Poetry:Tying Satan’s Hands Behind his Back

Original in Pashto: Abdul Bari Jahani
Mr. Jahani is the most prominent contemporary poet in Afghanistan who writes in Pashto. He beautifully weaves classical and mystical themes such as intoxication and music with more contemporary, political ones such as invasion, resistance, and social erosion.
Jahani is particularly celebrated for his satirical poems that have a clear narrative and deal with themes of superstitions and corruption. “Shaikh Nasruddeen” is an example of such satirical poetry. The Shaikh is a Don Quixotic type of character. But perhaps a little more clever. And the poem has a more direct message than Don Quixote. I hope that at least a small bit of the original humor comes across in this translation.

Shaikh Nasruddeen

Image Source: "English for Students"

Long ago, in a distant village, was a young man
without people, without belongings, without a home.
A champion of reason, sturdy and strong
but dismal fate had left his heart swollen.
His father had named him Nasruddeen in pride,
but, poor, wretched, a mere Nasrugay he was called.
Neither his summers, nor his winters were comfortable;
from heat or cold, he never ceased to grumble.

As his heart grew weary of his village and tribe,
jaded with the elders and the youth alike,
Nasrugay declared: I’m leaving on a journey,
whatever happens will be kismet and destiny.
He rolled up his sleeves to end his poverty
and passed village after village, around the country.

One day, as dusk fell on Nasrugay, the air darkened.
In a shrine, on a Shaikh’s almhouse he knocked.
This shrine, this house, belonged to Shaikh Qader
Among the saints, well esteemed and high regarded.
In the Shrine, Nasrugay secured a place to rest
and, amongst the hangers-on, became a guest
In the corners of the house, in various rooms
crowds of guests convened; conversations bloomed.
From the kitchen, full steaming plates arrived
and the guests eagerly devoured bite after bite.

As he listened to the stories of the men,
he measured them with the scale of his wisdom.
In the hundred tales that he patiently heard
The secrets of the Shaikh Qader were unveiled!

Nasrugay, too, in his chamber, began to bow and sway
From dawn to dusk, he prayed and prayed.
Spending all his time bent in prostration,
he no longer cared for food or conversation.
Word of him traveled to the dervishes and faqirs.
With praises they rushed to him and began to query:
Shaikh, from what city, when did you arrive? Tell us
So on your path we sacrifice the rest of our lives.
Nasrugay refrained from answering, paid no attention,
leaving the dervishes to lament in dejection.
One of the dervishes, wiser than the rest
aware of the house’s long buried secrets
approached Shaikh Qader in great haste,
and after score of praises, informed the Saint:
A godly traveler has recently joined our way
Days and nights, all he does is pray and pray.
So focused that he has no time for food or stories
On his knees all day, I’m sure he’s after some glory!

At midnight, Shaikh Qader entered the chamber
and quietly hissed in Nasrugay’s sleeping ear:
Tell me your actual purpose right away.
This same night, you must end your stay!
Nasrugay, regaining his senses from confusion,
paid his respects and recounted his misfortunes:
Fed up with endless poverty, O almighty saint
I left on this hopeful journey to other lands.
But upon your command, in this darkness
I’ll ride my wretched fate out of your place.
But to do so, I ask your help, and the Lord’s grace.
The Shaikh, slipping hand to pocket in a flash
withdrew few coins and threw them into Nasrugay’s lap:
Here is some money, and there’s an ass in the barn.
Look after it; the animal is a very special kind.
Nasrugay, with amazement, took the money
mounted the ass, and resumed his journey.
For a few nights, he traveled through deserts and hills.
The ass was old, quickly wearied and fell ill.
By the road side, as tears streamed down his face,
Nasrugay mourned the struggling ass’s fate.
When dusk took over, Nasrugay was left alone.
His ass dead, his heart broken, he wailed in vain.
He buried the ass, building for it a large tomb.
At its feet he wept until his heart calmed.
In the morning, on the fresh tomb
he raised a grand waving flag of scarlet shade,
Announcing: this is Ghaybana Father’s Shrine!
I found it after many years of constant trying.
Without food or sleep I’ve served it hard and long;
with constant prayers, I’ve lighted his nights to dawn.
His frenzy has so quickly spread through the lands
Every soul, in every house, is familiar with his legend.
A dozen times, even more, he’s visited my dreams
With his finger, he’s pointed me to his tomb.
This shrine is for the barren and blind
for the widows, despairing and maligned.
The legend of the Shrine traveled through hands
Ghaybana Father grew famous in far towns.
Some brought cows for him, some herds of sheep
some offered money, some grains in heaps.
Soldiers, constables, sheriffs–those of high esteem
To Ghaybana Father, all sorts of people came.
In little time, Nasrugay became Shaikh Nasruddin:
a saint so rich that his crown in jewels gleamed.
Within a year he wedded three or four young ladies
plump as partridges, pretty as daisies.
Shaikh Qader was informed by one of the guests:
a great Shaikh has emerged from the Shaikhs
claiming he is the saint of the poor, the distressed;
he’s returned sight to numerous blind eyes
and cured fatal disease– most palsied hands and feet!
His frenzy has so quickly spread through the lands
Every soul, in every house, is familiar with his legend.
That a new Shaikh had brought a disaster on his tribe,
this news bruised Shaikh Qader’s fragile heart.
It was midnight, he mounted his horse and rode away.
At the Shrine, he asked a moment of Shaikh’s company.
Shaikh Nasruddeen had retreated to his chamber,
but as the name of Shaikh Qader caressed his ear
he blushed in excitement and proudly declared:
Leave us alone and don’t bother us for few moments
for this is a secret meeting of two old acquaintance.
Once left alone, the two Shaikhs began to converse.
The legend of the new shrine was recounted bit by bit
and Shaikh Qader was informed of the whole truth.
Shaikh Qader, stunned by the story, slowly began to speak:
My highest praises for you. For your enemies, defeat.
The secrets– yours and mine– are thus hidden
for we have both acquired the friendship of one Satan.
That you have so quietly raised a flag upon an ass
You have tied Satan’s hands behind his back.
Take good care of it, it is lineal and legitimate;
It’s father’s made me into this commanding saint.
His grandfather’s buried in another town;
hundred dervishes are prostrate on its grounds.
An almighty patron, confers to every need
and fulfills every heart’s desire, every plead.
The simple-minded come to it for pilgrimage
and bring along with them droves of sheep.

The Pashtoon tribe is a tribe of ignorance
Their land is a heaven for the rogue and the cheat
To anyone who grows long-shaggy hair, in respect
they give him their daughters and all their wealth.
Yesterday a barber came to them, today he’s their boss
he’s their elder, their lord, and their priest.
Whoever grows a long beard here is fit to lead.
In this city of the blind, a one-eyed is Lord.

If you desire paradise now, in this world,
countless servants, pretty women and good wine
for a brief period, seek detachment.
Then, by the highway, build a shrine.
For your household, a darbar leave behind
and reign over generation after generation.

About CostofWar

Like most Afghans, a natural-born expert on the devastation of war. This is just a canvass for my own reflections. View all posts by CostofWar

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