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

Chapter xlviii

Hajji Baba reaches Ispahan, and his paternal roof, just time enough to close the eyes of his dying father.

I did not require to be twice ordered to depart; and, without once looking behind me, I left Kom and its priests, and bent my steps towards Ispahan and my family. I had a few reals in my pocket, with which I could buy food on the road; and, as for resting-places, the country was well supplied with caravanserais, in which I could always find a corner to lay my head. Young as I was, I began to be disgusted with the world; and perhaps had I remained long enough at Kom, and in the mood in which I had reached it, I might have devoted the rest of my life to following the lectures of Mirza Abdul Cossim, and acquired worldly consideration by my taciturnity, by my austerity, and strict adherence to Mahomedan discipline. But fate had woven another destiny for me. The maidan (the race-course) of life was still open to me, and the courser of my existence had not yet exhausted half of the bounds and curvets with which he was wont to keep me in constant exercise. I felt that I deserved the misfortunes with which I had been afflicted, owing to my total neglect of my parents.

‘I have been a wicked son,’ said I. ‘When I was a man in authority, and was puffed up with pride at my own importance, I then forgot the poor barber at Ispahan; and it is only now, when adversity spreads my path, that I recollect the authors of my being.’ A saying of my school-master, which he frequently quoted with great emphasis in Arabic, came to my mind. ‘An old friend,’ used he to say, ‘is not to be bought, even if you had the treasures of Hatem to offer for one. Remember then, O youth, that thy first, and therefore thy oldest friends are thy father and thy mother.’

‘They shall still find that they have a son,’ said I, feeling a great rush of tenderness flow into my heart, as I repeated the words; ‘and, please God, if I reach my home, they shall no longer have to reproach me with want of proper respect.’ A still soft voice, however, whispered to me that I should be too late; and I remembered the prognostics of my mind, when, filled with grief for the loss of Zeenab, I left Tehran full of virtuous intentions and resolutions.

When I could first distinguish the peak in the mountain of the Colah Cazi, which marks the situation of Ispahan, my heart bounded within me; and at every step I anxiously considered in what state I should find my family. Would my old schoolmaster be alive? Should I find our neighbour the baqal (or chandler), at whose shop I used to spend in sweetmeats all the copper money that I could purloin from my father, when I shaved for him, would he be still in existence? And my old friend the capiji, the door-keeper of the caravanserai, he whom I frightened so much at the attack of the Turcomans, is the door of his life still open, or has it been closed upon him forever?

In this manner did I muse by the wayside, until the tops of the minarets of Ispahan actually came in view; when, enraptured with the sight, and full of gratitude for having been preserved thus far in my pilgrimage, I stopped and said my prayers; and then taking up one stone, which I placed upon another as a memorial, I made the following vow: ‘O Ali, if thou wilt grant to thy humblest and most abject of slaves the pleasure of reaching my home in safety, I will, on arrival, kill a sheep, and make a pilau for my friends and family.’

Traversing the outskirts of the city with a beating heart, every spot was restored to my memory, and I threaded my way through the long vaulted bazaars and intricate streets without missing a single turn, until I found myself standing opposite both my father’s shop and the well-known gate of the caravanserai.

The door of the former was closed, and nothing was stirring around it that indicated business. I paused a long time before I ventured to proceed, for I looked upon this first aspect of things as portentous of evil; but recollecting myself, I remembered that it was the Sheb-i-Jumah, the Friday eve, and that probably my father, in his old age, had grown to be too scrupulous a Mussulman to work during those hours which true believers ought to keep holy.

However, the caravanserai was open, and presented the same scene to my eyes which it had done ever since I had known it. Bales of goods heaped up in lots, intermixed with mules, camels, and their drivers. Groups of men in various costumes, some seated, some in close conversation, others gazing carelessly about, and others again coming and going in haste, with faces full of care and calculation. I looked about for the friend of my boy-hood the capiji, and almost began to fear that he too had closed his door, when I perceived his well-known figure crawling quietly along with his earthen water-pipe, seeking his bit of charcoal wherewith to light it.

His head had sunk considerably between his shoulders, and reclined more upon his breast since last I had seen him; and the additional bend in his knees showed that the passing years had kept a steady reckoning with him.

‘It is old Ali Mohamed,’ said I, as I stepped up towards him. ‘I should know that crooked nose of his from a thousand, so often have I clipped the whisker that grows under it.’

When I accosted him with the usual salutation of peace, he kept on trimming his pipe, without even looking up, so much accustomed was he to be spoken to by strangers; but when I said, ‘Do not you recognize me, Ali Mohamed?’ he turned up his old bloodshot eye at me, and pronounced ‘Friend! a caravanserai is a picture of the world; men come in and go out of it, and no account is taken of them. How am I then to know you? Ali Mohamed is grown old, and his memory is gone by.’

‘But you will surely recollect Hajji Baba — little Hajji, who used to shave your head, and trim your beard and mustachios!’

‘There is but one God!’ exclaimed the door-keeper in great amazement. ‘Are you indeed Hajji? — Ah! my son, your place has long been empty — are you come at last? Well, then, praise be to Ali, that old Kerbelai Hassan will have his eyes closed by his only child, ere he dies.’

‘How!’ said I, ‘tell me where is my father? Why is the shop shut? What do you say about death?’

‘Yes, Hajji, the old barber has shaved his last. Lose not a moment in going to his house, and you may stand a chance to be in time to receive his blessing ere he leaves this world. Please God, I shall soon follow him, for all is vanity. I have opened and shut the gates of this caravanserai for fifty years, and find that all pleasure is departed from me. My keys retain their polish, whilst I wear out with rust.’

I did not stop to hear the end of the old man’s speech, but immediately made all speed to my father’s house.

As I approached the well-remembered spot, I saw two mollahs loitering near the low and narrow entrance.

‘Ha!’ thought I, ‘ye are birds of ill-omen; wherever the work of death is going on, there ye are sure to be.’

Entering, without accosting them, I walked at once into the principal room, which I found completely filled with people, surrounding an old man, who was stretched out upon a bed spread upon the floor, and whom I recognized to be my father.

No one knew me, and, as it is a common custom for strangers who have nothing to do with the dying to walk in unasked, I was not noticed. On one side sat the doctor, and on the other an old man, who was kneeling near the bed-head, and in him I recognized my former schoolmaster. He was administering comfort to his dying friend, and his words were something to this purpose: ‘Do not be downcast: please God you still have many days to spend on earth. You may still live to see your son; Hajji Baba may yet be near at hand. But yet it is a proper and a fortunate act to make your will, and to appoint your heir. If such be your wish, appoint any one here present your heir.’

‘Ah,’ sighed out my father, ‘Hajji has abandoned us — I shall never see him more — He has become too much of a personage to think of his poor parents — He is not worthy that I should make him my heir.’ These words produced an immediate effect; I could no longer restrain my desire to make myself known, and I exclaimed, ‘Hajji is here! — Hajji is come to receive your blessing — I am your son — do not reject him!’

Upon which I knelt down by the bedside, and taking up the dying man’s hand, I kissed it, and added loud sobs and lamentations, to demonstrate my filial affection.

The sensation which I produced upon all present was very great. I saw looks of disappointment in some, of incredulity in others, and of astonishment in all.

My father’s eyes, that were almost closed, brightened up for one short interval as he endeavoured to make out my features, and clasping his trembling hands together, exclaimed, ’Il hem dillah! Praise be to God, I have seen my son, I have got an heir!’ Then addressing me, he said, ‘Have you done well, O my son, to leave me for so many years? Why did you not come before?’

He would have gone on, but the exertion and the agitation produced by such an event were too much for his strength, and he sunk down inanimate on his pillow.

‘Stop,’ said my old schoolmaster, who had at once recognized me —‘stop, Hajji; say no more: let him recover himself; he has still his will to make.’

‘Yes,’ said a youngish man, who had eyed me with looks of great hostility, ‘yes, we have also still to see whether this is Hajji Baba, or not.’ I afterwards found he was son to a brother of my father’s first wife, and had expected to inherit the greatest part of the property; and when I inquired who were the other members of the assembly, I found that they were all relations of that stamp, who had flocked together in the hope of getting a share of the spoil, of which I had now deprived them.

They all seemed to doubt whether I was myself, and perhaps would have unanimously set me down for an impostor, if the schoolmaster had not been present: and from his testimony there was no appeal.

However, all doubts as to my identity were immediately hushed when my mother appeared, who, having heard of my arrival, could no longer keep to the limits of her anderûn, but rushed into the assembly with extended arms and a flowing veil, exclaiming, ‘Where, where is he? where is my son? — Hajji, my soul, where art thou?’

As soon as I had made myself known, she threw herself upon my neck, weeping aloud, making use of every expression of tenderness which her imagination could devise, and looking at me from head to foot with an eagerness of stare, and an impetuosity of expression, that none but a mother can command.

In order to rouse my father from the lethargy into which he had apparently fallen, the doctor proposed administering a cordial, which, having prepared, he endeavoured to pour clown his throat; during the exertion of raising the body, the dying man sneezed once, which every one present knew was an omen so bad, that no man in his senses would dare venture to give the medicine until two full hours had expired: therefore, it remained in the cup.

After having waited the expiration of the two hours, the medicine was again attempted to be administered, when, to the horror of all present, and to the disappointment of those who expected that he should make his will, he was found to be stone dead.

‘In the name of Allah, arise,’ said the old mollah to him; ‘we are now writing your will.’ He endeavoured to raise my father’s head, but to no purpose; life had entirely fled.

Water steeped in cotton was then squeezed into his mouth, his feet were carefully placed towards the Kebleh, and as soon as it was ascertained that no further hope was left, the priest at his bed-head began to read the Koran in a loud and sing-song emphasis. A handkerchief was then placed under his chin, fastened over his head, and his two great toes were also tied together. All the company then pronounced the Kelemeh Shehâdet (the profession of faith), a ceremony which was supposed to send him out of this world a pure and well-authenticated Mussulman; and during this interval a cup of water was placed upon his head.

All these preliminaries having been duly performed, the whole company, composed of what were supposed to be his friends and relations, gathered close round the corpse, and uttered loud and doleful cries. This was a signal to the two mollahs (whom I before mentioned), who had mounted on the house-top, and they then began to chant out in a sonorous cadence portions of the Koran, or verses used on such occasions, and which are intended as a public notification of the death of a true believer.

The noise of wailing and lamentation now became general, for it soon was communicated to the women, who, collected in a separate apartment, gave vent to their grief after the most approved forms. My father, from his gentleness and obliging disposition, had been a great favourite with all ranks of people, and my mother, who herself was a professional mourner, and a principal performer at burials, being well acquainted with others of her trade, had managed to collect such a band around her on this occasion, that no khan it was said, ever had so much mourning performed for him on his death-day as my father.

As for me, whose feelings had previously been set to the pitch-pipe of misfortune, I became a real and genuine mourner; and the recollection of all the actions of my life, in which my total neglect of my parents made so conspicuous a figure, caused me to look upon myself in no enviable light.

I was seated quietly in a corner, adding my sincere sobs to the artificial ones of the rest of the whole company, when a priest came up to me, and said, that of course it was necessary for me to tear my clothes, as I could not prove myself to be a good son without so doing, and that if I permitted him, he would perform that operation for me without spoiling my coat. I let him do what he required, and he accordingly ripped open the seam of the breast flap, which then hung down some three or four inches. He also told me that it was the custom to keep the head uncovered, and the feet naked, at least until all the ceremonies of burial had been performed.

To this I freely consented, and had the satisfaction afterwards to learn, that I was held up as the pattern of a good mourner.

My mother’s grief was outrageous: her hair was concealed, and she enveloped her head in a black shawl, making exclamations expressive of her anguish, calling upon the name of her husband.

Reciting the Koran.

(From a Persian picture.)

By this time the neighhours, the passers-by, the known or unknown to the family, flocked round the house for the purpose of either reading the Koran or hearing it read, which is also esteemed a meritorious act on that occasion. Among these, many came in the character of comforters, who, by their knowledge in the forms of speech best adapted to give consolation, are looked upon as great acquisitions in the event of a mourning.

My old schoolmaster, an eminent comforter, took me in hand, and seating himself by my side, addressed me in the following words:—

‘Yes, at length your father is dead. So be it. What harm is done? Is not death the end of all things? He was born, he got a son, he ran his course, and died. Who can do more? You now take his place in the world; you are the rising blade, that with millions of others promise a good harvest, whilst he is the full ripened ear of corn, that has been cut down and gathered into the granary. Ought you to repine at what is a subject for joy? Instead of shaving men’s heads, he is now seated between two houris, drinking milk and eating honey. Ought you to weep at that? No; rather weep that you are not there also. But why weep at all? Consider the many motives for which, on the contrary, you have to rejoice. He might have been an unbeliever — but he was a true Mussulman. He might have been a Turk — but he was a Persian. He might have been a Sûni — but he was a Shiah. He might have been an unclean Christian — he was a lawful son of Islam. He might have died accursed like a Jew — he has resigned his breath with the profession of the true faith in his mouth. All these are subjects of joy!’

After this manner did he go on; and, having expended all he had to say, left me, to join his voice to the general wailing. Those unclean men, the mûrdeshûr, or washers of the dead, were then called in, who brought with them the bier, in which the corpse was to be carried to the grave. I was consulted, whether they should make an imareh of it, which is a sort of canopy, adorned with black flags, shawls, and other stuffs — a ceremony practised only in the burials of great personages; but I referred the decision to my friend the schoolmaster, who immediately said, that considering my worthy father to have been a sort of public character, he should certainly be for giving him such a distinction. This was accordingly done; and the corpse having been brought out by the distant relations, and laid therein, it was carried to the place of ablution, where it was delivered over to the washers, who immediately went to work. The body was first washed with clear cold water, then rubbed over with lime, salt, and camphor, placed in the winding-sheet, again consigned to the bier, and at length conveyed to the place of burial.

The many who offered themselves to carry the body was a proof how much my father must have been beloved. Even strangers feeling that it was a praiseworthy action to carry a good Mussulman to the grave, pressed forward to lend their shoulder to the burden, and by the time it had reached its last resting-place, the crowd was considerable.

I had followed at a small distance, escorted by those who called themselves friends and relations; and after a mollah had said a prayer, accompanied by the voices of all present, I was invited, as the nearest relative, to place the body in the earth, which having done, the ligatures of the winding-sheet were untied, and another prayer, called the talkhi, was pronounced. The twelve Imâms, in rotation, were then invoked; and the talkhi being again read, the grave was covered in. After this, the Fatheh (the first chapter of the Koran) was repeated by all present, and the grave having been sprinkled over with water, the whole assembly dispersed, to meet again at the house of the deceased. A priest remained at the head of the grave, praying.

I was now called upon to act a part. I had become the principal personage in the tragedy, and an involuntary thought stole into my mind.

‘Ah,’ said I, ‘the vow which I made upon first seeing the city must now be performed, whether I will or no. I must spend boldly, or I shall be esteemed an unnatural son’; therefore, when I returned to the house, I blindly ordered every thing to be done in a handsome manner.

Two rooms were prepared, one for the men, the other for the women. According to the received custom, I, as chief mourner, gave an entertainment to all those who had attended the funeral; and here my sheep and my pilau were not forgotten. I also hired three mollahs, two of whom were appointed to read the Koran in the men’s apartment, and the other remained near the tomb, for the same purpose, inhabiting a small tent, which was pitched for its use. The length of the mourning, which lasts, according to the means of the family, three, five, seven days, or even a month, I fixed at five days, during which each of the relations gave an entertainment. At the end of that period, some of the elders, both men and women, went round to the mourners, and sewed up their rent garments, and on that day I was again invited to give an entertainment, when separate sheets of the Koran were distributed throughout the whole assembly, and read by each individual, until the whole of the sacred volume had been completely gone through.

After this my mother, with several of her relations and female friends, I proceeded in a body to my father’s tomb, taking with them sweetmeats and baked bread for the purpose, which they distributed to the poor, having partaken thereof themselves. They then returned, weeping and bewailing.

Two or three days having elapsed, my mother’s friends led her to the bath, where they took off her mourning, put her on a clean dress, and dyed her feet and hands with the khenah.

This completed the whole of the ceremonies: and, much to my delight, I was now left to myself, to regulate my father’s affairs, and to settle plans for my own future conduct.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:58