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

Chapter lii

Hajji Baba quits his mother, and becomes the scribe to a celebrated man of the law.

I took leave of my mother without much regret, and she did not increase the tenderness of our parting by any great expression of sorrow. She had her plans, I had mine; and, considering how we stood circumstanced, the less we ran in each other’s way the better. I mounted my mule at break of day, and, ere the sun had past its meridian, was already considerably advanced on my road to Kom. I loitered but little on my journey, notwithstanding the pleasures which a halt at Kashan might have afforded me, and on the ninth day I once again saw the gilded cupola of the tomb of Fatimeh.

Alighting at a small caravanserai in the town, I saw my mule well provided, and then, with my present to the mûshtehed under my arm, I proceeded to his house. His door was open to every one, for he made no parade of servants to keep the stranger in awe, as may be seen at the houses of the great in Persia; and, leaving my carpet at the door with my shoes, I entered the room, in one corner of which I found the good man seated.

He immediately recognized me, and, giving me a welcome reception, he desired me to seat myself, which I did, with all proper respect, at the very edge of the felt carpet.

He asked me to relate the history of my adventures since I left Kom, for he professed himself interested in my fate; and, having made him all the necessary acknowledgments for procuring my release from the sanctuary, I related all that had befallen me. I also told him what a calling I felt within me to devote myself to a holy life, and entreated his help to procure me some situation in which I might show my zeal for the interests of the true faith.

He reflected for a moment, and said, ‘that very morning he had received a letter from one of the principal men of the law of Tehran, the Mollah Nadân, who was much in want of one who would act as half scribe and half servant; one, in short, who might be of good materials for a future mollah, and whom he would instruct in all that was necessary in that vocation.’

My heart leaped within me when I heard this, for it was precisely the place that my imagination had created. ‘Leave it to me,’ thought I, ‘to become a whole mollah, when once I have been made half a one.’

Without hesitation I entreated the mûshtehed to continue his good offices in my behalf, which he promised to do; and forthwith addressed a small note, with his own hand, to the Mollah Nadân. This he sealed, and, having duly fashioned it in its proper shape with his scissors, rolled it up and delivered it to me; saying, ‘Proceed to Tehran immediately; no doubt you will find the place vacant, and the mollah willing to appoint you to fill it.’

I was so happy that I kissed the good man’s hand and the hem of his garment, making him thousands of acknowledgments for his goodness.

‘I have one more favour to ask of my master,’ said I, ‘which is, that he will deign to accept a small peish-kesh, a present from his humble slave; it is a praying-carpet, and, should he honour him so far as to use it, he hopes that now and then he will not forget the donor in his prayers.’

‘May your house prosper, Hajji,’ said he very graciously, ‘and I am thankful to you for remembering me, not that there was the least occasion for this present. Be a good Mussulman, wage war against the infidels, and stone the Sûfis — that is the only return I ask; and be assured that, by so doing, you will always find a place in my memory.’

I then presented my gift, with which he seemed much pleased; and, having received my dismissal, I returned to my caravanserai, in the determination of pursuing my road to the capital as fast as I could. I did not even give myself time to call upon my other friends at Rom, or even to take a look at my former unhappy cell in the sanctuary; but, saddling my mule, I pushed on to the caravanserai of the Pûl-i-dallâk that very night.

I reached Tehran in the evening, and, in order not to see the spot in which the unfortunate Zeenab was buried, I made a deviation from my straight road, and entered by the Casbin gate. I was happy to remark that I was not recognized by the guards, who, when I was in office, were accustomed to show themselves on the alert at my approach. But indeed it was not surprising that the active, bustling, imperious nasakchi should not be known under the garb of the would-be humble and insignificant priest; so for the present I felt secure in my disguise, and I boldly took my way through the bazaars and the most public places of the city, where formerly nothing but my face was to be seen; and happy was I to find that no one recollected me. I inquired my way to the house of the Mollah Nadân, which was speedily pointed out, for he was a well-known character; but, on second thoughts, I deemed it more prudent and convenient to put up at a small caravanserai, situated near the house of my new master, than to present myself, late in the day as it then was, to him, upon whom it was my interest, by my looks and appearance, to produce the best possible impression.

Having taken good care of my mule, I slept soundly after the fatigues of the journey; and the next morning I repaired to the bath, where, having given a fresh tinge to my beard, and plentifully used the khena to my hands and feet, I flattered myself that in appearance I was precisely the sort of person likely to meet with success.

The mollah’s house was situated between the royal mosque and the quarters of the camel artillerymen, and near to the entrance of the bazaar, which, leading by the gate of the said mosque, opens at its other extremity immediately on the ditch of the Shah’s palace. It had a mean front; although, having once passed through the gate, the small courtyard which immediately succeeded was clean, and well watered; and the room which looked into it, though only whitewashed, had a set of carpets, which did not indicate wealth, but still spoke the absence of poverty.

In this room was seated a wan and sickly-looking priest, whom I took to be the master of the house; but I was mistaken — he was in his anderûn, and I was told that he would shortly make his appearance.

In order to make known my pretensions to being something more than a servant, I sat down, and entered into conversation with the priest, who, from what I could pick from him, was a dependent upon the mollah. He, in his turn, endeavoured to discover what my business could be; but he did not so well succeed, although the strange and mysterious questions which he put drew forth my astonishment.

‘You are evidently newly arrived in Tehran?’ said he.

‘Yes, at your service,’ said I.

‘You intend probably to make some stay?’ added he.

‘That is not quite certain,’ said I.

Then, after a pause, he said, ‘It is dull living alone, even for a week, and Tehran is a city full of enjoyment. If there is any service that I can perform, I will do it — upon my eyes, be it.’

‘May your kindness never be less! My business is with the Mollah Nadân.’

‘There is no difference between him and me,’ said he. ‘I can facilitate any business you may have; and, praise be to Allah, you will be served to your heart’s content. We have at our disposal of all sorts and all prices.’

‘I am not a merchant,’ said I.

‘There is no necessity to be a merchant,’ said he; ‘it is enough that you are a man and a stranger. You will find, be it for a year, a month, a week, a day, or even an hour, that you will pass your time agreeably; upon my head be it.’

I became more and more puzzled at his meaning, and was on the point of asking him to enlighten my understanding, when the Mollah Nadân, in person, entered the room.

He was a tall handsome man, about forty years of age, with a jet-black beard, glossy with fresh dye, and with fine brilliant eyes, painted with the powder of antimony. He wore on his head an immense turban of white muslin, whilst a hirkeh, or Arab cloak, with broad stripes of white and brown alternately, was thrown over his shoulders. Although his athletic person was better suited to the profession of arms than to that of the law, yet his countenance had none of the frankness of the soldier, but on the contrary bespoke cunning and design, while at the same time it announced good-humour.

I got up at his approach, and immediately presented my note from the mûshtehed, whilst I did not venture again to sit. Having unrolled it, he looked at me and then at it, as if to divine what could be my business; but as soon as he had deciphered the seal, his face expanded into a bright smile, and he requested me to be seated.

‘You are welcome,’ said he; and then he asked me a series of questions concerning the health of the holy man, which I freely answered, as if intimately acquainted with him.. He read the note with great attention, but said not a word of its contents. He then began to make apologies for not having a kalian (a pipe) to offer me, ‘for,’ said he, ‘I am not a smoker of tobacco. We, who rigidly uphold the true faith, reject all such luxuries, and mortify our senses. Our Holy Prophet (upon whom be blessings and peace!) has forbidden to his followers whatever intoxicates; and although tobacco be almost universally used throughout Persia as well as Turkey, yet it is known sometimes to obscure the understanding, and therefore I abstain from it.’

He continued to talk about himself, his fasts, his penance, and his self-mortification, until I began to think that I should pass my time but so-so in his house, nor enjoy the delights the priest had just before promised me; but when I compared his healthy and rubicund face, his portly and well-fed body, to the regimen which he professed to keep, I consoled myself by the hope that he allowed great latitude in his interpretation of the law; and perhaps that I should find, like the house which he inhabited, which had its public and private apartments, that his own exterior was fitted up for the purposes of the world, whilst his interior was devoted to himself and his enjoyments.

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