The Glory of the Shia World, by P. M. Sykes and Khan Bahadur Ahmad din Khan, , at sacred-texts.com
And Bahrain, that great Hunterthe wild Ass
My father was renowned as a hunter even in Iran, where hunting has been the chief pastime of its monarchs and nobles from the days of Kei Khusru 1 down to the present day. In this connection it is well known that courtiers who exhibited special courage and skill in the chase were always sure to attract the eye of favour of their monarch. I have heard it stated that "hunting is a business for the idle"; but those who really understand are aware that hundreds of secrets for the government of kingdoms are hidden in this art.
After having ruled Mahun for many years, my father was very glad to be appointed Governor of Sirjan. This district, apart from
its great extent, is always entrusted to a most capable official, owing to its situation on the borders of Fars, where the tribesmen are raiders by nature and require watching by day and night.
Dividing Sirjan from Fars is a great salt swamp which is very dangerous, except to those who know it well; but as it is also a favourite haunt of the gazelle and of the wild ass, my father was perhaps more pleased at that fact than at anything else, little knowing that Hafiz prophesied truly in his case when he wrote:
I well recollect the journey to Saiidabad, the capital, over a high range where we rode in every direction in search of partridges. Our sowars spread out on each side of the track for a, farsakh, and, as partridges only fly a short distance, they were shot in large numbers or seized by falcons, of which His Excellency kept a large number. To see the intrepidity with which the sowars galloped up and down steep mountains and shot hares and even partridges at full speed would prove to any one that the Persian sowar has no equal.
On the borders of Sirjan, many of the leading Khans met us, and at Saiidabad the reception party included every one in the capital, from the
great landowners and merchants to the beggars and little children.
The house of the Governor was very large with a fine garden; but it was in such a dilapidated condition that, at first, we lived in tents in the garden while it was being prepared for our reception: indeed, I recollect my father
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stating that he had to spend a large sum on repairing it.
A few weeks after our arrival it was decided to go on a shooting expedition; and I was allowed to join the party on a well-trained horse. As soon as we were clear of the town and had reached the open country, our sowars spread out, two and two, leaving an interval of about five hundred yards between each couple, until the
whole plain was covered. In the centre my father, Aga Ali, his chief gunbearer, and myself rode, and, on both sides of us, the line of sowars was slightly thrown forward like a crescent moon.
We proceeded slowly in this manner for perhaps a farsakh, when suddenly Aga Ali whose eyes were like those of a hawk, espied a herd of seven gazelles which were grazing a long way ahead of us. When they, in time, sighted us they threw up their heads and galloped off, while we continued on exactly as before.
This went on for half a hour when, suddenly, the gazelles, which do not like leaving their grazing ground, stopped, turned round, and galloped between my father and Mohamed Mehdi Khan, who was on his left. At first the two groups moved slowly on inclining inwards; but, when it was clear that the gazelles had made up their minds and were flying like the wind, both parties galloped to cut them off. So successful were they that the gazelles passed within fifteen yards of my father who, with his number ten gun, loaded with slugs, shot two of them.
Imitating him, by throwing my reins on to the neck of my horse, I also shot a gazelle, which much pleased my father, who shouted, "Thanks be to Allah! The lion's whelp will be like its
sire." I was so elated at hearing this from my father, who scarcely ever spoke to me, that my head turned round. Aga Ali, too, who had taught me to throw down my reins and to always turn in the saddle when shooting, a feat no European has ever learned, paid my father many compliments, and was promised a gift of a hundred tomans. Such a Hatim Tai 1 was my sire!
That night we camped near the swamp, and as sixteen gazelles had been shot, every one was much elated, and, round the fires, the ramrods of the rifles were covered with meat: indeed, Allah knows, I never tasted such delicious meat as that of the gazelle roasted in this fashion.
Early next morning we started off to hunt the wild ass along the swamp, and both my father and myself took our rifles instead of our number ten guns. Now, you must know that the wild ass is easier to approach than the gazelle, if the swamp is hard enough for a horse to gallop on it, but yet soft enough for the hoofs of the wild ass, which are much smaller, to break through.
We rode along as on the previous day, and, very soon after leaving camp, Aga Ali was the first to sight a large herd of wild asses, who
galloped off and then circled back to look at us, so curious are they. This they did three times and then tried to break through; but they were turned towards the swamp, and soon sank in so much that we were able to ride up alongside
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THE WHITE FORT
H. R. Sykes, phot.
them and shoot them quite easily; in fact our rifles nearly touched them as we fired.
That night again every one was very happy, as the flesh of the wild ass is esteemed a great delicacy; but, in my opinion, nothing is more delicate than the flesh of the gazelle.
On another occasion we set out hawking, and when riding along, we saw an extraordinary white rock, shaped like an egg, rise out of
the plain. My father asked Mohamed Mehdi Khan what it was, as he was learned in these questions; and he replied that, on this rock, known as "White Fort," were the ruins of a famous fortress, which was once the capital
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THE STONE PULPIT OF THE WHITE FORT
(Dated A.D. 1387)
H. R. Sykes, phot.
of the province of Kerman. He added that it was a great show place and that there were many sand partridges there. Moved by the hope of shikar my father said, "Bismillah, let us see this wonderful place."
We rode to the rock and found the whole plain covered with the ruins of a mighty city. In one place was a beautiful pulpit of white
stone; but everything else was in ruins. Riding up the steep white rock we found the remains of palaces, and also visited a great cave on the north side where the women, according to tradition, spent the heat of the day.
Mohamed Mehdi Khan showed us every corner, and said that Amir Timur's troops besieged the fort for three years, and then only captured it because the garrison had no supplies left, so strong was this fort. He added that, in memory of this siege, one of the hills, which he pointed out, is termed "The Throne of Timur" to this day.
Two years were spent at Saiidabad in this fashion, hunting parties being so frequent that at last the game was almost all killed. During this period the robbers from Fars never raided into Sirjan from fear of my father, and also because they were ruled by a stern Governor-General, who, whenever he caught a brigand, "plastered" 1 him up as a terrible warning to his fellows.
However, this stern ruler was dismissed, and his successor was so noted for his kindness of disposition, that, even before he reached Shiraz, the Lashanis prepared to raid Sirjan.
Owing to the fact that there had been no
trouble for so many years, there was no watch kept, and we first realised what was occurring by seeing villages burning in the hills to the north of the capital just before sunset. As soon as this was noticed my father's face became terrible, and he swore that he would cut off the robbers and deal with them as the Governor-General of Fars had done.
Well do I recollect the excitement and confusion which first occurred; but yet, within half-an-hour, the whole party of two hundred sowars was ready to start. We moved at an amble, which pace is best for horses going a long distance, and when dawn broke we were approaching the main route across the morass. Upon reaching it, Aga Ali, who was famous for tracking, pointed out that about sixty horsemen had passed eastwards just a day before, but that there were no return tracks. However, he also pointed out that, as the swamp was dry at this season of the year, a second track across it to the north might well be used by the Lashanis on their return.
This much disturbed my father, who had felt sure of cutting off the raiders; and so he consulted for an hour while the horses were being fed, and we all lay in ambush in a grove of tamarisks, hoping for the return of the raiders who, however, never came.
It was finally settled by His Excellency, that he would take eighty of the best men and ride north so as to hold the second track; and I was left with Aga Ali in charge of the main body.
For the remainder of that day and the next we watched all in vain, until Aga Ali swore that the Lashanis had escaped, when, in the distance, we sighted one of our sowars, who rode up to me like a whirlwind, crying
[paragraph continues] He then fell off his horse in a faint.
At last he was able to tell his mournful tale, which was that my father and his party were approaching the northern track across the swamp, when they saw the Lashanis already on it, driving away cattle, sheep, and other plunder.
Furious at this, and throwing prudence to the winds, my father rode straight across the morass to cut them off One by one his sowars were left behind; but my father pressed on until, just as he was near the track, his horse was engulfed in the bog.
He made every effort to escape; but, mad with fear, the brute seized him with its teeth, tore him from the saddle, and threw him under its hoofs; so that when, at last, two of the sowars came up, ready to help, there was only one, arm
of my father remaining above the ooze, and the mad horse's head was sinking out of sight!
[paragraph continues] Allah knows that I shall never forget the misery
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A PERSIAN SALT SWAMP H. R. Sykes, phot.
of that period, nor how my mother beat her head until she fell senseless, lamenting:
[paragraph continues] Time, however, is the great teacher, and after a few days it was possible to look at the matter
more calmly, and to feel some comfort and even pride in the thought that my father, a great hunter, when pursuing a nobler quarry than the wild ass, had met the same fate as the great hunter King, of whom Omar Khayyam wrote:
I have not hitherto referred to my uncle, Mirza Hasan Khan, who, by the kindness of the Vakil-ul-Mulk, may Allah keep cool his grave, was made a Mustaufi or Revenue Official in the Kerman province. Now my uncle was married, but Allah had not blessed his tree of hope with fruit; and perhaps it was on this account that he showed such kindness to the orphan, whose lot is frequently a hard one, as Shaykh Sadi writes:
In short, my uncle was like an angel of benevolence to me, and, as soon as the heartrending news reached Kerman, heedless of
hunger and sleep, he rode down post to Saiidabad, and thereby ensured that the revenue my father had to collect was duly paid in.
Moreover, he discharged all our debts and brought us to Kerman to his own house, and placed us under the shadow of his kindness.
Like our illustrious ancestor, Haji Abul Hasan Khan, my father had always displayed liberality and generosity; and my uncle found that, after paying up all we owed, nothing was left for me:
Fortunately, my mother had received as a dowry one-third of the village of Sar Asiab, which sufficed for her wants, and I felt that I was quite able to earn my living; but exactly, in what manner, I did not know, as you cannot turn a knowledge of history and the capacity of a poet into a shoe and a hat.
However, the day after our arrival at Kerman, my uncle spoke very kindly to me, and said that he regarded me as his son, and had decided to make me his assistant in the revenue department, and, on the following day, I accompanied him to the Revenue Office of Kerman.
This most important department, on which the whole Government depends, was brought to the greatest perfection in Persia nearly a thousand years ago, by that great man, the Nizam-ul-Mulk, Vizier of Malik Shah, whose system is still in force to-day. Indeed, it is so perfect that no one except a Mustaufi can fully understand it: and, as a result, the power and wealth of revenue officials is very great. Indeed their power is, in some respects, above that of the local Governors, for when these latter came to Kerman to settle their revenue accounts, the Mustaufi in charge of each district was able to make all sorts of claims, and, as he had to give a certificate that the revenue had been paid in full, much bargaining went on until a sum was agreed upon, and then only was the certificate granted.
To resume, I found the office to consist of a large room with beautiful carpets, where all the Mustaufis sat together, and apparently drank tea, smoked, and did nothing else. However, in this I was mistaken, for every now and then a youth whispered into the ear of one of them, who thereupon gave a whispered reply. This, as I soon found out, meant that a local Governor had made an offer to the Mustaufi through his assistant, who had come to report.
Shortly after I had taken up my post, I was approached by the confidential servant of the
[paragraph continues] Governor of Jiruft, who offered six hundred tomans for his certificate, accompanied by many compliments to myself. This I reported to my uncle, who remarked smilingly, "Lessen the compliments and increase the money," and said that I was to reply that one thousand tomans was the lowest sum he would accept. For a week this bargaining went on and, at last, eight hundred tomans were paid, and also a present of fifty tomans to myself, about which I did not say anything to my uncle, as that was my perquisite.
As I found that the revenue officials were all people of a noble disposition, who evinced much respect for my uncle, I soon became very happy at Kerman. Indeed, I found that I was able not only to master all the intricacies of the revenue system of Persia, but also to continue to study poetry, history, and geography. In short, I attained contentment, and as Shaykh Sadi writes:
50:1 Persians, quite incorrectly, believe that Kei Khusru was Cyrus the Great. Actually he belongs to Indo-Persian legend.
54:1 Hatim Tai is the example in the East of a generous Arab chieftain. On one occasion having no food, he slew his famous mare to satisfy the hunger of a guest.
57:1 Robbers are embedded in plaster up to their shoulders. When it dries up, it contracts, and their sufferings are terrible; but, if given food and water, they frequently linger on for three or four days.
61:1 This is the literal translation of FitzGerald's lines as given in the heading to this chapter. There is a play on Gur, which signifies a wild ass and also the grave. The monarch was known as Bahram Gur.