grew into a girl of beauty so wondrous that the young men of the town came often to the fisherman’s hut by the river bank, hoping to catch a glimpse of her; but she knew when they were about, and hid herself away until they should leave. And she continued to keep house for her father, and cook and clean for him, for she loved him just as much as he loved her.

One morning the fisherman was about to go out as usual to cast his nets, when Flash-Of-Lightning stopped him. “Father,” she said, “last night I had a dream, where I saw you out in your boat, and throwing your net into the river three times. The first time, you drew up nothing but water. The second time, when you threw in your net, you brought up a single small, black fish, and you were about to fling it into the boat when it called to you to spare its life and throw in your net a third time. The third time you threw in your net, it was filled with a load so heavy that it was with great difficulty that you drew it aboard. And in your net was not a fish, but an ancient brass mirror. And you were about to throw the mirror back into the water, when the little black fish called out to you to bring it back home.”

The fisherman smiled at his daughter, for though he loved her dearly, he thought she was merely prattling foolishly. And he went out into the river and, when he reached the centre, he threw his net into the depths. But when he pulled it out again, it was quite empty but for the muddy river water.

“It must be Allah’s will,” the fisherman thought, and threw in his net again. When he pulled it out he thought that this time, too, it was empty; but then he saw, flopping in its folds, a little black fish, the size of his finger. He was about to throw this fish into the bottom of his boat when it cried out to him in a small shrill voice.

“O prince among fishermen,” it said, “spare my life and put me back in the water, and great fortune will befall you.”

The fisherman was astonished to hear the fish talk. “How do I know that you speak the truth?” he asked eventually, when he had recovered a little from his surprise. “If I release you, it may be that you will merely swim away.”

“Even if you kill me,” the fish pointed out, “I am so small that you will get nothing for me on the market, and I can assure you that no matter how many more times you cast your nets, you will catch nothing more today. But release me and throw in your net once more, and you will find something that will bring you great fortune.”

The fisherman considered, and decided that there was nothing to be gained from killing such a tiny fish; and, dropping it into the river, he took the name of Allah and cast in his net once more. Scarcely had he done so when it filled with a great weight, so much so that he struggled mightily to pull it aboard. Once he had it in the boat, though, he found that the net contained no fish, but a large disc of tarnished metal.

When the fisherman saw this, he was enraged, and decided the fish had tricked him. Removing the disc with difficulty from the net, he had just raised it in his arms to throw it back in the water when he heard a tiny voice.

“O fisherman!” the voice cried out, and he saw the little black fish sticking its head out of the water, “what are you doing? This disc in your hands is the object that will bring you great fortune. Take it back home and give it to your daughter, Flash-Of-Lightning, for she will know what to do with it.” So saying, the little black fish threw up its tail and disappeared.

“Be it as Allah wills!” thought the fisherman, and, putting the disc in the bottom of the boat, he rowed slowly back to shore, where his daughter awaited him.

“Oh, father,” she exclaimed. “I hope you spared the fish’s life and brought back the brass mirror!”

The fisherman had quite forgotten the girl’s dream, so he was filled with astonishment. “I have no mirror,” he said, “but only this round piece of tarnished metal, which is useless to anybody.”

“It is the ancient mirror of brass which I saw in my dream,” the girl said, and, taking the disc, she carried it with difficulty back to the hut. There, she spent hours carefully cleaning and polishing it, until it gleamed like gold and dimly reflected what was before it. Then she stood it in the darkest corner, furthest from the door.

“We will see what we will see!” she said to the fisherman, who was unhappy since they had had to go without food, as he had caught nothing today. “Allah will provide, if he wills.”

That night, while the city slept, a thief broke into the treasury of the King of Bunglistan, and stole a bag of priceless jewels. However, as he was leaving, a guard caught sight of him and raised a hue and cry. The thief, finding himself pursued, hurriedly concealed the jewels and escaped, intending to return for them another day.

The next morning, the King sent criers around the city, announcing a reward of twenty thousand gold mohurs to anyone who would find him the purloined jewels. This news, of course, caused great excitement in the city, and finally came to the ears of the fisherman and his daughter.

“Let me consult the mirror,” Flash-Of-Lightning said. Going into the dark hut, she wiped the mirror with a piece of cloth, and uttered these lines, which she had also learned in her dream:

“The truth of the moment in a vision lies
If shadows twist the dreams to dust
Just as mighty iron walls will
With time and water fall to rust –

“But just as from rust you can conjure
The mighty walls in your mind once more
Perhaps a vision will clear the dark
And open the past’s unmoving door.”

At these words the surface of the brazen mirror brightened, until it shone as bright as the full moon; and in it the girl saw the treasury, and the thief who entered, gazed swiftly around, and, seizing the bag of jewels, quickly went out the way he had come. Then the mirror showed him running quickly down the street, with the guards in pursuit. Coming to the marketplace, which was closed and deserted at that hour, the thief looked around quickly, and, taking up a loose stone at the north-western corner, which had a white mark on top, he hid the pouch of jewels there and put back the stone again. He then lay down, snoring like a drunk who has imbibed too much to make his way further.

Soon, the guards arrived, and searched the area. They roused the thief and searched him too, but since they found nothing they were compelled to let him go. They remained suspicious, however, and kept a vigil in the market, that being the last place to which they had tracked the thief – meaning that the knave had to leave, hoping to return on a future occasion and retrieve the jewels.

The fisherman’s daughter called her father and told him what she had seen. “Now,” she concluded, “this is what you must do: go at once to the king’s court, and beg for an audience with him. Inform him that you can find the jewels for him, using your special skills. Then, burn some incense and make marks on the floor with a piece of charcoal, and after a little of this tell him that you can lead him to the hiding place of the jewels. Go now, quickly, lest someone find the jewels and make off with them.”

 The old fisherman then washed himself, dressed in the only robe he possessed, and, taking the name of Allah, presented himself at the king’s court, humbly begging the guards for an audience. The king was too worried about his missing jewels to grant the request of one whom he at first took to be a wandering mendicant, and sent a message bidding him to come another day. But the fisherman requested the guard to inform the king that he had powers which could find lost and stolen objects, and was willing to prove these abilities. On hearing this, the king at once ordered him to be brought to the royal presence.

“Old Grandfather,” he said, after the fisherman had kissed the earth between his hands. “If you can find the bag of jewels which were stolen from my treasury last night, I will give you the twenty thousand gold mohurs I have promised as a reward, and a robe of honour besides.”

The old fisherman bowed his head. “Your wish is my command.” Taking out some incense from the pockets of his robe, he proceeded to burn it, while murmuring over intricate lines he drew on the floor with a piece of charcoal. At last he sat back and looked up at the king.  

“I have divined the location where your jewels are, Your Majesty,” he said. “The thief has hidden them in a particular location, which he imagined to be safe from the gaze of all but Allah, but my powers are stronger than his wiles. If you will supply me with a few soldiers as escort, I will at once proceed to retrieve them and return them to your possession.”

“I will come with you,” the king declared, “and so will all my court also.” So it was that the fisherman made his way to the market at the head of a crowd comprising the king, all his ministers, along with guards and fan-bearers.  Coming to the marketplace, which at this hour was crowded with merchants and shoppers, he went to the north-western corner, and, finding the stone with the white mark, he ordered it to be raised. No sooner had the soldiers lifted it out of the ground than they found the pouch, and, opening it, found it to be full of the stolen jewels.

The king was filled with joy, and, turning to the fisherman, he said...


At this point Shahrazad saw the approach of dawn and discreetly fell silent.

But when the one thousand and twenty-first night had come,



O King of Time, this is what the King of Bunglistan said to the old fisherman, on recovering the jewels the thief had stolen and hidden in the marketplace:

“Old Grandfather, I must admit that at first I doubted your abilities. But now I have nothing but admiration for your wisdom, and my heart is filled with gratitude; come back with me to the court, and I shall grant you the twenty thousand mohurs, the robe of honour, and anything else your heart desires.”

Now among the king’s courtiers was the Kotwal, or Commander of the Guard. This Kotwal was a mean and envious man by nature, and, besides, he was smarting from the fact that the king had berated him bitterly for not preventing the robbery. He was, therefore, filled with anger towards the fisherman for recovering the looted property, and burned with jealousy at the thought of his getting the rewards the king had promised.

Accordingly, he found an opportunity to speak to the king in private as they made their way back to the palace. “Your Majesty,” he said, “it seems to me most suspicious that this man should know exactly where the jewels were concealed. Is it not probable that he is a confederate of the thief, and came to the court with the express purpose of securing the reward, which he will then share with his comrade? For remember the words of the poet:

“There is no vice in the heart of man
That cannot put the Evil One to shame
And nothing in the darkest night
Is darker than the evil game
That men play upon each other, all
With faces of piety, as though Allah’s light
Shines on them, while all the while
Burns in them, calumny and spite.
Never put your faith in him
Who seems purer than angels, more
For if you look into his heart
He will be rotten to the core.”

So persuasive was the Kotwal with his words that the king was quite convinced that the fisherman was to blame, and as soon as they had reached the palace he ordered the old man seized and flung into the dungeons. And the reward which he was to have received, the king ordered to be given to the Kotwal, in return for warning him of the old man’s supposed true intentions.

The old fisherman, on finding himself in chains in the dungeon, at first gave himself up to utter despair. But, at length, he composed himself. “It must be as Allah wills!” he said, “for we are as clay in his hands, and he alone knows all.”

We shall now leave the old fisherman in the dungeon, and see what was happening with his daughter.

Flash-Of-Lightning had waited all day for her father to return, but as the hours passed with no sign of him, her anxiety grew till it had no bounds. Finally, she left the hut and walked to the marketplace, there to search for news of him. She soon heard that the king and his court had been there earlier in the day, led by an old mystic, and that they had found the missing jewels under a stone. But nobody knew what had happened afterwards.

Then the maiden returned to her hut, consumed with worry, and took to her brass mirror again. In its reflection, she saw the court, and before it, her father, who was seized by the guards and dragged away to be imprisoned in the dungeon. And, seeing the pleased smile on the face of the Kotwal, she understood at once what must have happened. But for the moment she could not decide what to do, and spent the hours tossing and turning on her narrow mattress. At last she went to the mirror and, uttering her incantation, settled down to watch.

Now the thief had spent the day eagerly awaiting the opportunity to recover the stolen jewels. As soon as darkness had fallen, he made his way back to the market and waited impatiently until the last trader had packed up his stall for the night. Then, walking quickly to the stone under which he had hidden the bag, he turned it over, but found the space underneath quite empty.

Then the thief bit the entrails of despair, and swore revenge on whoever had taken the jewels; and, hunting among the stalls of the market, he eventually found a sleeping beggar, whom he roused at the point of a knife and demanded to know what had happened during the day. The terrified beggar blurted out what he knew about the king and court coming to the market and finding the bag under the stone.

“By Allah,” the thief said to himself then, “I will make the king suffer for this, for it is due to him that I have lost these jewels which could have furnished all my wants for years to come.” Leaving the marketplace, he went to the palace, resolving to enter it and murder the king as he slept.

Flash-Of-Lightning, of course, had seen all this in her mirror, and she at once rushed to the palace, determined to save the king’s life and to get justice for her father. Arriving at the palace doors, she demanded that the guards at once rouse the king, for his life was in danger.

Now the Kotwal was doing the rounds, and he arrived to find out the reason for the commotion at the door. On hearing what the maiden had to say, he laughed. “And how would you know this?” he asked. “Are you in the thief’s confidence, that he tells you of his plans?”

“I will tell all to the king, and the king alone,” Flash-Of-Lightning countered. “But go you and rouse him, for there is not a moment to lose.”

At this the Kotwal laughed even louder.

“O wench,” he asked, “is it not enough that the king gives audience to trash off the streets in his court? Do you think he will take kindly to being woken in the middle of the night for some silly tale woven by a girl with mischief on her mind?” And, turning to his guards, he ordered them to throw her into the street and close the gates.

Now, among the guards there was one by the name of Rukn-ud-Din, who was a young and cheery lad, and had been smitten at once by the looks of Flash-Of-Lightning. Also, he did not like the Kotwal’s bullying manners and evil ways. While pretending to throw her out, he quickly drew her into the palace and bid her hide herself behind a pillar. As soon as the Kotwal had moved on, and the other guards had gone to their positions, Rukn-ud-Din went to the girl and conducted her to the royal quarters, where they ordered the king’s personal servants to rouse the monarch from his royal rest.

But the servants were reluctant to do so, so reluctant that the girl lost patience and threw open the doors of the royal bedchamber with her own hands. And as soon as they were open, the servants and guard saw for themselves that a shadowy figure was climbing through the window, a knife clutched in its hand.

The guard Rukn-ud-Din jumped forward at once, with his sword upraised, shouting a challenge. The thief, astounded, dropped his knife, and – with all thoughts but self-preservation fled from his mind – leaped out of the window and rushed away, swift as the wind, never to return. So much for him.

The king had been roused by the noise, and demanded to know what was going on. The girl, Flash-Of-Lightning, at once threw herself down before him, and, kissing the earth between his hands, told of the thief’s murderous plot and how she had come to warn the monarch of his deadly danger. The guard and the servants joined in, telling of how they had seen the man entering through the window, intent on revenge.

“And here is the knife,” Rukn-ud-Din said, picking it up from the floor. “The thief dropped it as he fled.”

“What reward can I offer you for saving my life, young lady?” the king asked. “Ask, and it will be given you.”

“This morning, O King,” Flash-Of-Lightning said, “you unjustly imprisoned an old man who had restored to you the stolen jewels. I wish only that you release him from your dungeon, and give him the reward you promised.”

“But,” the king said, “that old man was an ally of the vile thief who had just tried to sneak in here, to cut my throat. My Kotwal assured me of the fact.”

“Do not believe all that you hear, O King,” the girl said, “lest it befall you as it did the fish in the tale, who thought she could fly.”  

“What tale is that?” asked the king. “I am certain I never heard of it.”

Then Flash-Of-Lightning began:


Once there was, O King, a deep pond, in which there were many fishes, who lived together happily and in friendship. But among them was a little fish, who was never content, because she thought there was more to life than swimming in the water.

Each day, this little fish would swim to the surface, and gaze longingly at the birds flying up in the sky. “If only I could fly like those birds,” she said, “what happiness would be mine!”

The other fish counselled her to stop thinking so foolishly. “We are fishes,” they said, “and the watery world is ours. Leave the air to the birds, for that is what Allah intended.” But the little fish paid them no heed.

Among the birds was an old heron, who came each day to hunt frogs in the reeds at the side of the pond. This heron would see the fish swimming around, and the sight filled him with greed, for he was tired of eating frogs. But the fish were too swift and wary for him to catch.

One day this heron was standing in the water among the reeds, looking longingly at the fish, when the little fish who wanted to fly came to the surface and, as was her wont, began to sigh longingly of her desire to fly. The heron heard her, and at once thought of a plan.

“Little fish,” he said, “if you truly wish to fly, I can help you.”

“How can you help me?” the fish asked. “You spend all day standing on one leg in the water, catching frogs. That is all you have ever done.”

“That is only because I am a saintly old bird, my dear,” the heron replied. “I only await an opportunity to help those in need, such as little fish like yourself. Now, if you would truly like to fly, I can help.”

“How would you do that?”

“Why,” answered the old heron, “I would take you in my beak, and fly you into the sky, to take you wherever you wished to go.”

The other fishes had heard what the old heron said, and came rushing to the little fish who wanted to fly. “Don’t believe the old reprobate,” they urged. “He only wants to eat you.”

The old heron heard them, and began to talk louder and louder, describing the wonders of the sky. “Up above,” he said, “you can see the rivers and mountains, the cities of man, and even the far and distant desert and the deep blue sea. In the sky, clouds gather like white towers reaching up towards the heavens, and this little pond of yours is no more than a patch of mud and water, hardly worth a moment’s notice. For the world is vast and wide, and but for Allah, only the birds who fly see all of it. Such are the wonders I can show you.”

The foolish little fish, believing him, swam closer; whereupon the heron darted forward his beak, and that was the end of her.

Let not, O King, allow the honeyed words of those who bear you no goodwill blind you to the advice of those who wish you nothing but well.


At this point Shahrazad saw the approach of dawn and discreetly fell silent.

But when the one thousand and twenty-second night had come,



When the fisherman’s daughter, Flash-Of-Lightning, had finished her tale, the King of Bunglistan frowned. “I understand what you are saying, young woman,” he replied. “But my Kotwal has served me faithfully for many years, and it is impossible for me to take your word without proof, for I have never seen you before and I know not who you are.”

Then Flash-Of-Lightning realised there was nothing for it but to reveal the truth. “Your Majesty,” she said, “I am in possession of a magic mirror of brass, which shows me secrets that I would otherwise never know. The old man you imprisoned is my father, and it was I who sent him to your palace after divining the hiding place of the jewels in the mirror. And it was this same mirror which showed me the thief planning vengeance on you for depriving him of the jewels he stole.”

“Fetch the mirror here,” the king ordered. “And we shall see what we shall see.”

“Precisely what I was about to suggest, Your Majesty,” the girl replied. “If you will give me leave to go forth and bring it here, I will do so.”

“I will expect to see you before my court in the morning,” the king said. And, enjoining the servants to the strictest secrecy, he dismissed them, except Rukn-ud-Din whom he commanded to stay by his side for the rest of the night.

Early the next morning, when the court had just gathered, the fisherman’s daughter arrived with the brass mirror. The king had sent out Rukn-ud-Din to meet her and escort her safely to his presence, and all the court was taken both by surprise at her shining beauty and mystified by her presence, for none of them knew who she was or what had passed in the night. The Kotwal, most of all, was astonished, for he remembered her as the girl whom, he thought, he had chased away the previous evening, and was filled with perplexity at seeing her in the court.

Then the king told everyone of how the girl had saved his life during the night, and at his command she then spoke of how her father had been unjustly imprisoned, and she then spoke of the magic mirror, but it would serve no purpose to repeat it here. Then she told of how the Kotwal had tried to throw her out instead of allowing her to go to the king to warn him of his danger, and at this the knave’s face turned red with fury.

“The wench lies, Your Majesty,” he said. “Everything she has said is a lie.”

“I shall prove that what I say is true,” Flash-Of-Lightning said, “and that it is this whey-faced Kotwal who lies.” Setting up the mirror against a pillar, she rubbed it with the hem of her garment, uttering her incantation. In a trice the whole court saw how the Kotwal had tried to throw her out, and had only laughed when she had warned of the king’s danger.

Then the Kotwal’s face turned yellow and his bowels to water, and, throwing himself down before the king, he began to make a hundred excuses and lamentations. But the king had seen enough, and ordered his men to bind the Kotwal and throw him into the selfsame dungeon in which the old fisherman was imprisoned. So much for him.

As to the fisherman, the King ordered him brought before the court, and bestowed on him the reward of twenty thousand gold mohurs, and the robe of honour besides.

“Old Grandfather,” he said, “I beg of you a thousand pardons, and assure you that you will have a home in my palace for as long as you should live.”

“All is as Allah wills,” said the old man. “If it were not his will, you would not have imprisoned me, and it is his will that you should now let me go. As to my dear daughter, who is the light of my life –“

“As to her,” said the king, who had observed the glances exchanged between Rukn-ud-Din and the young maiden, “she will, if she be willing, be wed to this guard here, whom I hereby appoint as my new Kotwal.”

“Your wish is our command,” Rukn-ud-Din and Flash-Of-Lightning said, filled with joy. And the king summoned the kādī and witnesses, and had them joined together in marriage.

Months passed, and the Kotwal Rukn-ud-Din and his wife lived in serene happiness with each other. The only sorrow in these months was that the old fisherman was, after a brief illness, called to the peace of Allah. The king and the entire kingdom mourned his passing, with the sole exception of the old Kotwal in the dungeon, but it was his nature to pleasure in the sorrows of others and lament even the most trivial of their joys.

Soon afterwards, the lady Flash-Of-Lightning became with child, and in the course of time gave birth to a son, handsome as the rising sun, whom they called Alī. Both she and Rukn-ud-Din doted on the boy, and had the greatest hopes for him, for he was as kind as he was good-looking, and as good-natured as he was bright. And as he grew, he became a favourite of the king, he frequently spent the entire day at the court, sitting at the side of the throne and sometimes on the royal lap.

Then one night, while her husband was away in another town on business, Flash-Of-Lightning got a bit of news which greatly distressed her, so much that she – for the first time since her marriage – chose to look in the mirror. Afterwards she fell into such deep melancholy that her husband, when he returned home the next day, was shocked and thrown into the deepest pit of worry.

“What is it?” he asked. “Tell me what ails you, for I shall know no peace until I can soothe the worry that sits heavy on your brow.”

“It is nothing,” said Flash-Of-Lightning said at first. “Just a foolish fancy of mine.” But, when the Kotwal pressed further, she sighed and said:

“You must know, my husband, that I have always worried about our son’s future, for one so talented and good natured as he, and, moreover, one as much in the favour of the king, can only earn the wrath and envy of small and evil minds. But I have always told myself that Allah would watch over him and keep him from harm.

“Last night, however, I got to know that the evil-faced old Kotwal, whom the king had thrown into the dungeon, had managed to take advantage of your absence to escape, and I immediately apprehended that he would seek to avenge himself on us through our son, who is beloved not just by us but by the king. This so disturbed me that I looked in the magic mirror, and it confirmed what I had surmised – that this evil old man is even now scheming against us, and plans to do Alī harm.”

When Rukn-ud-Din had heard this, his brow grew black as thunder. “Where is this son of the Evil One?” he demanded. “I shall find him and consign his soul to the hell where he belongs.”

But Flash-Of-Lightning shook her head. “The mirror cannot tell that,” she said, “for during the years of his imprisonment the old man has learned black arts from certain of the other prisoners, enough to shroud his whereabouts in secrecy. But I have also seen that as long as you are here to protect us, he dare not move against our son, for he is terrified of you. That is why I say my fear is but a foolish fancy.”

Rukn-ud-Din seethed with anger, but there was little he could do but keep as close an eye as he could on Alī. Little by little, time passed, and it seemed that the danger had passed the boy by.

It was during this time that the king wed; and the queen was as beauteous as she was charming, and loving and generous, so that the kingdom rejoiced and praised her name.

But one day the Evil One’s eye fell on the queen, so that she fell desperately ill, and lay for many days at death’s door. Many doctors, all learned and wise, came from all over Bunglistan, and from foreign lands, to cure her. But all their knowledge seemed futile, and with every day she sank further and further.

Then, one day, an ancient doctor arrived at the palace, bearing thick treatises of medicine and with a beard so long and white that his very appearance filled all those who saw him with awe. Having examined the queen, he meditated a while among the pages of his tomes and finally declared:

“The Queen will be fine only if she is given the juice of the Golden Pomegranate. That, and only that, will cure her. O King of Time, you must have the Golden Pomegranate fetched at once.”

“I will immediately do so,” declared the king, who loved his wife well and had been cast into the deepest pit of misery at her illness. “But where can one find this Golden Pomegranate?”

“Far away,” said the white-bearded ancient, “beyond the western desert, lies a land of mountains, so high that they seem to touch the sky. In the very middle of those mountains, there is a deep and secret valley, so lush and green as to rival the gardens of Paradise. And in the very middle of that valley, by the side of a babbling brook of crystal-clear water, grows the Tree bearing the Golden Pomegranate. But send only the most trusted of your men to get it for you, lest he decide to keep it for himself, for the juice of one seed of the fruit can give a healthy man life for a thousand years.”

“I have just the man,” said the king. “My Kotwal, Rukn-ud-Din, is a man to be trusted as the day is, to follow the night. I will at once command him to proceed with all haste to fetch this Golden Pomegranate. Meanwhile, doctor, do you take all possible measures to keep my queen alive till he returns.”

“I hear and I obey,” said the doctor, and proceeded to brew up several potions, which he gave to the queen to drink. Meanwhile, the King summoned Rukn-ud-Din to his presence, and told him that he should instantly proceed to the mountains beyond the western desert, and return with the famed Golden Fruit.

Cold anxiety seized Rukn-ud-Din’s heart when he heard the command, for he instantly realised that it would mean that he would have to leave his wife and child behind, and at the mercy of the former Kotwal; but he had no way of disobeying the royal command.

“It will be as the King wishes,” he murmured, and forthwith went to tell Flash-Of-Lightning the news. When she heard all, her face fell, and tears sprang to her eyes.

“There is no power or might save in Allah,” she declared. “I am certain that...”


At this point Shahrazad saw the approach of dawn and discreetly fell silent.

But when the one thousand and twenty-third night had come,



I am certain,” Flash-Of-Lightning declared, “that there is no harm that can come to our son if Allah does not permit it, but I am stricken with anxiety, not just for him but for your welfare.”

“I understand your worry,” her husband said. “But I dare not disobey the king, so I will have to set out immediately for the Golden Pomegranate. Besides, if I do not fetch it, the queen will die.”

“Go, then,” said Flash-Of-Lightning. “I will meanwhile keep Alī in my sight day and night.”

“And I will order my men to stand guard round our house, and accompany you wherever you go, until I return.”

“But I will still burn for worry for your safety, my husband,” said the fisherman’s daughter. “You will be far away, and Allah alone knows what dangers you will face.”

“Do not worry unduly on my account.” Rukn-ud-Din took a small silver knife from his belt. “Keep good watch on this,” he said, giving it to her. “So long as the blade is bright and shiny, know that all is well with me. But if the blade should grow dark and tarnished, know that some disaster has befallen me, and if so, you must then proceed as you deem best.” So saying, the Kotwal bid his family goodbye, and, astride his best horse, set out on the long journey west, armed only with his curved scimitar and long dagger.

For many days he travelled, until he had left Bunglistan far behind, until at last he reached the western desert. There, he joined a caravan of merchants, who were making their way to the markets of Khurāsān, claiming to be a messenger to the king of that land.

One day, while the caravan was making its way through the desert, it was set upon by a band of marauding Badāwī, who were looking for rich pickings among the defenceless merchants. But they had reckoned without the presence of the Kotwal, who rushed upon them with his scimitar raised high, and with a few strokes sent the heads of several rolling from their shoulders, while the rest fled away as rapidly as they could go.

Then the merchants gathered round Rukn-ud-Din and praised him for all they could, for as they said, but for him they would have been robbed and enslaved by the brigands. And they asked him, most courteously, if they could be of any help to him in his journey to the king of Khurāsān.

The Kotwal reflected a moment, and replied in these words: “Friends, it was only my duty to help you in what way I could, since you are my hosts on this journey and your fate is mine; but if you should be in a mind to help, this is what you can tell me:

“Before I left Bunglistan, the king, my master, enjoined on me to visit a certain valley in the hills beyond the desert, where, as a sage had told him, grows a certain tree, on which grows a golden pomegranate. My master would that I bring the fruit back to him when I return from my journey.”

On hearing this, the faces of the merchants turned yellow. “O friend,” they said, “it were better by far for you that you should have perished at the hands of the Badāwī robbers, for the fate that awaits you is far more terrible, if you should go seeking the Golden Pomegranate. Many have gone seeking it, but none returned, for the valley lies in the grip of a most fearsome ifrīt, who is its guardian, and who destroys anyone who seeks the Golden Pomegranate. Unhappy, indeed, will be your fate if you go seeking that accursed fruit!” And the caravan master recited these lines:

“Do not seek the hidden gold
All the darkling evening long
You may lose yourself in the night
And never hear the dawn’s sweet song.
For there are more things than one should search
More treasures than one needs to find –
You may pass a lifetime searching
For the sun’s light, and end up blind.”

The Kotwal listened, and thanked them for their advice, but declared that he could not refuse the command of his sovereign. “If you can,” he said, “please inform me of the swiftest way to go to the valley, so that I can reach it, and with Allah’s help perhaps defeat the foul ifrīt and bring back the Golden Pomegranate.”

The merchants sorrowed much at the thought of the fate that awaited their friend and protector, and tried mightily to dissuade him; but, at length, finding that he could not be swayed, they conferred among themselves. At last the caravan master said: “We will come to the hills after travelling a week further through the desert; and on the third day after reaching the hills, we will pass by a tall black rock in the shape of a sleeping camel. Past that rock, a mountain track leaves the caravan trail, so narrow that two men cannot walk abreast, and between cliffs so high that the sky is almost invisible. Along that track lies the valley you seek; more than that, we cannot tell you.”

So the caravan made its way across the desert until it reached the mountains; and on the third day it came to the rock like a sleeping camel; and there the Kotwal took leave of his travelling companions, who sighed with regret to see him leave. “Allah’s blessings be upon you!” they said. “If you ever return from the valley, come and tell us, for our lives will know no joy until we hear that you are safe and sound.”

Rukn-ud-Din bade them farewell with a heavy heart, and rode up the path, which was so narrow that two men would not have been able to walk abreast, and between cliffs so high that if he tilted back his head, the sky was a narrow blue thread high above. It was a dreadful path, as steep and stony as it was narrow, and after a while the horse could go no further; then Rukn-ud-Din tied it to a patch of scrub, on which it could graze, and went on alone.

Eventually, after many hours’ weary walk, he reached the top of the path and came out on to a plateau; and, in the middle of it, was a valley so green and delightful to the eye that he knew at once that it must be the one which contained the tree on which grew the fabled Golden Pomegranate.

At the thought of having reached the end of his quest, the dire warnings about the ifrīt quite fled from Rukn-ud-Din’s mind; and, with the name of Allah on his lips, he rushed down the hillside into the valley. All around him grew flowers of such magnificence, and fruit so tempting, that he almost forgot what he was about; only the thought of Flash-Of-Lightning and Alī waiting for his return kept him going, until at last he found the crystal stream, and following it up the valley, he saw a pomegranate tree, and on it grew a multitude of golden fruit.

With a glad cry, he rushed to the tree, and was just about to seize the nearest of the fruit, when the ground before him burst asunder and the ifrīt emerged. So terrible was this dread creature that even the valiant heart of the Kotwal grew cold with fear. He cried out, and raised his sword, but the ifrīt merely laughed and knocked it harmlessly away.

“Who are you,” he demanded in his terrible voice, “that you come to this valley, and seek to steal my precious golden fruit?”

“I am Rukn-ud-Din, Kotwal of Bunglistan,” the man replied, “and I seek the Golden Pomegranate, to take to my queen, who lies deathly ill, and who can only be saved by its juices.”

“Everyone who comes here seeks that fruit,” the ifrīt replied. “And none of them has ever succeeded. But I will give you the same chance as I give them all. Are you agreed?”

“What chance?” the Kotwal asked.

The ifrīt swung an immense arm to indicate the tree. “Only one of all the pomegranates growing on these branches,” he said, “is the Golden Pomegranate you seek. Pick it out, and you can take it and go. But fail, and the fruit shall destroy you, for all but the real Golden Pomegranate are deadly poisonous.”

Rukn-ud-Din looked up at the tree, every branch of which was weighed down with identical-looking golden fruit. “How would I know if I have chosen the right?”

“Why,” the ifrīt replied, “I shall tell you. I have never told a lie, and never will. Choose the right fruit, and you may go free. Choose the wrong, and the poison in it will burn your bones as soon as you hold it in your hand.”

“And if I do not choose,” Rukn-ud-Din asked, “what then?”

“Then, I shall do to you as I do to those who refuse to make a choice,” the ifrīt replied, and, snatching up the Kotwal in one immense hand, he vanished with him under the earth, which closed again over them.

Now, since the day the Kotwal had left on his journey, his wife Flash-Of-Lightning had kept her son Aliī surrounded by guards, and always within her own sight. Even when he cried to go to the court, she kept the soldiers around him, and stood beside the throne looking on as the boy was dandled on the king’s knee. These sessions at the court never lasted very long, because the king was desperately worried about his wife, who had rallied a little but was still not far from the grim door of death. Each day, the king would send for news of the Kotwal’s return, and invariably the messenger would return disappointed.

Flash-Of-Lightning, too, checked each day the little silver dagger her husband had given her, and was always reassured when she found it bright and shiny. But one morning, on drawing the dagger from its tiny scabbard, she found it turned dark with tarnish, as though it were covered in dark rust. And then she knew, without a shadow of doubt, that some awful fate had overcome her husband.

Another woman in her place might have succumbed to despair, but not Flash-Of-Lightning, the fisherman’s daughter. Quietly, without saying a word to anyone, she put the knife back in its scabbard, and went to consult her magic mirror, which stood as always in the darkest corner of her room. And in its dim image she saw that her husband had been defeated by the foul ifrīt in the valley in the hills.

Then Flash-Of-Lightning sat down before the mirror, thinking, and at last she formed a plan. That night, while the city slept, she dressed herself in a man’s clothing, girt on a sword, and dressed Alī in the clothes of a little page. She slung the magic mirror in a bag over her shoulder, and, taking her son by the hand, she climbed astride a horse. Long before dawn, they were far away from the city.

Many days later, they finally arrived at the town where the caravans gathered before setting out across the desert. Flash-Of-Lightning set out for the merchants’ khān, hoping to find a caravan which she and Alī could join. But just then she saw a caravan being prepared for the journey, and among the animals was one she instantly recognised; it was the horse of her husband, Rukn-ud-Din.

Without wasting time, Flash-Of-Lightning went to the caravan master and requested to know how he had come by the horse. “Alas,” he sighed, “it belonged to a traveller who had joined us on our previous trip west. He said he was an envoy from the king of Bunglistan to the court of Khurāsān. But, though we tried to dissuade him, he insisted on hunting a magical golden pomegranate in a valley in the hills, which is guarded by a terrible ifrīt. As we were returning from our trading expedition, we found the beast wandering in the hills, having torn the ropes which had bound him; and we brought him back with us, in the hope that perhaps our friend would someday return and claim him. But why do you ask, o youth?”

Then Flash-Of-Lightning, whom the caravan master had imagined to be a boy due to her clothes, said:


At this point Shahrazad saw the approach of dawn and discreetly fell silent.

But when the one thousand and twenty-fourth night had come,



O great merchant and prince of caravan masters,” Flash-Of-Lightning said, “the man to whom this horse belonged is my own dear brother, and I am on my way to seek him, along with my little page here, who is the apple of his eye. I beg you to allow us to accompany your caravan, and to give us the horse of my brother in keeping.”

“By Allah,” the caravan master exclaimed, “gladly would I have so consented to doing, even had you not been our dear friend’s brother; for I can refuse nothing to a youth as fair as you. But you are even more welcome, for your brother saved us from attack by the terrible Badāwī robbers of the desert.” And he told Flash-Of-Lightning all that had happened during that journey, but no purpose would be served by repeating it here.

“We start out at once on the next journey,” the caravan master said. “But I must entreat you not to follow your brother’s example, for then you and your little page will surely be, like him, forever lost.”

“Be that as Allah wills,” Flash-Of-Lightning declared. Sitting astride Rukn-ud-Din’s horse, she led her own mount with Alī and joined at the back of the caravan.

For many days the caravan made its way across the desert, and by the grace of Allah at last came unharmed to the mountains. Flash-Of-Lightning, who had asked the way to the hidden valley, then bade farewell to the merchants and her friend the caravan master, and, leading Alī’s horse, rode up the path past the rock like a sleeping camel. Long they rode, until the trail grew too steep for the horses; and then she tied them to the selfsame bushes as Rukn-ud-Din had, and – holding her son by the hand – walked on.

At last, after many weary hours, the two of them came to the valley, and saw its marvellous sights spread before them. But Flash-Of-Lightning, who had seen it long since in her mirror, did not fall prey to its beauties. Cautiously, holding the boy by the hand, she led the way along the crystal brook until at last she came to the pomegranate tree.

Then, just as it had happened with Rukn-ud-Din, the ground burst asunder and the ifrīt emerged. “How dare you come to my valley?” he shouted. “You will pay dearly for your folly.”

“I come to rescue my husband, whom you defeated and hold captive,” Flash-Of-Lightning retorted. “I also come to take home the Golden Pomegranate, so as to save the life of the Queen of Bunglistan.”

The ifrīt frowned terribly. “Pick out the Golden Pomegranate from all the others on the tree,” he said, “and I will let you go. But fail, and the poison of the other fruit will kill you.”

“In a moment,” Flash-Of-Lightning said, and, taking out the magic mirror from her bag, she turned it so as to reflect the tree, and uttered these words:

“If the light of day can hide
The truth in false shadows beside
The reflection can show the One
I seek; Mirror, reply.

If the life in us be truly ours
And not wasted the years and hours
Then the truth will shine among shadows
Mirror, reply.”

And she looked in the mirror, whereupon it showed the tree heavy with fruit, all of which were dull yellow; but one, hanging from the end of a branch, shone such a brilliant golden hue that it was painful to look upon.

Then Flash-Of-Lightning took her sword from her belt, and with one swift stroke cut the end of the branch, so that the Golden Pomegranate fell into her hand; and she held it up to show the ifrīt. “Behold,” she said, “I have found the true pomegranate.”

“That you have,” the ifrīt conceded. “And, as I promised, you have my leave to go from hence, and take the fruit with you.”

“What of my husband?” Flash-Of-Lightning demanded. “I will not depart without him.”

“I hold him captive, for he failed in the challenge,” the ifrīt said. “And it is not in the conditions that I release him because you found the fruit. However,” he added, “I will let him go, if you return the Golden Pomegranate when your purpose with it is done.”

“I promise,” said the Kotwal’s wife, and in a moment the ifrīt had disappeared and Rukn-ud-Din stood before them.

It is not for us to describe in great detail the reunion between these three, who had despaired of ever seeing each other again; not for us to recount with what kisses and caresses the Kotwal greeted his wife, to whom he owed his life and freedom, or the ecstasy of the child at being once again with his father. So we will rejoin them on their homeward journey, on the horses which they retrieved from where Flash-Of-Lightning had tied them. For many days they travelled across the desert, until at last they returned to the frontiers of the land of Bunglistan, where for the moment we shall leave them.

Now, when Flash-Of-Lightning and her son had left for the valley, they had of course carefully kept their departure a secret, lest it come to the ears of the evil former Kotwal. The next day, the King had sent as usual for news of Rukn-ud-Din, but the messenger had returned saying the house was empty and the woman and her son departed.

Then the King had been gripped by a great and terrible despair, for he thought that he should now never see his queen healthy again; and he was as filled with anger at the Kotwal, who he decided had betrayed the trust reposed in him. He would, indeed, have searched for another to replace him, but there was nobody willing to take on the burden of the post, for fear that he should immediately be dispatched to fetch the Golden Pomegranate. So, everyone in the court counselled the King to have patience, and assured him that Rukn-ud-Din would surely return.

Each day the old white bearded doctor came, fed the queen his potions, inquired about the Golden Pomegranate, and went away again. Nobody knew where he dwelt, and nobody had ever seen him outside the court; nor, because of his great age and appearance of wisdom, did anyone dare to ask him any questions.

Among the courtiers was an aged wazīr, who had served the king’s father before him, and this venerable man had always been a friend and ally of Rukn-ud-Din. When word reached him, by his own network of spies, that the Kotwal and his wife and son had just crossed the frontier, he sent a message to them not to appear at the court at once, but rather proceed to his own house, while he prepared the ground for their coming. For, to tell the truth, the wazīr had suspicions about the entire affair of the queen’s illness, and he did not trust the aged doctor. And when his messengers had reported that the Kotwal and his family were safely arrived at his house, the wazīr made his excuses at court and went straight to them. After they had greeted each other, he addressed them in these words:

“My friends, sad things have taken place in the country after you have gone. The queen still lies deathly ill, though the doctor comes to see her every day and gives her the potions he prepares. I am beginning to wonder if it is not the potions themselves which cause her illness, and whether she would recover without them. Meanwhile, the king grows daily more furious against you, and would certainly have long since ordered your replacement if only there was anyone willing to take on such an onerous office. I mightily fear for your safety, should you go to the court openly, just as you are.”

“Why would the doctor keep the queen ill?” Rukn-ud-Din wondered. “Would he not benefit by curing her?”

“I cannot answer that,” the wazīr replied. “But with every day that passes without your return, it seems to me that the old man grows more satisfied, instead of worried and impatient as you would expect if he truly feared for the life of his royal patient. And each day his importance grows, and I believe that the king will soon be completely dependent on him in all things.”

At these words, Flash-Of-Lightning (who was present, it not being the custom in Bunglistan for the women of the household to be confined in the zenānā) frowned. “What you just said, o learned wazīr, arouses in my mind a question. When does this doctor come to the court?”

“It draws close to the hour for the evening prayer,” the wazīr responded. “He should be there at this time, to give the queen her dose of potions.”

“Then give me a moment.” So saying, the Kotwal’s wife took the mirror from her bag and set it up, murmuring incantations; and within moments the scene in the queen’s bedchamber was reflected in its surface.

“Here is the doctor,” the wazīr said, “mixing his potions.” Flash-Of-Lightning peered intently at the white-bearded old man, and suddenly gave forth a great cry.

“This doctor is a fraud,” she said, “for he is no doctor at all, but merely the wicked old Kotwal, who had escaped from the dungeons and now thirsts for revenge. He certainly imagines my husband to have perished in the search for the Golden Pomegranate, and now plans to gain full control over the king, and become the power behind the throne.”

“How can we expose him?” Rukn-ud-Din asked reasonably. “If he has the king’s ear, and we are no longer welcome at court, how can we show him up for who he is?”

“I have an idea,” the wazīr said. “I will dress you up as travelling gypsies, and take you to the court, where you will tell of having found the Golden Pomegranate by chance; and then we shall see what we shall see.”

The next day, then, the wazīr dressed Rukn-ud-Din and Flash-Of-Lightning as gypsies, and disguised them so skilfully that none who knew them would recognise them for who they were. He then took them with him to the court, Alī remaining behind in his house, in the care of his wife, who lavished affection on the boy as though he were her own son. On arrival at the court, the wazīr went to the king.

“Your Majesty,” he said, “on the way here, I had the great good fortune to encounter a pair of gypsies, a man and a beardless youth, who were seeking for an audience with you. These two claim to have found the Golden Pomegranate which the queen requires to recover her health, and would like to appear before you to present it to you with their own hands.”

“Bring them here at once,” the king ordered.

So the wazīr summoned the supposed gypsies to the royal presence. When they stood before him, he cordially bid them welcome and asked them to tell the account of how they came to find the magical fruit.

“Your Majesty,” Rukn-ud-Din began, “this is what happened...”


At this point Shahrazad saw the approach of dawn and discreetly fell silent.

But when the one thousand and twenty-fifth night had come,



O King of Time, this is the tale the Kotwal Rukn-ud-Din, dressed as a gypsy, told the King of Bunglistan.


O King, my brother here, and I, are from the land of Rūn, far to the north, and have wandered south towards your country to carry out what trade we can, for we are itinerant tinkers and odd-job men, who can turn a hand to most kinds of work. In the course of our travels, we have seen many wondrous sights, but few of them to match that which we saw one day.

One day, while wandering through country on the other side of the western desert, we came upon a man, sorely wounded, who was dragging himself along the broken ground, leaving blood to mark his trail. When we went to his aid, we found he did not seem to have long on earth; and, though we did all we could to comfort his last hours, he appeared ready to pass to the peace of Allah.

However, as he lay wounded, this valiant man told us that his name was Rukn-ud-Din, and he was Kotwal to the King of Bunglistan, and that the august monarch had sent him to seek a magical golden fruit, for only its essence would heal the queen, who lay at death’s door. He told us that after a long journey he had reached the valley where this Golden Pomegranate grew, and after a desperate struggle he had gained it from the ifrīt who guards the valley. But as he was on his return journey, he was set upon by a most evil rival, who had once been Kotwal here before him. This vile knave attacked him treacherously and so sorely injured him, but for all that he had managed to save the fruit, which he had won at such great cost. This fruit he entrusted to our care, and enjoined us to deliver it to its rightful owner, the King of Bunglistan.

We made our way here with all haste, but great difficulty, through the desert and the lands in between. We arrived in your city only last night, and were wandering about trying to find a way of meeting you, when we came across this good wazīr, who was kind enough to bring us to you.

On hearing of the valour of his Kotwal, the king was filled with remorseful tears, and he also wept with bitter rage at the perfidy of his rival, the former Kotwal. “I am indeed sorry for doubting Rukn-ud-Din,” he said. “As for the former Kotwal, if he shall ever fall into my hands, his head shall answer for his perfidy. But tell me, do you have the Golden Pomegranate on you? For my wife lies ill, and there is no time to lose.”

“Indeed, sire,” said Rukn-ud-Din, taking the fruit out of his robes and holding it aloft. Everyone gasped to see it glowing, so brightly that it seemed to fill the court with its rays. “But we also promised the Kotwal to give it only into the hands of the august doctor, who will use it to treat the queen.”

“Here he is,” said the king, as the doctor rushed into the court, having heard that the fruit had been found. “Give it to him, so that he can use it to save the queen’s life.”

“I will, in a moment,” Rukn-ud-Din promised. “But before I do, the Kotwal made me promise to make sure that the person I entrust it to is truly what he says he is.”

“What do you mean?” the king asked. “He is the doctor who has been keeping the queen alive.”

“We have reason to believe, Your Majesty,” Flash-Of-Lightning put in, “that he is an arrant fraud, whose only purpose here in the court is to win your confidence. It is, in fact, beyond doubt that the queen’s illness was engineered by him, and that he alone is responsible for her remaining sick. If it were not for his potions, she would be as healthy as you or me.”

“This is absurd,” the doctor said, gnashing his teeth in a fury. “Your Majesty knows that there is no truth in anything these lying gypsies ever say.”

The king looked from one to the other in bewilderment. “Is there a way of checking who tells the truth?” he asked. “Unless you gypsies can prove what you say, I must insist on your handing over the fruit to the doctor here.”

“I will at once do so,” Rukn-ud-Din said, “since it is a royal command.” He held out the Golden Pomegranate to the doctor, who snatched it greedily. As soon as it was in the old man’s hand, Rukn-ud-Din called out these lines:

“If the fate of the fruit be done
If its purpose in my hands be met
Come and take back what is yours
If not, may it linger yet.”

At once, the court grew dark and windy, as though a whirlwind had come to being in it; and a moment later the ifrīt appeared, huge and terrible in appearance. With a roar of triumph, he snatched up the doctor, still clutching the Golden Pomegranate, and vanished with him in a storm of wind and darkness, before the wicked old man had even a chance to scream.   

Then the scales at last fell from the king’s eyes, and he wept bitterly to think of how he had been deceived; and, rising from his place, he embraced the supposed gypsies and begged them to name whatever reward they desired.

Then Rukn-ud-Din said: “We desire no more reward, Your Majesty, but that you forgive a little subterfuge we had to indulge in, with the help of the good wazīr here. For I am your Kotwal, Rukn-ud-Din, and this is my wife, the lady Flash-Of-Lightning.”

At this the king was struck almost speechless with astonishment. When at last he recovered, he embraced them again, and wept on their necks and in turn begged forgiveness for the way they had been so badly treated.

But Flash-Of-Lightning said: “Sire, it was not your fault, for the wicked old Kotwal had you in his power, and was playing you for his own purposes. There is nothing to forgive, and one should not dwell in the past, but look to the future. Let us go and see your lady the queen; if I am not much mistaken, she will be already on the path to recovery, now that she is no longer being fed the evil potions the knave concocted.”

And so it proved, for the maids-in-waiting were already rejoicing at their mistress’ improvement when the king reached the queen’s chamber; and she was sitting up in bed, still wan and weak, but alive; and for the first time in longer than anyone could remember, she smiled.

“I do believe I shall live,” she said, “for I can feel the strength returning to my limbs. Whoever was responsible for my cure, I can never thank them enough.”

When the news got around, the kingdom was thrown into rejoicing, and the king rewarded Rukn-ud-Din, Flash-Of-Lightning and the old wazīr, and made them his personal companions, and they all lived happily together till the end of their days.

Such, O King, is the tale of the Golden Pomegranate, and of all those who were associated with it. But Allah knows more!


Little Dunyazad rose from her place by the royal bed when Shahrazad had finished. “Sister,” she said, “your words are as honey, and sweet upon the soul. I would like to hear more such excellent tales of wonder, if you know any.”

“I could tell you many more,” Sharazad replied, smiling, “if only the august monarch here saw fit to preserve my life till tomorrow night.”

“Ya Allah,” King Sharyar said, “if you have more such tales, Shahrazad, I would gladly hear them. Let us then await the coming of the evening, for I burn with impatience to hear more stories from your lips.”

“Be it as the king wishes,” Shahrazad said, and turned slightly away, so that only Dunyazad could see her smile.


Copyright B Purkayastha 2013