History ... page 9
The tricksters’ mastery of the art of disguise plays a crucial role in their success. Sometimes their change of disguise from one person to another occurs so rapidly and in such complex mixes that it seems the creators of Hoshruba are playing a literary thimble-rig with the reader. Perhaps this was the contribution of the storyteller Muhammad Amir Khan, who was the trickster expert.
It is true that magic does not have any effect on Amar Ayyar’s holy gifts – an inheritance from The Adventures of Amir Hamza legend – but equally, Amar Ayyar is also proscribed by a code of tricksters against using holy gifts to kill sorcerers. Even when Amar Ayyar uses his holy gifts, he employs them to aid his tricks or in self defense. This is another symbolic way in which Hoshruba neutralizes the influences from the Adventures of Amir Hamza legend where these devices were used directly. It can be said that throughout the fantasy, the focus has shifted from divine help to human resourcefulness.
Mir Ahmed Ali and other Indian storytellers had brought about a fundamental shift in the approach to storytelling. They made the Indo-Islamic dastan a completely new strain within the dastan genre. This dazzling uniqueness was one of the reasons for Hoshruba’s widespread appeal and popularity.
The second volume of Hoshruba came out in 1884. There was a delay of four years before the third volume was published in 1888–89. Considering the popularity of Hoshruba, the Naval Kishore Press hurried Jah, demanding that he finish the subsequent volumes speedily.
But Jah was in deep trouble. Merging the three accounts of the different storytellers and simultaneously composing his own version was difficult enough. At the same time, he was devastated by the deaths of his young son and daughter, which happened while he wrote the third volume. For a while he even stopped writing. He resumed at the encouragement of his publisher. He shares his trauma with his readers by duly incorporating the entire episode in verse in the Hoshruba narrative.
After he finished the fourth volume in 1890, or perhaps a little before that, the publisher informed Jah that he would be relieved of the responsibility of writing the three remaining volumes. Someone else had been hired to finish the project more quickly.
The fourth volume has no last words by the author, which was customary. Jah had surrendered the manuscript on an unhappy note, and it was little wonder. His replacement for the Hoshruba project was his rival storyteller, Ahmed Husain Qamar.
Here was a man with a nicely checkered past. According to his own account, his family participated in the 1857 Mutiny against the East India Company forces. Two of his brothers died in the fighting. Qamar survived and was cleared of the charge of mutineering but because he was not yet of age, he could not lay claim to his estate, which was confiscated by the government. He studied law and became an agent at one of the local courts but when he appeared for the confirmation examination, the old charge of participating in the mutiny was dug up and quoted as a reason for his disqualification. Around that time, Qamar became interested in storytelling and took it up as a profession.
Qamar took up the Hoshruba project where Jah had left off. After making a few self-important remarks about how he would have been the best choice to write the four earlier volumes as well, he got down to work. But just as he was getting started, and with great fanfare, a piece of news arrived that completely marred his happiness.
Apparently Jah’s work on Hoshruba was close to his heart. He was not willing to give up without a fight. In the December of 1889, the same year Hoshruba was taken away from him, he played his hand by founding his own press and privately publishing the first part of the fifth volume of Hoshruba, with the promise of more – a lot more – to follow.
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