Posts Tagged ‘Sir. Richard F. Burton’

Sir.Rchard Francis Burton in the autumn of 1852 approached the Royal Geographical Society and offered his services to visit the Central and Eastern regions of Arabia. In his time these areas were left blank since no one had systematically mapped it. Considering the dangers it entailed he was allowed instead a three year leave of absence on special duty from India to Muscat. To smoothen the disappointment of turning down his request his superiors added one more year furlough to pursue his Arabic studies in lands where the language was best learned.
Al-Hijaz was the most difficult and the most dangerous point by which a European can enter Arabia. He had intended,
to cross the unknown Arabian Peninsula, in a direct line from either Al-Madinah to
Muscat, or diagonally from Meccah to Makallah on the Indian Ocean. Another object of undertaking this visit was to find out if any market for horsescould be opened between Central Arabia and India, where the studs were falling in standard. Burton found on the Eastern regions some specimen worth looking into and nothing on the Western, where the
animals, though thorough-bred, were ‘weeds’ and at exorbitant prices. Another reason that took him there was to obtain information concerning the Great Eastern wilderness, Rub’a
al-Khai (the “Empty Abode”) in the West; to inquire into the
hydrography of the Hijaz, its water-shed, the disputed slope of the
country, and the existence or non-existence of perennial streams; and
finally, to try, by actual observation, the truth of a theory proposed
by Colonel W. Sykes, and verify the common origin of
the Arab family.
Burton’s foray into the Peninsula led him to believe there were three distinct races.
1. The aborigines of the country, driven into the eastern and south-eastern wilds bordering upon the
ocean. 2. A Syrian or Mesopotamian stock, typified by Shem and Joktan, that drove the aborigines mentioned first; these
invaders now represent the true and proper Arabian people.
Thirdly an impure Syro-Egyptian clan-we personify it by Ishmael, by his son Nabajoth, and by Edom.
Burton’s noted as follows regarding the simple act of drinking between an Indian Moslem and an Englishman.
‘For what polite Chesterfield says of the difference between a gentleman and his reverse-namely, that both perform the same
offices of life, but each in a several and widely different way-is notably as applicable to the manners of the Eastern as of the Western man. Look, for instance, at that Indian Moslem drinking a glass of water. With us the operation is simple enough, but his performance includes no fewer than five novelties. In the first place he clutches his tumbler as though it were the throat of a foe; secondly, he ejaculates, “In the name of Allah the Compassionate, the Merciful!”before wetting his lips; thirdly, he imbibes the contents, swallowing them, not sipping them as he ought to do, and ending with a satisfied
grunt; fourthly, before setting down the cup, he sighs forth, “Praise be to Allah”-of which you will understand the full meaning in the Desert; and, fifthly, he replies, “May Allah make it pleasant to thee!”
in answer to his friend’s polite “Pleasurably and health!” Also he is careful to avoid the irreligious action of drinking the pure element in a standing position, mindful, however, of the three recognised exceptions, the fluid of the Holy Well Zemzem, water distributed in charity, and that which remains after Wuzu, the lesser ablution.
Moreover, in Europe, where both extremities are used indiscriminately, one forgets the exclusive use of the right hand, the manipulation of the rosary, the abuse of the chair,-your genuine Oriental gathers up his legs, looking almost as comfortable in it as a sailor upon the back of a high-trotting -the rolling gait with the toes straight to the
front, the grave look and the habit of pious ejaculations’.(selected:Pilgimage to Meccah and Al-Medinah)


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A Brahmin had three sons. One day the father wanted to carry out a sacrifice and prayers to please his ancestors.
For this purpose he sent his three sons to bring him a turtle. The sons went to the beach and found a turtle. The eldest son deputed his brother to carry the turtle saying, “ My fine sense of smell cannot endure touching the slimy creature.”
“Aha,” replied the middle son, “ I am much more sensitive than you. Especially in matters of the opposite sex.” The two brothers then agreed that the youngest son would haul the marine creature. But the youngest son said,”No way! I cannot go anywhere near the creature. I am so sensitive especially in bed”. Each son was sure that in matters of delicate sensibility he surpassed others.
They took the matter to the king and the king said he would put them to test.
The king prepared a feast for them and said the dishes were prepared with six different flavors and were the work of his master chef.
The eldest son refused to touch any saying the wheat smelt of corpse. The king sent for his chef who, after checking the fields where wheat grew, said the fields carried indeed corpses. The king marveled at this.
The king sent a woman fabled for beauty and her finicky manners to warm the bed of the second son. The son leant over to kiss her and turned away his head in disgust. He told the king that he could not enthuse himself to appreciate the king’s gift because she smelt of goat.
The king called the girl’s mother to check and she replied that she was brought up in the house of a goatherd and drank nothing but goat’s milk. The king was amazed at the sensitivity of the son.
The youngest son was given a bed with seven mattresses filled with petals. For fear of chafing the skin the king had all the stalks of the flowers removed.
Next morning the youngest son came bleary eyed to announce that he could not sleep a wink.
“I was awakened by a strand of hair, so seems to me.” He grumbled.
The king ordered his servants to check and indeed there was an offending hair on the bottom most mattress.
On reading the youngest son’s case one is struck by the Hans Christian Anderson’s story, The Princess and the Pea. I would not say the Danish master story teller had consciously lifted the story but the truth that we share a common past too long buried to make any story as new. There is nothing new under the sun as far as stories are concerned.
The above story figures in the 46th chapter Al-Mas’udi’s Meadows of Gold and Mines of Gems-AD.943.
There exists a much older version, in a compilation of stories written in Sanskrit, ‘Twenty-five Tales of a Vampire.’ Similar stories are found in Tamil and Hindi not to mention variations stretching as far as Hungary and Siberia. Sir. Richard Burton has given an analogous story from Turkey (History of the 40 Vazirs-The Lady’s fourth story). The motif of these can be summed up as follows: “All things return to their origin. ” We make stories to fit our times, tastes and understanding; of this culture modifies the source to give it a particular slant.

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The Elder Brother


Tales From One Thousand and One Night

Currently I am illustrating the stories from Burton’s classic.
It is a venture I have tried earlier in the 70s and 80s.
The illustrations are taken from the first episode titled The Tale of Two brothers from which rest of the tales evolve. Perhaps I may be able to collect them all into a series of graphic books. Richard Burton’s translation is in 16 volumes and the stories are on a grand scale with wealth of characters and locales to put off any one who hopes to complete the project in a lifetime. Well I shall never know unless I give it a try.
The first illustration shows King Shahriar, the misogynous elder brother.

Second is titled Two Brothers Meet and the last one shows Shaherazad On Her First Night.

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