A bandoned by fate and fortune, a storyteller finds himself at an isolated casbah, a day’s ride from the city of Delhi. When a Begum invites him to stay and tell a story, the storyteller narrates the story of Ahmed Shah Abdali, who in the 1700s looted and devastated Delhi. The great city had been brought to its knees and then brutalised again and again.
In a village nearby lived a girl who gives birth to an illegitimate child. Her father is killed by the perpetrator of the crime and she escapes with her son to the forest. In the forest, a wolf’s cub comes near and the girl feeds him along with her own child. Once she goes out in search of food and enters deep into the forest. The wolf saves his half-brother’s life by fighting attacking dogs. In the process he gets hurt. On hearing some sounds, she is reminded of her son left in the open and she rushes home. When the girl on her return sees blood on the wolf’s mouth, she thinks he has killed her son and axes him to death, crying, “Oh, how you have betrayed me!”
The Begum is provoked into responding with a story about an Amir, who loves his wife intensely but she dies on giving birth to their son, Aresh. Amir needs a wet-nurse and comes to know of a woodcutter whose wife also has delivered a son, Barab. Amir tells the woodcutter to bring up his son along with his own. On growing up, Amir sends his son to his cousin’s home at Yasurat to be trained as a merchant, while he sends Barab to join the army.
Aresh take lessons from the magistrate and one day the magistrate’s wife tries to seduce Aresh. He spurns her attention, but she in anger tears off her clothes to make it appear as a case of molestation. Aresh is put in prison. He receives a letter with a dagger from his brother Barab who is not happy with his own life as a soldier. He waits for Aresh and the latter makes his way out of prison by fighting the guards. Both the brothers are happy to be united.
Using evocative prose and imagery, the author explores the delicate nature of human relationship, demonstrating there is more than one way of looking at life – that no story is ever just that, or ever truly finished.
(Penguin Books India Pvt Ltd, 11, Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi-110017.)