Aamer Hussein was born in Karachi, Pakistan, in 1955, and moved to London in 1970. He is the author of six collections of short stories: Mirror to the Sun (1993), This Other Salt (1999), Turquoise (2002), Cactus Town: Selected Stories (2003), Insomnia (2007) and 37 Bridges and Other Stories (2015). His novella, Another Gulmohar Tree, was published in May 2009, and his novel The Cloud Messenger was released in 2011. He is also the editor of Kahani: Short Stories by Pakistani women (2005). He reviews regularly for the Independent.
Three Tales After Rumi
Note: These tales will appear with illustrations in the print edition of Papercuts Volume 15.
A man in a village fell in love with a woman: they lived together in pleasure and joy, drawing strength from one another, each depending on the other’s love like a fish depends on water. And so they lived for years until one day the Most High made them rich with cattle and sheep, goats, gold, servants and slaves.
With their splendid array of earthly goods they moved to the city, where the man bought himself a grand palace and so did the woman. The man had his retinue of attendants and the woman hers. But they no longer recognized their earlier joys or the loving encounters they had revelled in. Each was consumed with bitter flames of jealousy, recrimination, and pain, until they could no longer speak to one another. And as the flames rose higher they burned in a blaze of separation.
Finally the sound of their laments reached the place where prayers are granted. One by one their goats and their lambs disappeared or died, and once again, they were back in the village where their love was born.
Many years later, when they were both old, they met again in the village square and reunited; they reclaimed their lost love and spent their time in fond embraces. But they never forgot the bitter fires of their separation.
A king had three sons who set off one day to visit the cities and citadels of their kingdom. Their father had given them leave to travel far and wide, but forbade them to enter a fortress which was decorated with paintings that, it was said, drove those who saw them mad. The fortress was little known and far away and had the king not forbidden them to go there the three princes would never ever have contemplated the journey.
[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”#fcd203″ class=”” size=””]…suddenly they came upon the portrait of a princess whose incandescent beauty drew them to her like moths to a candle.[/pullquote]
But their curiosity was awakened: they set off and reached the fortress in the deepest hours of the night. There were ten gates to the citadel. The paintings and decorations that adorned them filled the princes with awe and wonder.
Then suddenly they came upon the portrait of a princess whose incandescent beauty drew them to her like moths to a candle. They discovered soon enough that the beautiful woman in the portrait was the daughter of the king of China, who was kept under strict surveillance in a hidden pavilion by her father.
The three brothers immediately decided to travel to China. After a long wait the oldest of the three princes threw himself at the emperor’s feet. The emperor listened to his pleas with a patient and tender air; the prince was more and more consumed in the fire of his passion, until it burnt him to death. The youngest brother was ill; only the second brother was there to bury his sibling.
The emperor welcomed the second brother as warmly as he had greeted the elder, and covered with him with gifts and gold. Little by little the prince began to pride himself on the place he had in the emperor’s affection, and showed signs of coarse ingratitude. The emperor withdrew his favours from the ungrateful prince. The ungrateful young man, bereft of his benefactor’s affections, threw himself off the highest wall of the citadel.
The third prince, the youngest, was the laziest of them all. But he was the one who won the emperor’s heart, entered the hidden pavilion where the princess lived, and became the ruler of China and of his father’s kingdom; history does not tell us how.
A man, sitting for the first time beside the woman he loved, took a letter from his pocket and began to read it aloud.
In this letter there were verses, laments, eulogies, prayers and humble supplications.
The loved one said: If these words are for me, why read them to me at our first meeting? That isn’t the way of true lovers.
[pullquote align=”left” cite=”” link=”” color=”#fcd203″ class=”” size=””]I’m the house of your beloved, not your beloved herself. Your real love should be for the gem and not for the jewelled box in which it rests.[/pullquote]
The lover replied: You’re here but I’m still strangely unsatisfied, as if what I felt for you last year no longer exists in this moment, even though I’m with you. I drank the water from the fountain of your love, I washed my eyes and my heart with its water, but now the fountain is dry.
She said: Then I am not the one you love. I’m in one country; you’ll find her in another. You love me, and you are in love with your own depiction of love. Because I’m not everything you’re looking for. I’m only a part of your search at this given moment.
He said: I still see the fountain but its waters have run dry, as if a thief diverted their flow from its source.
She said: I’m the house of your beloved, not your beloved herself. Your real love should be for the gem and not for the jewelled box in which it rests. The real beloved is the one who is unique, who is your beginning and your end.
When you find her, you won’t stop to wait for other things. Whatever state you’re in, go and look for your true beloved. You with your dry lips, go and look for water; the dryness of your lips is the sign that you’ll find the water’s source.