The Adventures of Hajji Baba of Ispahan, by James Justinian Morier

Chapter lix

Hajji Baba does not shine in honesty — The life and adventures of the mollah Nadân

I put on an air of consequence suited to the fine horse which I bestrode as soon as I reached Seidabad (for that was the name of the village), and rode through its gates with such a look of authority that the peasants who saw me did not fail to make very low inclinations of the head.

‘Where is Abdul Kerim?’ said I, as I dismounted, and gave my horse to one of the bystanders.

In a moment every one was in motion to find him, and he very soon appeared.

‘I am come,’ said I (after the usual salutations), ‘on the part of the chief priest, upon certain business well known to you’; and straight I delivered him my note.

Abdul Kerim had a piercing eye, which did not at all suit me, particularly as he kept conning me over through a corner of it; but I was relieved as soon as he had read the note to hear him say, ’Be cheshm! By my eyes! the money is ready. But you must refresh yourself. In the name of God, come in.

I pretended great hurry, not at all liking to remain under the fire of his sharp eyes; but by way of not exciting suspicion, I consented to eat some fruit and sour milk.

‘I do not remember to have seen you at the chief priest’s,’ said he to me, as I was opening wide my mouth to swallow a piece of melon; ‘and yet I am acquainted with every one of his servants perfectly.’

‘No,’ said I, half choked at the question, ‘no, I do not belong to him. I am an attendant upon the chief executioner, with whom the mollah bashi, I believe, has some money transactions.’

This seemed to settle every difficulty which I saw had been rising in the mind of my entertainer; and thus the fine horse, the gold-pommelled saddle, and the brilliant bridle, were at once accounted for.

Having received the one hundred tomauns, I safely deposited them in my breast; and then, apparently taking the road back to the city, I left the village with a heart much lighter than I had brought. But as soon as I was fairly out of sight I turned my horse’s bridle in the contrary direction, and clapping the stirrups into his flanks galloped on without stopping, until the foam fairly ran down his sides.

I determined to proceed direct to Kermanshah, there sell horse, saddle, and bridle, and then make my way to Bagdad, where I should be safe from all danger of molestation.

Having proceeded some five parasangs on my road I saw a strange figure walking before me at a good pace, singing with all his throat. He was lightly dressed, having only a skull-cap on his head, his face bound round with a piece of linen, a pair of slippers on his feet, and nothing to indicate that he was a wayfaring man. As I drew near I thought that I had seen his form before; he was tall and well-shaped, with broad shoulders, and a narrow waist. I should immediately have taken him for the mollah Nadân but for his singing; for it never struck me as possible that one of his grave character and manners could ever lower himself by so ignoble an act. But little by little I saw so much of him, although he had not yet discovered me, that I could not be mistaken; it was the mollah himself.

I stopped my horse to deliberate whether I should notice or make myself known to him. To pass him would be the height of cruelty, but to recognize him would of necessity burden me with an inconvenient companion. But then, should he discern who I was, and find that I had shunned him, he would very probably denounce me as a thief on the very first occasion; and if I escaped him now I should have the fear ever after of knowing him to be my enemy.

We were both approaching a village where we must pass the night, therefore there was no retreating on my part; for it was necessary to see that proper care was taken of my horse, considering the long journey it had to travel, and to push him on farther was impossible.

I took a middle line. Should he recognize me I would speak to him; if not, I would pass him unheeded. I urged my horse on, and as I approached he turned round and surveyed me from head to foot, but apparently without making me out.

‘O Aga, for pity’s sake,’ exclaimed he, ‘have compassion on an unfortunate man, who has no other refuge in this world than God and you!’

I could not resist such an appeal to my feelings, and, keeping silence for some little while by way of hearing what more he would say, I at length burst into an immoderate fit of laughter. My laughter seemed to be as much out of season as his singing, for he was extremely puzzled what to make of me: but when I began to speak, all doubts were removed, and he ran up to me with a sort of joy and ecstasy that bordered upon madness.

‘Ay, Hajji; my soul, my uncle, light of my eyes!’ said he, as he kissed my knee. ‘From what heaven have you dropped? What means this finery, this horse, this gold, these trappings? Do you deal with the Gins and the Dives or has fortune fallen in love, and adopted you its heir?’

I continued laughing, so amused was I at these sallies, and he went on, saying: ‘How comes it that you have so soon turned your mule into this fine horse? And my property, what is become of it? Have you not even saved my ass, for I am sorely tired of going on foot? Tell me, tell me all: by the beard of the Prophet, tell me all.’

I soon found that had I refused to give him a full account of my adventures, he would suspect me of having got possession of his property, and turned it into the finery which had just drawn forth his admiration; so I promised faithfully to relate everything, but I entreated him at the same time to prepare a large quantity of credulity, for what I had to say was so marvellous that he would very probably conceive it was my intention to impose upon him.

We then proceeded to the village, where we took up our quarters at the mehman khaneh, or strangers’ house, a convenience generally to be found in every hamlet throughout Persia, and there established ourselves for the night.

A person of my appearance could not long remain unnoticed, and I was duly waited upon by the ked khoda, who supplied us with a good supper; and during the time required for its preparation I related my adventures to my companion. Their singularity was in no manner thrown away upon him; and he seemed to die away with delight when he found that all my present prosperity was at the cost of his old enemy the mollah bashi. As we sat communicating to each other in the full confidence of our hearts (for the miserable are ever greatly relieved by talking of themselves), I discovered that never before had I acquired an insight into the real character of my associate.

‘There must have been an assumed importance in you,’ said I to him, ‘as long as I was in your service; for how could one really proud be so amiable as you appear now?’

‘Ah, Hajji!’ said he, ‘adversity is a great alterative. My life has been one eternal up and down. I have often compared it to those whirligigs set up by louts in our market-places on the No Rouz, which keep one dangling between heaven and earth. Unfortunately, I am one of those who has never adopted the maxim of “spread not your carpet in a wet place."’

‘Tell me,’ said I, ‘the history of your adventures. We cannot better pass our time, and I hope that you know me well enough now not to refuse me your confidence.’

‘You will hear nothing in my history but what is common to many Persians, who one day are princes and the next beggars; but since you are curious to know, I will relate it with pleasure’; and he began in the following words:—

‘I am a native of Hamadan. My father was a mollah of such eminence that he was ambitious of becoming the mûshtehed of Persia; but his controversies upon particular points of faith unfortunately carried him so far that a party was created against him, which deprived him of the elevation he sought. His most prominent quality was the hatred he bore to the Osmanlies, and to Sûnis in general. One of our ancestors is said to have first introduced into Persia a more universal hatred against them than ever before existed, by a simple innovation in the education of the Shiah children, by which means their very first ideas were trained to be inimical to the race of Omar. I mean,’ said the mollah, ‘that which you no doubt very well remember: when a little boy in schooltime is pressed upon certain occasions to ask his master’s leave to retire, the form of words in which he is enjoined to make his request is ”Lahnet beh Omar! curse be upon Omar!” I dare say you have through life, as I have, never omitted to unite the name of Omar with everything that is unclean, and at least once a day to repeat the curse which you were taught at school.’

I fully assented to this, and then he proceeded with his story.

‘My father’s hatred for the sectaries of Omar extended itself to all sorts of infidels. Jews, Christians, fire-worshippers, and worshippers of images, all came within the scope of his execration; and what at first he had practised from motives of ambition, at length became the ruling principle of his nature. His family, and I among the number, were brought up in his tenets, and imbibed all his violent prejudices; and so much did we hang together by them that we formed as it were a distinct sect — the terror of infidels, and the most zealous upholders of the Shiah faith.

‘After this you will not be surprised at the part I lately took in the destruction of the Armenian wine-jars at Tehran. But that is not the only scrape my zeal has led me into. Very early in life, when still a student at Hamadan, I was involved in a terrible disturbance, of which I was the principal promoter.

‘An ambassador from the Pasha of Bagdad, with his suite, was quietly taking his road through our city, having sojourned there two or three days on his way to the court of the Shah, when burning to put into practice my father’s lessons, I collected a band of young fanatics like myself, and, making them an appropriate address, I so excited their passions that we resolved to perform some feat worthy of our principles. We determined to attack our Turkish guests, inform them of the curses we denounced against Omar, and invite them to become adherents to the doctrine of Ali. Heedless, and, perhaps, ignorant of what is due to the character of elchi, or ambassador, we only saw in Suleiman Effendi an enemy to the Shiahs, and one calling himself a Sûni. One day, as he was setting forth from his house to visit the governor of Hamadan, we gathered ourselves into a body and greeted him by loud cries of “Curses be upon Omar!” This enraged his domestics, who retorted the insult by blows. Showers of stones ensued from our party, and this led to a general fray, in which the Pasha’s representative had his turban knocked from his head, his beard spit upon, and his clothes nearly torn from his back.

‘Such an outrage of course could not be overlooked. The ambassador was furious; he threatened to send off couriers to the Shah, and was even on the point of returning to his own master when the governor, frightened at the consequences if his wrath was not appeased, promised that he should have all satisfaction, and that the ringleaders of the disturbance should immediately be delivered up to him.

‘Trusting to my father’s consequence in the city, and full of vapouring pride at what we had achieved, I at first made light of the vows of vengeance which the Turks breathed against us; but the governor, who only contemplated the loss of his place if the news of this event reached Tehran; and caring little whether Ali was the true successor to the Prophet, or whether Osman, Omar, and Abubekr were usurpers or not, he at once ordered me to be seized, as well as two others of my companions, and forthwith we were placed at the disposal of the enraged Osmanlies.

‘I shall never forget the contending emotions of my mind when brought face to face before these objects of my hatred. I did not at all relish the sound beating which they had it in contemplation to inflict upon me; and, at the same time, I groaned under the necessity of keeping to myself that stream of abuse which was ready to flow against them upon the smallest provocation.

‘They seemed, however, quite ready to return all our hatred with interest, and did not lose this opportunity of letting us know its full extent. They were not generous enough to let us off, but ordered the administration of the bastinado with a degree of religious zest that I thought could never have existed in any breast except my own. To be short, our feet were beat into a jelly, and our only consolation during the operation was the opportunity afforded us of giving vent to our pent-up rage. The Turk, however, was revenged, and we were set free.

‘This adventure cooled my zeal for many years; although, in the pursuit of the distinctions which my father sought, I continued to addict myself to controversy. When about twenty-five years old, and my beard had acquired a respectable consistency, I went to Ispahan in order to improve myself by associating with our celebrated doctors, and to make my own abilities known by the part which I might take in their disputations. I succeeded to the utmost of my wishes, and acquired considerable reputation. I only wanted an opportunity of distinguishing myself, and that was soon afforded me by the following circumstance.

‘In the time of our famous Shah Seffi; who was himself half a heretic, the Franks (a sect of the Christians) had considerable establishments at Ispahan for the purposes of commerce, and were much patronized and encouraged by him. He allowed them free exercise of their religion — permitted them to build churches, to import priests, and, to the scandal of the true faith, even allowed them the use of bells to call them to prayer. These Franks have a supreme head of their church — a sort of caliph, whom they call Papa— part of whose duty, like that of our own blessed Prophet, is to propagate his religion throughout the world. Under different pretexts, convents of his dervishes were established, some in Ispahan itself, and some in Julfa among the Armenians. Most of these have been abandoned, and the buildings fallen into decay; but one whose object more particularly was the propagation of the Christian faith still existed, and to its destruction my endeavours and those of some of our most zealous mollahs were directed, notwithstanding the opposite views of the government, who are anxious to encourage the Christians to settle in Persia, owing to the riches which they introduce by their trade.

‘This convent was served by two dervishes, one of whom was in himself a calamity! — one who understood the world — a man of deep design — and of a wit so sharp that the shaitan in person was not fit to be his father. He was tall, thin, and strong. His eyes were like live charcoal, and his voice like a high wind. He never lost an opportunity of entering into argument with our most learned men upon points of religion, and would boldly assert, with the heart of a lion, that our holy Prophet, “the chief of created beings, the sealed intercessor, Mohammed Mustapha”, (upon whom be eternal blessings!) was a cheat and an impostor. In short, he embarked in the sea of controversy, as if he had Noah for a pilot; and, not content with words, he even wrote a book, in which he pretended to prove the truth of his mad assertions. This book was unfortunately attempted to be answered by one of our divines, who did not recollect that it is folly to play with fire, unless there be plenty of water at hand to extinguish it. His book said anything but what it ought, and tended more to throw ridicule upon Islamism than to uphold its glory and perfection. Ispahan was full of this subject when I arrived there; and, being anxious to bring myself forwards, I proposed that an invitation should be made to the Frank dervish to meet the mollahs of the city in person, on an appointed day, in the Medresseh Jedeed, when they would argue every point of their respective faiths, and when they would either make the dervish turn Mohammedan, by producing conviction in his mind, or they would become Christians, if his arguments prevailed. To this he immediately assented; but we determined beforehand, amongst ourselves, that such a thorn in the side of our Ullemah should no longer exist in Persia, and that the overwhelming truth of our belief should not be left to the chances of vain words and uplifted voices, but show itself in the zeal and numbers of its adherents. Accordingly every turbaned head, and every beard that wagged, were secretly invited to appear on the appointed day; and never was attendance more complete — never did the children of Islam make such a show of their irresistible force, as they did on that memorable occasion.

‘The Medresseh was already filled; for, besides the mollahs, a great crowd, all anxious to witness the triumph of the true faith, had taken possession of the courts. Head over head and turban over turban were piled upon each other, in thick array, along the walls and in the utmost corners of the hall, when the Frank dervish, alone, unsupported, and unfriended, appeared before us. He looked around in dismay, and appeared appalled by our numbers. Two or three of the principal mollahs, who were to carry on the controversy, were seated in front of their body, and I was close at hand. We had prepared questions which were to be proposed to him, and according to the answers he gave so were we to act. He appeared to be provided with no other weapon of defence save his tongue; and he sat down opposite to us, evidently much alarmed at the hostility which he remarked on the countenances of all present.

‘Without giving him any time for reflection, we immediately began:—

‘“Do you believe,” said one, “that the God in heaven put himself into a human form?” “Do you,” said another, “acknowledge that God is composed of three persons, and still is only one?” “Are you convinced,” said a third, “that what you call the Holy Ghost came down from heaven in the body of a dove?”

‘These questions were put so quickly that he knew not which way to turn, until, collecting within himself all the powers of his voice, he exclaimed, “If your intention is to kill me, be it so; but what good will that do your argument? If your intention be to argue, attacking me in this manner by numbers and personal violence will prove that you can only oppose passion to argument; and show the world, that by me you have been overcome.”

‘Seeing that we were likely to fare ill, and observing that his words were producing an effect in his favour, I was the first to exclaim to the surrounding mob, and to the assembly present: “O Mussulmans! Mussulmans! come to our help — our religion is attacked — the infidel is trying to subvert our faith — vengeance! help!”

‘These words produced an immediate effect, and a thousand voices were lifted up against him. “Seize him!” said some; “kill him!” said others. The mob was agitated to and fro, like the waves of the sea; when the dervish, seeing himself in danger, made an attempt to escape, which was seconded by one of the mollahs, whose compassion was moved towards him. He threw his own cloak over the infidel’s shoulders, and just as violent hands were about to be laid upon him, he pushed vigorously through the crowd, and succeeded in reaching the house of an Armenian in safety.

‘We, the mollahs, being disappointed of our prey, proceeded in a body to the house of the governor of the city, followed by an immense crowd of the people. A great fermentation had been excited, and we promoted it all in our power.

‘The govemor himself was a strict and pious Mussulman, and we expected that he would without hesitation join in the cry we had raised. We accused the Frank dervish of preaching false doctrine, with a view to subvert our religion.

‘“This fellow,” said we, “calls our Prophet cheat; and talks abomination. We demand that he be delivered over to us.”

‘The governor was perplexed how to act; for he knew how dangerous it was to interfere in matters in which the subjects of Europe were concerned; and he was far from seconding our disposition to violence.

‘“Why invite the dervish to an argument,” said he, “if you will not hear what he has to say? If you have no arguments to oppose to his, violence only makes your cause worse, and you do more harm than good to our religion. But if on the other hand your arguments are better than his, and he can bring no answer to them, then indeed he is a kafir, an infidel; and according to our law is worthy of death.”

‘Finding ourselves balked again, we departed breathing vengeance; and I verily believe, had we met the dervish at that moment, he would have been tom into a thousand pieces. He was so well aware of this, we soon heard that he had left the city in secret; and so far our endeavours were successful, for it was long before he ventured again to show himself.

‘I had put myself so much forward on this occasion, and had shown my zeal in so many different ways, that I had become a prominent character. But hitherto I had got nothing by it. The capital I felt, after all, was the place where I ought to endeavour to gain some permanent and lucrative situation; and to that I turned my views. To gain this end, I took myself to Kom, with a view of ingratiating myself with the mûshtehed, whose recommendation I knew would do me more good than ten years of prayer and fasting. I succeeded perfectly; for with the character I had acquired of being the scourge of infidels, I was received by him with great favour, and he was delighted to acknowledge me for one of his most diligent disciples. I soon took up his cause against the Sûfies with all the ardour that he could wish; and it was not long before I ventured to solicit his recommendation to the body of the Ullemah at Tehran, and to the principal men in office at court. He professed to be sorry to part with me, but acceded to my request; and I was soon after counted one of the holy fraternity at the seat of empire.

‘I confess to you, although I enjoy as good an opinion of myself as most men, that I was much less successful in making my way at court than I had expected. My competitors for advancement were numerous, and more versed in the ways of the world than I. Like them, I was obliged to begin by paying a most assiduous attention to men in office. Having once gained the privilege of being seated in the mejlis (assembly) of the head of the law, who was in fact my chief, I little by little became noticed by the grand vizier, the lord high treasurer, the secretary of state, the chief executioner, and others. I was constantly to be seen at their uprisings, and at their evening meetings; but after all, I was nothing but a poor mollah, and I longed for some opportunity of distinguishing myself from the common herd. The prime vizier first noticed me owing to my once having succeeded in making him shed tears, at the commemoration of the death of the blessed Hossein, which he held at his house, and where I preached and chanted the service in a manner that drew forth his approbation, and that of all the assembly. Since then I have made great progress, particularly in the eyes of the people, whose good opinion I look upon as the first of acquisitions to an ambitious man.

‘But you have had an opportunity of judging how little their assistance is to be depended upon, when opposed to the will of an absolute king. Trusting too much to my influence over them, I have lost myself; and I am now what you see, a miserable wanderer, returning to my native city, as penniless as when I first left it.’

Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 23:09