The amir and the alim

June 19, 2016

Najm Hosain Syed, in his essay, points out the role of the two parties to this intrigue in the durbar of Kekobad

The amir and the alim

Maulvi Ghulam Rasool’s Dastan-e Amir Hamza opens with the description of and contemplation about a usual palace intrigue in the durbar of Kekobad, the King of Persia. Najm Hosain Syed, in his essay "Qissa Reet Kureet", points out the role of the two parties to this intrigue -- the Amir (vizier, nobleman, powerful feudal lord associated with the throne) and the Alim (intellectual belonging to a so-called ‘Ilmi gharana’ who uses the power of his monopoly of knowledge to serve the durbar and makes a living out of it).

In the beginning of the story told by Maulvi Ghulam Rasool, Alqash, an Amir-minister in Kekobad’s durbar, murders his colleague and Alim-advisor Bakht Jamal to grab a part of the treasure. Alqash is not in dire need of this extra cash, but is certainly greedy for it nevertheless. So the sequence of events in the tale is set into motion with a murder driven by avarice. Ghulam Rasool, who clearly sides with the Alim, laments this evil deed thus:

Ajmal Kamal

(The worldly wealth sows the seed of disunity between colleagues and friends. Alqash betrayed his friend driven by his greed for it, although he is destined to finally leave the world empty-handed. The world is an unfaithful beloved who has made friends with, and eventually killed, millions of men. Its looks, though strange, attract them but no one enjoys its favours forever. Thus, O man of dust, put dust on its head, or you’d be left with nothing but a torn collar and a lot of remorse.)

Read also: Selling a worldview

Buzurgmehr, who is going in due course to replace his father Bakht Jamal in the royal Persian durbar, is still a growing up boy. Bakht Jamal’s murder has put the clan on hard times and Buzurgmehr -- sensing the system prevalent at the top echelons of society -- knows that he needs to use some kind of power, of either muscle or brain, to deal with dire circumstances. He, obviously, chooses knowledge, reads his grandfather Jamas Hakeem’s manuscript and attains the insight of what is and what is to be. Armed with this insight he approaches a baker for a regular supply of bread.

Ajmal Kamal

(Buzurgmehr says to the nan-bai, the bread-maker, O Corrupt One, I know everything of and about you. You steal grain from the royal granary, and you have been doing so from the beginning. The Sultani anbar-dar, royal in-charge of the granary, is your partner in crime, and you, O Zalimo, eat away between the two of you what in fact belongs to the poor. If you do not give me bread, I’m going to spill the beans. Will go straight to the King Kobad and reveal to him the continuing theft. The King will certainly catch you and punish you for your misdeed and you’d have to cough up all the ill-gotten money that you have collected in your lifetime. Hearing this, the bread-maker fell to his knees and promised to give Buzurgmehr a dhari (five-seer) of bread every day if his dark secret was kept a secret. The young and popular Khwaja Buzurgmehr accepts the nan-bai’s pleadings, takes the daily bread from him and walks away.)

The young boy Buzurgmehr does have the sense that the grain collected by the King belongs actually to the poor farmers. Just now he is counted among the poor himself, so he gets his share by force of a threat but lets go of the thief. It’s alright for him that the thief should duly pay him his cut and carry on with his theft of the King’s grain which in fact is the poor people’s grain. In simple words, he joins the accomplices’ club with the nan-bai and the anbar-dar.

Read also: Hamza’s stories

Further on, Buzurgmehr finds his due place as a vizier in the King Kekobad’s durbar. He attains the status of his special advisor, armed with knowledge and wisdom. Also, he avenges his father’s murder by turning Alqash into a horse and comes to the durbar riding him. Buzurgmehr the advisor is inherited by the next king, Nausherwan. It is his career to take advantage of his position in the Persian durbar. He has the right ambition of a durbari intellectual to occupy a high place near the King and make his own little kingdom at his small palace. His knowledge encompasses the cruel side of the system, but his wisdom does not attempt to expose or challenge it; he is wise enough to become a partner in it.

In Nausherwan’s durbar, Buzurgmehr is the advisor of good while Bakhtak is advisor of evil. But Buzurgmehr’s good advice is taken by the King only so much as suits his kingdom’s interests. In his own calculations, Buzurgmehr is an honest man and offers useful advice to the King. The goodness of his wisdom partly lies in the fictional fact that he knows and acknowledges, as indicated before, the rightfulness and invincibility of the Lashkar-e Islam led by Amir Hamza. In the latter half of the nineteenth century, before and after the sepoy mutiny was crushed by the East Company using desi troops hired from non-rebellious areas and communities, there was no dearth of Buzurgmehrs among South Asian Muslims.

There were people like Sir Syed Ahmed Khan and Maulana Qasim Nanautavi who had accepted the Gora not only as another foreign invader-ruler, but also a just one worthy of being the replacement of the Muslim invader-rulers before him. Unlike the local Hindus, the White rulers were the Ahl-e Kitab Christian brothers of Muslims. Besides, they had graciously allowed many petty Kings, Nawabs, Rajas, Nizams and Sultans to keep their little thrones in the shape of Princely States. Just as Amir Hamza, after accepting Nausherwan’s daughter in his harem, allows him to keep calling himself the King of Persia. Or just as King Kekobad, before him, had ignored the theft of grain from the royal granary which itself was filled with the grain stolen from people who had produced it from God’s earth.

Although the Amir and the Alim -- the nobleman and the intellectual -- perform similar functions at the durbar as parts of the machinery of Kingdom, the Alim has an edge over the Amir. One, he draws part of his power from his knowledge of religious scriptures and, whenever required, provides religio-moral justification for the royal whims. Two, he is the more powerful one as he monopolises knowledge of letters, so it is his words that constitute what is to be handed down as the fiction called history, and also the fiction called the Dastan. 

This is the third part of a fortnightly series on the subject

The amir and the alim