Faizi continued to be credited as its original author. His ghost must still be smiling from ear to ear. To have written the tale of Hoshruba with an unmoving finger would be a neat trick, even for a spirit. But the happiest ghost must be Mir Ahmed Ali’s, his smile the broadest of all. Not only was his creation of Hoshruba accepted as a part of the Amir Hamza cycle, but it also became its defining, single most important tale, surpassing all others. No storyteller could ask for greater glory.
The Hoshruba tale later found other champions as well. A year before the world threw itself into the madness of the First World War, the Rampur storyteller Mirza Alimuddin (1854–1927) launched his personal campaign to write the Hoshruba tale. He campaigned longer, harder and more gloriously. From 1913–1919 he produced twelve volumes and two secondary legends associated with the Hoshruba tale.
Then there was Mir Baqir Ali (1850?–1928), the last renowned storyteller of India in the twentieth century. He was born into a family of royal storytellers at a time when Hoshruba was at the peak of its popularity. But in the 1920s, when he was in his last years, Mir Baqir Ali was unable to find an audience for his art. He privately published some stories for children to make a living, but failed. In the end, he gave up and made a living selling betel leaves. He breathed his last a year after Mirza Alimuddin’s death. A sample of Mir Baqir Ali’s storytelling method and glimpses of his last days were preserved in a literary sketch in Dilli Ki Chand Ajib Hastiyan by Ashraf Subuhi Dehlvi.
The Hoshruba history would be incomplete without the mention of the Pakistani painter Ustad Allah Bakhsh (1895–1978), who captured the magic and dense storytelling of Hoshruba in his glorious painting Tilism-e Hoshruba. This painting hangs in the Lahore Museum.
Without Jah and Qamar – two of Urdu’s greatest prose writers – the hoax created by Mir Ahmed Ali and storytellers in his generation may not have received such wide acclaim. This tale, with its imaginative scope, poetic delicacy, ornate presentation, and metaphor-rich language, became the pride of Urdu literature because of these men. They will always be remembered as two of Urdu’s greatest benefactors. Their ghosts, finally free of their professional rivalries, together might even be constructing a tilism of their own – on a much larger scale than Hoshruba. And we can be sure that Qamar’s part of the tilism will be completed long before Jah ever reaches the halfway mark.
But these are not the only ghosts. Others have also made their presence known. In 2005, an Indian historian, Mahmood Farooqui, began studying the cultural history of the dastans and became interested in dastan narration. Farooqui and Himanshu Tyagi collaborated to start dastan narration from Hoshruba. Later, Danish Husain joined Farooqui as his partner. Their performances were held in both India and Pakistan and attracted a large following. Then, one day in 2006, the Indian historian Shahid Amin, told Farooqui of two short, crackling audio recordings of someone’s voice, which he had recently discovered in the British Library. They belonged to the last famous dastan narrator, Mir Baqir Ali. These three-minute recordings were made in Delhi in 1920 as a part of the Linguistic Survey of India records. One recording was a rendering of the tale of the Prodigal Son, which all native speakers had to record for that project. Mir Baqir Ali was unable to finish the tale because his narration exceeded the short duration of the 78-rpm disk and had to be ended abruptly. The other recording was a short dastan of a foolish young nobleman who wishes to visit his in-laws and encounters countless obstacles on the way.
Mir Baqir Ali’s ghost has resurfaced eight decades after his death, to say thank-you to someone who had renewed his tradition.