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Rubies for a Dog: A Fable

Rubies for a Dog: A Fable is written by Shahrukh Hussain- a Pakistani-born British writer. Rubies for a Dog: A Fable is based on “The Tale of Azad Bakht” from the great Urdu classic Bagh-o-Bahar (A Tale of Four Dervishes) by Mir Amman Dehlvi. Bagh-o-Bahar is 1st prose work in Urdu literature. King Azad Bakht is the narrator in the original story and Wazir’s nameless daughter. In Rubies for a Dog, Wazir’s daughter is named Samira who is the protagonist. There was a king named Azad Bakht. He was much loved and respected. He jails his Grand Wazir. No one knows why he had done so.

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Rubies for a Dog: A Fable

Once there was an Emperor, much loved and much respected, but when he put his faithful old advisor, the Grand Wazir, into prison, and worst of all, told nobody the reason why, people wondered about his sense of fair play. Still, everyone accepted that Emperors can be erratic at times and that the Wazir had probably said something so offensive that it did not bear repetition. So everyone in the kingdom looked the other way. Everyone that is, except the Wazir‘s daughter, Samira.

She refused to sit idle in the halls of her father’s sumptuous mansion while he, the provider of all this luxury, languished in a dank cell with chains locking both his limbs and his lips. But try as she might, she could not get her father to tell her anything, and without the facts, she could do nothing. “You are my child,” the old Wazir said sadly, and I thank God for you. I will not risk your life by telling you what happened. If I had a son he would do what is necessary to clear my name. But I cannot send a daughter.”

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When Samira‘s father refused her help because she was a woman, she felt humiliated and useless. She crept back to her castle and wept, and cursed the narrow vision of men who bound women in their homes, then considered them incapable of achieving anything outside.

“If I visit my father,” she thought miserably, “I will only remind him that he has no son while I, his wretched daughter, incapable of helping him, remain ensconced in his mansion, swathed in silk, decking myself in gold and jewels and always in danger of jeopardizing his reputation. As far as he’s concerned, the only good I can do is to live a blame-free life so that people call him a man of noble birth and without character.”

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A few days later, Samira received a message from her father. Was all well with her? He was grateful for the food she had sent and he did not wish to impose a visit on her, but he needed to know she was safe and well. A message would be enough.

Samira longed to see her father-but how could she? Her woman’s body, her long hair, and her feminine attire would be anathema to him. To see in her what could have been, but was definitely not, must be unbearable for him.

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She stood staring at herself in the mirror-exquisite as a part, tall and straight as a cypress tree, rosy checked, from head to toe the essence of beauty. Yet she hated every part of herself. In a rage, she picked up a small dagger and began to rip away her clothes. Then she looked with pleasure at the velvets and chiffons and beaded silks lying in fragments on the floor. But when she looked up, her reflection still mocked her.

“I’m still here,” it taunted. “Still beautiful and still female. Now what will you do to deny me?”

Samira put the sharp blade to her head and long silken strands of hair slithered lifeless to the floor. For a moment she fancied she saw a woman reflected in the soft heap of her tresses her mother. “You are right,” she seemed to say. “I approve of your plan.”

Reassured, Samira ran to her father’s bed-chamber and began looking in his wardrobe. She searched and foraged amid the brocades and velvet until at last she found a small bundle of starched pink muslin, sparkling with silver mica from the sea. She undid the knot that tied it, and there it was! The outfit her father wore when he went wandering amid the crowds of Constantinople to learn what the people of his great Emperor Azad Bakht was thinking.

It was useful for a Wazir to know whether people were content or discontent, what pleased them about their sovereign and what made them unhappy, whether they thought him wise, or whether they decried a folly or two that had crept into his character. Then the Wazir would act on it. Cleverly and diplomatically, he would reshape the criticism and filter the contents of his findings into the Emperor’s car to mold him into an even better ruler, just as he had done for his father before him.

No fool was our worthy Wazir until this last time. What had gone wrong? For he had made a mistake that he would probably never have the chance to rectify. That is if Azad Bakht and the Wazir had their secretive way. But Samira had her own ideas on the matter.

Carefully she dressed herself in the flowing overcoat and baggy trousers her father wore to go out among the people. They were of plainer cloth and not so highly embroidered; a little duller, because the thread of the embroidery was dyed in the colors of flowers and vegetables rather than gold and silver; clothes that would not set her apart from the average merchant or businessman.

“Apart from the turban,” she thought, “it’s all much the same. I fit these clothes as well as my own. But the turban feels cumbersome on my head just as a father’s duties must weigh him down.”

Samira went to her Father: Rubies for a Dog: A Fable

Then Samira made her way to the dungeon.

“Your daughter has sent me,” she said, deepening her voice. “I am her sworn brother and therefore your son. I am to be your champion and free you from this odious place. Samira said, “I beg you, tell me why Emperor Azad Bakht imprisoned you and how you can make amends.”

The Wazir looked perplexed. He could not confide in a stranger, even if that stranger was sworn to be his champion. What if he was the Emperor‘s agent provocateur and not Samira‘s ambassador at all? He shook his head sadly. He felt a father’s warmth for the boy, but barely knew him..

“There is something about you that I feel I can trust, but I cannot betray my Emperor,” he said firmly. “He has commanded me to say nothing.” “Father!” cried Samira, removing her turban. “Don’t you recognize me? I am your daughter! Please let me help you.”

The old Wazir‘s eyes filled with tears. Tears of sadness, tears of love, tears of pride. And for a while, he could not bring himself to speak.

“My child,” he said eventually, clutching her to him, “you have cut your beautiful hair, the legacy of your mother, and you’ve given it up for me. It must have broken your heart.” Samira nodded. “Yes, but I would rather serve the living than the dead,” she replied. “I have lost my mother; I am desperate to keep my father. So please, tell me why you are here.” The Wazir sighed. He was bursting with pride at his daughter’s bravery and quite overcome by her devotion and determination.

Wazir started telling:

“Then listen,” he began. “One day some merchants from Badakshan visited our court with gifts for the Emperor. Among them was a wonderful ruby. It seemed to hold the depth of an ocean, an ocean at sunset when it is red and luminous because it has sucked the fire from the sun itself. And every time Azad Bakht looked at it, he forgot everything else. There is no doubt this was a rare gem. It captivated everyone who saw it.

“You know how it is with Emperors they often lose the distinction between the important and the less important. They are easily diverted by games and women and trinkets. Then it is up to their servants to remind them of the important things. And we tried, many of us, to point out to Azad Bakht that the ruby was excessively distracting-but would he listen? He began to suspect that we had our eyes on the ruby, that we wanted it for ourselves. Even we were jealous of this inanimate stone.

It was almost as if God forgive me and cast dust in my mouth, but it must be said it was almost as if Azad Bakht had begun to worship it. He could not bear to be without it. He would abandon meetings with important emissaries in order to have a quick peep at the stone. Azad Bakht would hold up vital proceedings to show off the gem to state visitors. Inevitably, one day matters went too far.

“A neighboring king was visiting to ask for Azad Bakht‘s support in a war against another king. The battle was a personal one and Azad Bakht would never have agreed in the normal course of affairs because this third king has always been faithful to us. But the visiting king saw his chance and seized it when Azad Bakht flaunted the ruby to him, and in tones at once awed and arrogant, demanded, “Tell me, have you such a jewel in your possession?” Well, from then on they talked of nothing but the great gems of the world and how this ruby must be among the greatest.

Before the meeting had ended, the clever visitor had procured Azad Bakht‘s help to fight his personal battle-our forces for his battle against a king who had never done us harm. Well, it was too much to stand by and accept. The king left, knowing he had outmaneuvered our young Emperor. It would be terrible for his reputation.

“That night when I went into the streets, the story had already got around. The people are forgiving, Samira, but not when their lives and their beloved country are at stake. They talked that night; talk to shame the bones of an old servant like me. Azad Bakht may be young, they said, but we’ve had boy-Emperor before now who have brought great glory to the land. Little do they know, a boy Emperor is more likely to achieve glory than a young man, for his ego is not yet full-blown and his ears more open to the wisdom of older men.

“I knew that night that I must tell the Emperor as bluntly as possible how the ruby was affecting him, that he must put his passion in perspective or he would do himself and his empire dreadful harm. That night, alone with Azad Bakht in his bed-chamber and after all the courtiers had left, I had my chance to speak.

“I admit I was nervous, but the Wazir is the servant of the Emperor, and the Emperor of the State, and the State of the people, and the people of God. So you see, I was at the bottom of a long chain. Soft words and gentle advice had no effect on Azad Bakht and, I don’t know-I suppose it was partly the anger of hearing my Emperor criticized, partly the humiliation of withdrawing our word to the visiting king, partly my own earlier failure- but my blood was boiling and nothing drives a man to greater risk than simmering rage. Well, whatever it was that night it drove me to an action that has reduced me to this.

“I stood by the elbow of Azad Bakht and I said in as firm a voice as I could muster, ‘Your Majesty, Shadow of the Eternal, Refuge of the World, Recipient of the Wisdom of the Almighty, I have something important to tell you, but it will fall heavy on your gracious ear.”

“What is it?” said Azad Bakht, growing a little crabby, for it was late at night. He rubbed the great ruby against his cheek, then reached out and placed it in a niche directly above his bed. I noticed that the exquisitely inscribed calligraphy of a verse from the Quran had been removed to make room for the wretched stone. It saddened me.

“I will tell you,’ I said, “if you promise to spare my life.” “Yes, yes,’ replied Azad Bakht, getting impatient, ‘Your life is safe. Now get on with it.” “Well, you can imagine how I felt. Clearly, the Emperor was in no mood to hear criticism and then not as harshly as I meant to put it but I had no option because I had decided carefully on my words and methods.

“Well, Your Majesty,’ I said, looking boldly into the Emperor‘s eyes, ‘it is about the ruby.”

“Quite unselfconsciously, Azad Bakht reached out and clutched the stone, holding it defensively to his heart.”Oh, you’re not still complaining about my fabulous ruby, are you?” It does not become a great Emperor like you to give such importance to a mere stone,’ I continued.

“A mere stone?’ shouted the Emperor, holding up the ruby for me to see. ‘Look how it sparkles and casts its light! It is sublime, it is supernatural. How can anyone but an idiot describe it as a “mere stone”? The like of it was never encountered anywhere else.’

Not so, my liege,’ I quaked to hear my voice clipped and curt, but say it I had to, for I have heard tales that a merchant of Nishapur has a dog whose collar is studded with twelve rubies, each one as large and as perfect as this one.”

Azad Bakht gasped and clutched his throat. Horrified, I rushed up to help him. I thought he was going to choke. It was as if my words had knocked the breath from him. But he pushed me away. He spluttered and turned the color of the luscious quinces of Lebanon. Then quite suddenly he regained control.

Azad Bakht said:

“You have insulted me and that makes you a traitor,’ he said in a voice that was quiet and very deadly. I have never seen my Emperor so cold and so terrifying as he was at that moment. Traitors die a hideous death, but you have served my family faithfully and wisely for many years and I have given you my word. Therefore, you will live out the rest of your life in the dungeons of the old fort.”

“My liege,’ I whispered, throwing myself to my knees, ‘your wish is my command. But will my daughter be safe?’

“Your daughter is my sister,’ the Emperor told me. His words were spoken like a true monarch. ‘She will be under my protection and may if she chooses, move into the royal palace for her own security. If she prefers, however, she may stay in your mansion and I will pronounce her a ward of the Emperor. “Thankfully, I rose and opened the doors.

At my own command, the Royal Guard escorted me to the prison where I am today. And if it were not for the graciousness of my Emperor, my punishment could have been horrendous. I could have had my eyes gouged out with hot pokers, been subjected to several hundred strokes of the lash, and had my tongue amputated.

Samira shuddered and put her hands to her father’s lips. “Please, Father,” she begged, “we need not dwell on such horrors now.”

The Wazir shook his head. “It is important for us both to acknowledge how lucky I am. The Emperor has been merciful. My body is whole though I am growing weak, and life in this cell is no great hardship when you send me wonderful food each day and all the parts of my body are intact. I haven’t many years of life left those I can eke out in relative peace, praying and repenting and nourishing my soul.”

Samira stood up and walked back and forth for a while, building up the courage to put her question to her father. She could feel his eyes watching her, alert to her request. No, her father had not lost any of his faculties, physical or mental.

“Father,” she said at last, “I want your blessings.” “You have those always,” cut in the wily Wazir, before she could proceed with her request.

Samira began to lose her nerve but recovered and spoke with greater determination than before. “I want to go to Nishapur to find the dog with the ruby collar. I want your permission and your blessings.”

“Do you know what you’re asking?” demanded the Wazir. “The city of Nishapur is far, far away, in Khorasan. You have to cross tracts of desert and face fighting hordes who know as little of mercy as they do of palaces. Only an army has any chance of getting past them.”

“Two strangers stand more chance than an army,” retorted Samira. “An army would put them on their guard. A caravan would alert them to infinitely greater treasures than one body can carry. But a single young man with an old attendant will pose no threat to warrior tribes. Besides, we know from the stories of the great minstrels that wit wins many a battle before it is ever fought.”

“Ah, Samira, Samira,” lamented the Wazir, “the lack of a mother has done you more harm than I ever imagined. You read books on battles and look deep into the Mirror of Princes and you talk back to your father. Well, I brought you up so I must take the blame. It would have been wiser to hand you over to my sister, and then perhaps I would not be in this dilemma today.”

“Father, you have given me everything I ever needed. You have nurtured in me the creativity and determination of a woman and a heart as brave as a sea lion. In archery and swordsmanship, I was the best among my companions. But people think a woman’s body is frail and vulnerable- I concede that. That is why I have to dress like this. Isn’t it ironic that I have to dress like a man in order to discover my potential?”

The Wazir looked at his daughter with new eyes. Ile could not deny this young woman, this brave and wise young woman, the chance of sell- discovery. He sighed so deeply that his frail frame shuddered with the force of it. He would probably never see the girl again. The flesh of his flesh, the fruit of his loins, and the beloved gift of his dead wife.

“But,” he thought, “The greatest gift a parent can give a child is the approval to do what she must. Yet how difficult it is to give. Yes, and I bless her efforts how hard it is to say those words. Yet I must say them because it is quite obvious Samira has thought a lot about the matter and I have no wish to stop my daughter from fulfilling herself.” The Wazir raised his hand and laid it on Samira‘s head.

Samira got permission: Rubies for a Dog: A Fable

“Go with my blessings,” he said, “and never forget who you are and why you go.”Samira threw her arms around her father. Tears filled her eyes and. promising him she would remember all the advice he had given her over the years, she left the dungeon.

Up in her castle, she made ready for the journey. She would need a few spare sets of clothes. A trusted servant was sent out to acquire these. She would need provisions, merchandise for trade, and gifts to pacify the nomad robbers and other brigands. And gold coins and gems, which she had sewn into the stiffened hems of her coat and other robes. Finally, accompanied by the faithful servant, she set off on her journey.

The road was long and arduous and there were nights when they slept between the vast skies and the shifting desert sands, as huge, radiant stars hung in clustering branches above them, bright as the torches that lit the richest mansions of Constantinople. Occasionally, they would hear the tinkle of a hospitable camel bell, and a kindly tribesman would raise them from their sandy bed and take them to his home.

Then there were the easier nights in plush and humble caravansary, travelers’ inns built along the trunk roads. Finally, they arrived in Khorasan, traveling on, frequently asking for directions until they reached the city of Nishapur where they took rooms in a modest but comfortable inn. At breakfast on the very first day, Samira spoke to the landlord.

“Is there a particular quarter in this town where the jewelers have their shops?”

“There might be and there might not be,” replied the dour fellow. “What is it that you seek? To sell or to buy?”

“To look, at first,” responded Samira jauntily, “and then, if I find your Nishapuri goods worthwhile, perhaps to trade. A little buying, a little selling. That’s where the fun of business lies.”

“Oh, the arrogance of the young,” grumbled the innkeeper. “Don’t be so proud of your wealth and your youth, for the colors of such garments fade soon enough. As to your check, remarks-you’ll not find better jewelers anywhere than in our Nishapur bazaars.”

“What! exclaimed Samira, enjoying the man’s irritation. “Are you claiming that your jewelers have better gems than the ones from Badakshan, finer gold than the Arabian isles, diamonds more exquisite than the ones from India?”

“I do,” insisted the innkeeper. “Our jewelers cast their nets far and wide and haul in treasures from the deepest, most obscure places. You have only to see their caravans when they return, twenty guards in front and back, horses and camels creaking with the weight of it all.”

“I’ve seen many caravans in my day,” laughed Samira, “and I have no wish to see any more. But I will take a stroll around your market to see if your boasts are true.”

And so saying, she set off in search of the merchant with the dog. She walked the streets of the city all day, asking questions openly, making inquiries but learning nothing until, on the fourth day, she came across a large shop displaying such fabulous jewels that she was quite overwhelmed by their beauty.

There were fat emeralds, winking, blinking pools of green; rubies like luminous roses and hibiscus; diamonds so large they were like mounds of white light; sapphires bluer than the sky after a rainstorm; topazes like sunbursts: aquamarines as clear as the turquoise seas; lapis lazuli, veined and speckled in gold; amethysts, jet, turquoise, amber… “Emperor Azad Bakht would go mad here,” she thought wickedly.

“He would transport the entire shop and its contents to Constantinople.”

She closed her eyes and placed her fingers on the lids to shut out the harsh glare of the stones. When she opened them again, they focused on a low bed on which slept a large hound. An attendant smoothed its beautiful red tresses while another fanned it, waving away the flies.

A third stood a little way behind the others, watchful that the dog’s dishes of food and drink were fresh and full. And around the neck of this elegant, pampered hound of Afghanistan was a large collar of velvet studded with twelve enormous rubies. She had found him! Her father’s savior! Now she could prove to Azad Bakht that her father’s words were the truth and not an idle insult. But first, she must ask the dog’s owner why he had made a collar of rubies for a dog.

Samira asked the merchant to tell the story:

I am curious,” said Samira when the pleasantries were over, “to find out more about your dog. Why does he wear a collar of rubies?”

“The dog is called Waladar-Loyal One,” began the merchant of Nishapur. “The best friend man can ever have.” Then the merchant told Samira that during his travels as a boy, he had encountered seven misfortunes. Each time Wafadar saved his life or befriended him.

“When I lay ill and hungry by the wayside, the dog guarded me against man and beast; when I was set upon by brigands and my companions abandoned me, he fought by my side. Twice, I lost my fortune and suddenly had no friends in the world, Wafadar stayed by me, finding food for himself and for me by hunting fowl and wild deer. When finally, at the age of twenty-six, I made a fortune so vast that ten lifetimes could not make a dent in it, nothing was so precious to me as Wafadar.

“My old friend’s traveling days were over. He was tired and deserved to rest. I decided to settle down once and for all and resolved to give my faithful old companion every luxury in my power, so ostentatiously that people would come to see the dog and ask me to tell his story. Then I would have the chance to extol his virtues and pay him homage.”

Samira told the entire story: Rubies for a Dog: A Fable

Samira was moved to tears by the merchant’s tale. “His story has spread far and wide,” she said when she managed to collect herself. “It is because of him that my father, the Wazir of Constantinople, is languishing in the dungeons of Emperor Azad Bakht.” Then Samira told the merchant who she was and why she had come in search of him, dressed in men’s clothes.

“I am sorry that your father suffered as a result of telling Wafadar’s story,” the merchant said quietly. “I would like to help in any way that I can.

The dog was awake now and lifted his head, then rose to his noble feet and ambled over to his master.

Immediately the merchant took a fine piece of meat from his jeweled plate and fed it to Wafadar. The dog picked up the offering and looked at his owner with love in his eyes, and Samira saw his love reflected in the eyes of the merchant. Quietly, she looked on as the merchant stroked and fondled his dog and the dog rested his long, graceful muzzle on the merchant’s knee.

“I would like to help you,” said the merchant, “because I admire your effort. You combine wisdom and courage with a soft heart and single-minded dedication. I didn’t know women like you existed.”

“Perhaps,” murmured Samira, “They are not often given the chance.”

But the merchant was too preoccupied with his next thought to hear her. “Come and stay with me in my humble home,” he said, “and let us discuss your next step.” Ile looked at Wafadar. “And you, old friend, would you be willing to go on another journey for your master’s sake?”

Wafadar licked his master’s hand and stood up, suddenly playful.

“He agrees,” smiled the merchant. “He agrees to accompany Samira to Constantinople to plead her father’s case. You have lived up to your name, Samira a true friend and companion. In my country poets write of a little white dove called Samira who proved her friendship by traveling far and wide to repay a human who once saved her life.

It strikes me that you have done the same.” That night, in the halls of the merchant’s manor, Samira fell in love and when the merchant proposed marriage, she accepted.

“But only on condition that you agree to come and live in Constantinople,” she said.

The merchant agreed and the next day they embarked on the return journey, which this time was far more comfortable than Samira had imagined possible.

On her return, Samira‘s first visit was to her father. “I am back, Father, and I have with me the dog with the collar of twelve rubies and the man who owns him. What will the Emperor say to that?” The old Wazir fell on his daughter’s neck and wept with gratitude for her safe return.

“My days were hell and my night hellfire while you were away,” he confessed. “I imagined that you had been attacked by every evil and besieged by every conceivable misfortune. Wazir said, “I felt sure I would never see you again. I would have thanked God a million times every moment of the day for the rest of my life, even if you had returned alone and without the means to free me.”

“Shame, Father,” laughed Samira. “You have very little faith in your daughter.”Then Samira sought an audience with the Emperor and requested permission to bring a companion. The audience was granted and Samira and the merchant told Azad Bakht the whole story. He described how

Samira had left home dressed as a man to redeem her father’s honor. “And now that you know the facts, Your Majesty, we beg a reprieve for Samira‘s father, the Grand Wazir.”

“I have never heard such an incredible story!” exclaimed Azad Bakht. “And I thank God that I did not harm my Wazir or put him to death.” The Emperor immediately ordered the release of the Wazir, and in the presence of his family and his courtiers, he begged his forgiveness. “And all this,” concluded the Emperor, “has been achieved through the efforts of a devoted daughter.”

“A daughter,” thought Samira alone in her chamber that night, smoothing her soft fabrics to her skin, inhaling the perfumed atmosphere of her room, slipping between the silk of her bedclothes, “who is very happy to be a woman now that she has shown what womankind can achieve.”

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