Prince Asad enters Hoshruba with a large army and great preparations but in no time he is stripped of all that paraphernalia and left standing with only the clothes on his back. It turns out that he is completely useless in the tilism. The trickster Amar Ayyar, his four trickster companions and their newfound friend, the rebel sorceress Mahrukh Magic-Eye, must make war on the Emperor of Hoshruba, Afrasiyab. Amir Hamza watches from the sidelines and periodically indulges in cosmetic battles with Laqa and his minions lest the audience forget they are listening to a story from the Amir Hamza cycle of tales. But in a symbolic manner, the story has gotten rid of the Amir Hamza legend as soon as Prince Asad is rendered ineffective upon entering Hoshruba. He will remain a figurehead with only a ceremonial presence.
Mir Ahmed Ali wanted to make Hoshruba the most sharp-clawed, shiny-scaled tale in the whole of the Amir Hamza cycle so he liberally poured in vicious sorceresses, nubile trickster girls, powerful wizards and dreaded monsters and stirred the tale with non-stop action. In that process, Mir Ahmed Ali transcended the whole business of legend making and created a fantasy – the first, the longest, and the greatest fantasy of the dastan genre.
It also influenced the elements used in Hoshruba from the Amir Hamza legend. Some of the familiar characters appeared in it in a more fantastic idiom. We see this when we compare two characters common to Emperor Akbar’s Amir Hamza illustrations and Hoshruba.
The first one is our giant friend Laqa. We remember his size and appearance from Emperor Akbar’s illustrations. Now we read a description of Laqa in Hoshruba: “For some time now, Amir Hamza was engaged in warfare with the false god Laqa, an eighty-five-foot-tall, pitch-black giant. His head was full of vanity and resembled the ruins of a palace dome, and his limbs were the size of giant tree branches.”
Mir Ahmed Ali knew better than anyone else in the world that in all matters giant, size mattered greatly. Anyone can see that the Laqa of the fantasy is a far handsomer giant than the Laqa of the legend. We salute the author for making him a pitch-black, false god besides, and for the whole palace-dome and giant-tree imagery.
The second character is Amir Hamza’s master trickster, Amar Ayyar. We meet him as well in Emperor Akbar’s illustrated story. In one illustration he is blithely kicking an enemy trickster. In another place he is setting fire to a dragon with naphtha. In both illustrations, Amar Ayyar is shown to be thin. Except for this relative slimness, he is indistinguishable from other soldiers in Amir Hamza’s army.
Now we read Amar Ayyar’s fantastic description in Hoshruba: “…a head like a dried gourd, eyes the size of cumin seeds, ears like apricots, cheeks resembling bread cake, a neck that was thread-like, and limbs akin to rope. His lower body measured six yards and upper body three.”
Some of this marvellous detail could also be the natural result of hundreds of years of exaggeration through oral retelling, but it is equally likely that in the world of Hoshruba, exaggeration was employed, not only to create an enlarged picture of an event but also to provide one that was fantastic.
While the world of Hoshruba was fantastic, its details were not alien to its audience. Mir Ahmed Ali had modelled them on the world he knew best – the Lucknow of nineteenth century India. It was one of the centres of Indo-Islamic culture and civilization. The details of dress, food, etiquette and daily life in Hoshruba were borrowed from that living model. In a few places, the material and fantasy worlds overlap, as when we encounter Lucknow’s iconic architectural landmarks in the tale.
Mir Ahmed Ali’s story was ready but it could hardly be launched without an “original author.” In the world of the Indian storytellers, glory came from association. It had always been fashionable for the storytellers to attribute their stories to the most prestigious past sources. Since Emperor Akbar’s court had patronized it, Mir Ahmed Ali deemed the emperor’s poet-laureate Faizi (1547-1595) the best candidate to be touted as the “original author” of Hoshruba.