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Saturday, January 05, 2008

A part of Indian history that most of us have forgotten

William Dalrymple (of City of Djinns fame) has a book review in The New York Times of a book named The Adventures of Amir Hamza. This book appears to be an epic that was transmitted and embellished in the muslim world, and particularly took root in India. I was surprised and embarassed that I had not heard of The Adventures of Amir Hamza before. Apparently I am not alone, the book seems to have died down in the public consciousness. This new translation as done by the Pakistani-Canadian scholar Musharraf Ali Farooqi, who has worked off Urdu editions from 1855 and 1871, and come up with a 948-page version. As Dalrymple says:

To read The Adventures of Amir Hamza is to come as close as is now possible to the world of the Mughal campfire those night gatherings of soldiers, sufis, musicians and hangers-on that one sees illustrated in Mughal miniatures, a storyteller beginning his tale in a clearing of a forest as the embers of the blaze glow red and the eager faces crowd around.

It sounds fascinating; it reminds me of the oral tradition that led up to the Mahabharata. Ashok Desai once said to me that the reason these epics are so much fun is a process of natural selection where the most quirky stories tend to survive across time. This is the opposite of the modern Internet where every dull paragraph is faithfully archived forever!

1 comment:

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