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

Chapter liii

The mollah Nadân gives an account of his new scheme for raising money, and for making men happy.

When left to ourselves (for the priest soon after quitted the room), mollah Nadân, taking the mûshtehed’s note from his breast, said, that he should be happy to receive me in his service upon so good a recommendation; and having questioned me upon my qualifications, I gave such answers, that he expressed himself satisfied.

‘I have long been seeking a person of your character,’ said he, ‘but hitherto without success. He, who has just left us, has assisted me in my several duties; but he is too much of a napak (an intriguer) for my purpose. I want one who will look upon my interests as his own, who will eat his bit of bread with me and be satisfied, without taking a larger share than his due.’

In answer to this, I informed the mollah that although I had already seen much of the world, yet he would find in me a faithful servant, and one ready to imbibe his principles; for (as I had already explained to the mûshtehed) my mind was made up to leading a new life, and endeavouring under his direction to become the mirror of a true Mussulman.

‘In that,’ said the mollah, ‘esteem yourself as the most fortunate of men; for I am looked up to as the pattern of the followers of the blessed Mahomed. In short, I may be called a living Koran. None pray more regularly than I. No one goes to the bath more scrupulously, nor abstains more rigidly from everything that is counted unclean. You will find neither silk in my dress, nor gold on my fingers. My ablutions are esteemed the most complete of any man’s in the capital, and the mode of my abstersion the most in use. I neither smoke nor drink wine before men; neither do I play at chess, at gengifeh (cards), or any game which, as the law ordains, abstracts the mind from holy meditation. I am esteemed the model of fasters; and during the Ramazan give no quarter to the many hungry fellows who come to me under various pretexts, to beg a remission of the strictness of the law. “No,” do say to them, “die rather than eat, or drink, or smoke. Do like me, who, rather than abate one tittle of the sacred ordinance, would manage to exist from Jumah to Jumah (Friday) without polluting my lips with unlawful food."’

Although I did not applaud his tenacity about fasting, yet I did not fail to approve all he said, and threw in my exclamations so well in time, that I perceived he became almost as much pleased with me as he appeared to be with himself.

‘From the same devotedness to religion,’ continued he, ‘I have ever abstained from taking to myself a wife, and in that respect I may be looked upon as exceeding even the perfection of our Holy Prophet; who (blessings attend his beard!) had wives and women slaves, more even than Sûleiman ibn Daoud himself. But although I do not myself marry, yet I assist others in doing so; and it is in that particular branch of my duty in which I intend more especially to employ you.’

‘By my eyes,’ said I, ‘you must command me; for hitherto I am ignorant as the Turk in the fields.’

‘You must know then,’ said he, ‘that, to the scandal of religion, to the destruction of the law, the commerce of cowlies, or courtezans, had acquired such ascendancy in this city, that wives began to be esteemed as useless. Men’s houses were ruined, and the ordinances of the Prophet disregarded. The Shah, who is a pious prince, and respects the Ullemah, and who holds the ceremony of marriage sacred, complained to the head of the law, the mollah bashi, of this subversion of all morality in his capital, and, with a reprimand for his remissness, ordered him to provide a remedy for the evil. The mollah bashi (between you and me, be it said) is in every degree an ass — one who knows as much of religion and its duties, as of Frangistân and its kings. But I— I, who am the mollah Nadân — I suggested a scheme in which the convenience of the public and the ordinances of the law are so well combined, that both may be suited without hindrance to either. You know it is lawful among us to marry for as long or as short a time as may be convenient; and in that case the woman is called mûtî.

“Why then,” said I to the chief priest, “why not have a sufficient number of such like wives in store, for those who know not where to seek for a companion? The thing is easy to be done, and Nadân the man to do it.”

‘The mollah bashi, who, though the cream of blockheads in all other cases, is very quick-sighted when his interest is concerned, caught at my idea, for he foresaw a great harvest of gain for himself. He consequently acquired possession of several small houses of little value, in which he has installed a certain number of women, who, through his interference, are married, in the character and with the privileges of mûties, to whoever is ambitious of such a marriage; and as both parties on such occasion pay him a fee, he has thus very considerably increased his revenues. So eagerly do the people marry, hat he has several mollahs at work, wholly engaged in reading the marriage ceremony. He has entirely excluded me from any share in his profits — I who first suggested the plan; and therefore I am determined to undertake the business myself, and thus add to the public convenience. But we must be secret; for if the mollah bashi was to hear of my scheme, he would interpose his authority, overthrow it, and perhaps have me expelled the city.’

During this exposure of the mollah’s plans, I began to look at him from head to foot, and to question within myself whether this in fact could be the celebrated pillar of the law, of whom the mûshtehed, good man! had spoken in such high terms. However, I was too new in holy life to permit any scruples against the fitness of such schemes to come across my mind; so I continued to applaud all that Nadân had said, and he continued as follows:—

‘I have already three women in readiness, established in a small house in the neighbourhood, and it is my intention to employ you in the search of husbands for them. You will frequent the caravanserais, watching the arrival of merchants and other strangers, to whom you will propose marriage, upon easier terms than the chief priest can offer, and according to the riches of the bridegroom you will exact a proportionate fee. I shall not give you any wages, because you will have opportunities of acquiring such knowledge from me, that in time you may become a mollah yourself, and show the road to all true believers in the practices of their duty. You will find everything provided for you in my house; and, now and then, opportunities will offer for putting something honestly into your pocket. Whenever my friends come to see me, and when they take their shâm (dinner) with me, you will appear as my servant; on other occasions you may sit before me, and act as my scribe.’

The mollah here finished speaking, in the expectation of hearing what I should say in answer; but I was so bewildered by this vast field of action that he had opened to my view, that it took me some minutes to recollect myself. I, who had expected to lead the life of a recluse, to sit in a corner all the day long, reading my Koran, or mumbling prayers — to frequent lectures in the medressehs (schools), and homilies in the mosques — I, in short, who in my master expected to have found a despiser of this world’s goods, and full of no other care than that of preparing for the next — of a sudden was called upon to engage more deeply in the business of life than before, and to follow the footsteps of a man who seemed to exist for no other purpose than to amass wealth, and acquire consideration. ‘However, I can but try,’ thought I. My circumstances were too desperate to admit of much hesitation; and, after all, to be the pupil of one of the most celebrated men of the capital, was a situation not to be despised; and so I accepted of the mollah’s offer.

He then told me that we should soon have some further conversation, which, for the present, he was obliged to defer, because he was called upon to attend the chief of the law; but, before he went, he mentioned, that as he abstained from worldly pomp, he kept no servants but such as were absolutely necessary. His establishment consisted of a cook, and a servant who acted in the triple capacity of head-servant, valet, and groom; and his stud, for the present, was composed of one ass. ‘After considerable trouble,’ said he, ‘I have managed to procure a white one, which, you know, is an animal that confers consideration on its rider; but, as my business and my dignity increase, I intend to promote myself to a mule.’ I did not lose this opportunity of informing him that I had a very good one to dispose of; and, after some negotiation, it was decided that we should keep both mule and ass; he, as the dignitary, riding the former, whilst I should be carried about on the humbler beast.

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