The Water of Life
Sadeq Hedayat

translated by
Kazem Tehrani

edited by
Iraj Bashiri

copyright 1995, 1999

Once upon a time there was a cobbler who had three sons: Hassani the Hunchback, Hosseini the Bald and Ahmadak. Hassani, the oldest, was a prayer-writer and a crowd-rouser. Hosseini, the second son, was a jack of all trades and master of none. Sometimes he hauled water, sometimes he shoveled snow, but mostly he just wandered around. Ahmadak, the youngest, who had already established a direction to his life, was the favorite of his father. He worked as an apprentice in a perfume and spice shop. At the end of each month, he brought home his wages and gave them to his father. The older sons, who did not have steady jobs and whose hands were always out for help from their father, could not bear the sight of Ahmadak.

It so happened that famine fell upon their city. One day the cobbler called his sons together and said, "As you know, scarcity and inflation have hit the city and my business is not going well. You are adults now; Ahmadak, my youngest, is already fifteen. Each of you must go and earn his own way. Learn a trade and start a business. Don't worry about me. I'll stay here, and I'm sure I'll survive. If a time should come when you are doing very well, fine; let me know. Otherwise, you can come back to me, and we will find a morsel somewhere and eat together. May God be with you!"

The sons answered, "Yes, father, by all means, we understand."

The cobbler gave each a loaf of rough bread and a jug of water, kissed him, and sent him on his way.

The three brothers set out. As long as they had light to see by and strength in their knees, they traveled until finally, exhausted, they arrived at a crossroads. They sat down under an elm tree to rest. Ahmadak was so tired that he fell asleep. Because Ahmadak was more capable than they, the older brothers envied him and feared he would become an obstacle in their path. They looked at each other and said, "Why don't we just get rid of him?"

So they tied Ahmadak's arms behind his back, dragged him away and threw him into a long, dark cave. Ahmadak begged, but they would not listen. They brought a big boulder and blocked the entrance to the cave. They sprinkled pigeon's blood on Ahmadak's shirt and gave it to a passing caravan for delivery to their father with the message that Ahmadak had been torn apart by wolves. They continued on their way until they reached a fork in the road. After they drew lots, one set out on the road toward the east; the other toward the west.

Hassani the Hunchback traveled on until all his bread and water were gone. At sunset, he found himself in a forest; in the distance he saw a blue flame. He walked towards it and saw that it was a witch's hut. He greeted the old woman sitting there saying, "Good woman! For God's sake have pity on me. I am a stranger with no relatives. Give me a place to stay tonight. I am exhausted from hunger and thirst."

The old woman replied, "Who on earth would take in a guest like you; hunchbacked, a transient, a bum? However, I feel sorry for you; if you promise to do some work for me, I will take care of you."

"Of course, I am ready to do anything you ask," Hassani answered hastily.

"Behind my house there is a dry well. And a candle with an undying blue flame is at the bottom of that well. Bring this candle out."

The old woman gave Hassani some bread and water and then took him behind the hut. There she put him into a basket and lowered him into the well. At the bottom of the well, Hassani picked up the candle and signaled the old woman to pull him up. She pulled but, as soon as the basket reached the top of the well, she reached out to take the candle. Hassani, suspicious, said, "No, wait a minute. Let me hand the candle to you as soon as I step onto the ground."

Infuriated, the old woman let go of the rope, and Hassani fell to the bottom of the well--plop! Now he wasn't hurt and the candle was still burning, but what use was it to him, since he realized he must die in the well? He began to think and after a while he took a pipe out of his pocket saying, "My last possession in this world!" Then he lit the pipe with the blue flame of the candle and took a few puffs. Soon the well filled with smoke and Hassani saw a little genie, dark and dwarfed, standing before him in a servile posture.

"What can I do for you?" the genie asked.

"What are you? Are you a genie, a spirit, or a human being?" Hassani asked in amazement.

"I am your humble slave."

"Well, first help me get out of here. Then I want some money and some means of living."

The little genie hoisted Hassani on his back and carried him up out of the well; then said, "If you desire money and a means of living, here is the way. Go to a city in this direction; there you will prosper, but as long as you can, avoid the city called the Elixir of Life!"

So saying, the genie pointed in one direction. Hassani was confused, and the candle fell out of his hand back into the well. He looked and saw that, like water sinking into the earth, the genie, too, had vanished.

Traveling in the dark, Hassani followed the path that the genie had shown him. At the crack of dawn he arrived at a city beside a river and soon discovered that all the people there were blind.

Sitting down by the river, he splashed a handful of water onto his face and drank a handful. Then he asked a blind person nearby, "Hey, sir, where am I?"

"Don't you know!" the man answered. "This is the Country of Glittering Gold!"

"For God's sake," Hassani said. "I am a stranger here. I come from a remote city. I'm lost. Will you give me something to eat?"

The man replied, "Here we don't give things for free. Give me a handful of sand from the river; then I will give you some bread."

Hassani thrust his hand into the river sand and found that it was gold dust. He was delighted. He gave a handful to the man who gave him some bread. He ate the bread, then filled his pockets with gold dust and continued his journey to the city.

Upon arriving, Hassani saw it was a big city, built dome upon dome like sheepfolds. Because they were blind, the inhabitants lived either in the crevasses of caves or under these domes. They did not distinguish night from day and there was not a lamp to be seen in the city. Government announcements and edicts were printed in raised characters on cardboard posters. All the people were dirty, wore badly cut clothing and had swollen eyes and depressing expressions; they squirmed like entangled worms.

"Excuse me," Hassani asked one. "Why are the people here blind?"

The man answered, "The soil of this country is mixed with gold, and this special property blinds the eye. We are expecting a prophet who will come and cure our eyes. Even though we are rich and powerful, we do not have the sight of our eyes. We would rather be poor but able to see the world. Thus, stricken with shame, we have remained in the corner of our city."

Hassani, who was used to sponging off others, said to himself, "It would be easy to deceive and exploit these people. What harm would it do if I were to become their prophet?" So he climbed up onto a pulpit in a corner of the square and cried, "Hail, people! Know that I am the promised prophet, and I come from God to bring you good tidings. Because God wanted to test you, he took away your sight so that you can search more intensely and by acquiring insight can reach the Truth. Knowing yourself is knowing God. Everywhere, from the beginning to the end, the world is full of devilish temptations, idle imaginings and superstitions. As they say, what the eyes see, the heart desires. Thus you, who do not see, are free from devilish temptations; you live happily and contentedly and can endure any misfortune. So be patient and give proper thanks to God who has given you this great gift! This base world is temporary and transient; the other world is permanent and eternal. I have come to guide you there."

Hundreds of people followed and trusted him, and each day, in order to advance his own affairs, Hassani delivered long orations about genies, spirits, the Day of Judgment, paradise, hell, fate, predestination, the pressure of the grave and other things of this nature. They published his speeches in raised letters on cardboard posters and distributed them among the people. It wasn't long before all the inhabitants of the Country of Glittering Gold came to believe in him.

In the past, the people had revolted several times. They wanted to be cured and refused to work at washing gold. But Hassani the Hunchback was able to convince them to work; in this manner the rich and the powerful earned enormous profits. Hassani's fame spread far and near and soon he became an intimate favorite at the court of the King of the Blind.

Meanwhile, he ordered all the inhabitants to collect gold and each worker was bound at the waist to a chain from his door to the river bank. Every day before sunrise a bell rang and scores of people, group by group, went to wash gold. At sunset, they handed over their earnings for the day and, clutching their chains, they groped and staggered their way home. Drinking and smoking opium had become their only recreation. Because no one planted and harvested the land, they had to buy their grain, opium, and liquor from neighboring countries with the gold they washed from the river. Thus the land became barren and lay fallow. Filth and disease were rampant.

Hassani's eyes, too, were soon affected by the gold dust, and he became blind. But, in his greed, he never tired of collecting gold. Day by day, like growing onions, Hassani's schemes took deeper root, and his wealth and power grew in the Kingdom of the Blind. Raised likenesses of Hassani were hung on the walls of the houses.

Finally, Hassani began to wear a pair of very beautiful artificial eyes. But to compensate for this infirmity, he slept on a golden couch and ordered his servants to cover his hunched back with a golden blanket. He drank wine from golden goblets and smoked opium with a golden pipe. In his bathroom he used golden pitchers to wash himself. Each night they brought him a concubine. Hassani thanked God that, after all the suffering and hardship he had endured, he had finally achieved his heart's desire.

His father, brothers, former life and even his father's last request had completely left his mind. He occupied himself only with luxury, pleasure and ostentation.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Let's leave Hassani here and see what happened to his bald brother. Hosseini, stumbling, falling and getting up, set out on the road toward the east. He traveled a long way, finally reaching a forest where, dead tired, he lay down at the foot of a tree and fell asleep. Just before dawn he heard three crows conversing high in the tree, "Sister, are you sleeping?" one asked.

"No, I'm awake," the second crow answered.

The third asked, "Sister, what fresh news do you have?"

"Oh, if men knew the things we know," the first crow remarked. "The king of the Kingdom of Shining Moon is dead. Because there is no successor, they will fly a falcon tomorrow, and the person on whose head it lands will become king."

"Who do you think will become king?" asked the second crow.

"The man who has been sleeping at the foot of this tree," replied the first, "but only if when he enters the city he pulls a sheep's stomach over his head. Then the falcon will come and land on it. When the people see that he is a foreigner, they will not accept him at first but will imprison him. He must open the window of his cell; then the falcon will come through the window and land again on his head."

"Absurd!" cawed the third crow. "King of the land of the deaf!"

"Do you know the cure for their deafness?" asked the second crow.

"The Elixir of Life," said the third. "But if the Elixir of Life is administered to the people and their ears are opened, they will no longer carry the yoke of their masters. The owners of the bodies hanging from this tree tried to cure the people's deafness." Then the crows cawed and cawed and flew away.

Opening his eyes, Hosseini saw two bodies hanging from the tree. Terrified, he got up and fled. On the way he found a kid that had strayed from its herd. He grabbed the kid, beheaded it, took out the stomach, pulled it over his head and continued on his way. Near sunset he arrived at a big city in uproar. In his heart he was delighted and, before entering the city, he stopped in some ruins nearby. He saw a hunting falcon high in the sky. Suddenly it swooped down, alighted on his head, and grasped his head in its talons.

Cheering, the people of the city rushed toward him and lifted him overhead. But as soon as they realized he was a foreigner, they seized him, threw him in a cell and locked the door. Hosseini went to the window and opened it. Two more times the falcon flew to a height, then came through the window to alight on his head. Again the people rushed to him. But this time they seated him in a four-horse golden coach and, with full ceremony, carried him to a magnificent palace. They gave him a luxurious bath, clothed him in magnificent outfits and costly, dignified cloaks. Then they seated him on a throne inlaid with jewels and put a crown on his head.

Hosseini was nearly bursting with delight. While he looked around in amazement, a magnificently clothed blind man came forward, kissed the ground and said, "Oh, my Lord, long live the King. I am your slave and, on behalf of all those present, I greet you."

Clearing his throat and puffing out his chest, Hosseini spoke in an imperious voice, "Who are you?"

"Long live the King! The people of this country are all deaf and dumb. I am a foreigner, one of the merchants from the Kingdom of Glittering Gold, and I have been delegated to convey to your Presence the welcoming formalities."

"Where am I?"

"This is called the Kingdom of Shining Moon," the interpreter said.

"On my behalf," Hosseini said, "go to the people and give them assurances that We are always thinking of them and We hope that, under the shadow of Our reign, the means for their comfort will be provided."

As the foreigner began to say, "Your Majesty, due to the intended goodness..." Hosseini interrupted, cutting him off with, "Tell them to go and tend to their work and you, too, quit talking so much. Do you hear? Have our dinner prepared!"

The blind merchant pointed toward the major domo. Then everyone bowed fawningly and departed through the door. The major domo came forward, bowed and pointed toward another room. Then he backed out. Hosseini stood up, yawned, smiled and said to himself, "What do these baldies think I am!? Am I their puppet? I'll teach them never to forget that they are the puppets and that I pull the strings."

Then he entered the other room along the length of which was spread a long cloth covered with an arrangement of many-colored foods. Hosseini danced with glee around this spread and ravenously stuffed himself with different foods as fast as he could, one on top of the other. He gobbled up a turkey, then drank down cups of churned milk and juice one after another. Then he retired to his bedchamber.

The next day Hosseini awoke around noon and held court. All the ministers, commanders, court clowns, noblemen, aristocrats, ambassadors and merchants lined up to greet him. They came forward in groups, bowed and then arranged themselves in a line along the wall. By movements of their hands and eyes and the expressions of their faces, they humbled themselves and professed servitude to him. If the Imperial Signature were needed for an important matter or urgent order, they embossed a memorandum on a pad they carried and thus brought the matter to Hosseini's attention. Since he was illiterate, Hosseini chose as his Minister of the Right Hand and Minister of the Left Hand two blind merchants from Glittering Gold so he could verbally give orders to them and let them, as ministers, worry about how to transmit them.

Thus the people heaped flattery upon Hosseini and went beyond all bounds to abase themselves before him. These flatterers, poets, learned people, clowns and those close to the throne fawned on him, extolling him as a shadow of God even God on earth, so that, little by little, Hosseini became fat and arrogant and forgot who he really was. He felt himself so infallible that no one dared to approach him even with the simplest fact--not even that there were eyebrows above his eyes. Soon he established a policy of unwarranted seizure and imprisonment enforced by his severe and brutal police force; the people began to feel fed up with the harassment. The inhabitants of the Kingdom of Shining Moon were forced to cultivate opium and distill strong liquor to be exchanged for gold from the Kingdom of Glittering Gold. Hosseini and his associates embezzled the money received from the trade while the people lived in poverty. Little by little, the disease of blindness spread from Glittering Gold to Shining Moon and deafness traveled from Shining Moon to Glittering Gold. Hosseini's ears became dulled and finally deaf. With his many companions of court clowns, flatterers and blind merchants, he was so occupied with feasting and drinking that the thought of his father and brothers completely vanished from his mind. He, too, forgot his father's request.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Let's leave Hosseini here and see what has happened to Ahmadak. Ahmadak, with his arms tied, lay unconscious in the cave. Toward morning, a weak light crept into the cave through the crack along the boulder blocking the entrance, and he suddenly realized that someone had seized his arms and was shaking him. Opening his eyes, he saw a gigantic dervish who, wearing a mustache from ear to ear, was standing over him.

"What are you doing here?" the dervish demanded.

Ahmadak recounted his adventures to him--how his father had sent his three sons in search of a living and how his two brothers had brought this calamity upon him. The dervish untied Ahmadak's arms and brought him food. Ahmadak ate and then said to him, "Thank you, but now I would like to go to my brothers and help them."

"The time for that has not come yet," the dervish replied, "because you will unnecessarily reveal yourself and thus be betrayed. If you believe what is in your heart, go to the Land of Eternal Spring. There you will find the Elixir of Life which will enable you to save others."

"Where is the road?"

"I'll show you. The Elixir of Life is behind Mount Qaf."

The dervish then took a reed flute from the corner of the cave and gave it to Ahmadak, saying, "Let this be a keepsake from me!"

Ahmadak 'took the flute, put it in his inside breast pocket, and together they emerged from the cave. The dervish took Ahmadak to the source of the three roads and pointed to the third, which was very rocky and bumpy. Ahmadak bade him goodbye and set out.

He traveled and traveled, playing his flute as he walked. Birds and wild animals gathered around him. As noon approached, he arrived at the base of an old sycamore tree and said to himself, "I'll nap here and then set out again."

He fell asleep immediately. Soon a rustling sound awakened him and looking up, he saw a huge dragon climbing the tree toward some baby birds in a nest.

As the dragon drew near, the chicks began to cry and shriek and Ahmadak realized the monster was about to devour them. He jumped up, grabbed a rock and threw it at the dragon, striking the beast in the head. The dragon thundered to the ground fatally wounded. What Ahmadak did not know was that each year, when the Great Bird, Simorgh hatched its eggs and the time came for the chicks to fly from the nest, the dragon approached and stealthily devoured them. This year, too, he had appeared on schedule, but Ahmadak had intervened to rescue the infant birds.

Once the dragon lay dead, Ahmadak lay down and again fell asleep. Soon the Simorgh rose from the top of the mountain, bringing some food for her chicks to eat. Seeing Ahmadak dozing under the tree, she bethought herself, "That must be the very one who comes each year to devour my chicks; he must have come again this year for the same purpose. Now I can destroy him."

She flew back to the mountain, placed a large rock on her wing, and prepared to drop it on Ahmadak's head, but suddenly, understanding what their mother intended to do, the fledglings began to shout, flap their wings, and cry, "Stop, Mother! If this man had not been here and slain the dragon, it would have devoured us!"

The Simorgh heard their entreaty, flew off and dropped the rock far away. When she returned, she first gave food to her babies and then, opening her wings like an umbrella, she provided shade for Ahmadak so he might sleep in comfort. In the late afternoon when he awoke, the Simorgh said to him, "Young man, I am so very grateful. I will give you whatever you want from me. Tell me where you want to go."

"I want to go to the Land of Eternal Spring."

"It is very far away. Why do you want to go there?"

"To find the Elixir of Life so I can save my brothers."

"That is a very difficult task. But first pluck one of my feathers and always keep it with you! If a day and time should come when you need my help somehow, climb to a rooftop and immolate the feather. I will appear immediately and save you. Now come; sit on my wings."

The Simorgh perched on the ground and Ahmadak plucked a feather from her wing, concealing it in his clothing. Then he mounted her back and sat astride her wings, and together they rose into the air. When the Simorgh finally alighted, the sun was setting behind the summit of Mount Qaf. On the plain before Ahmadak loomed a large city with magnificent gates. The Simorgh bid him farewell and flew away.

As far as the eye could see, there were gardens, green and growing fields, and energetic people sowing and reaping. When not working, they played musical instruments or otherwise entertained themselves. The animals were not afraid of people. Gazelles grazed in tranquillity, and rabbits ate from the hand. Birds sang in the fruit-laden trees, which spread, branches entwined, in every direction.

Ahmadak plucked several succulent fruits and ate them. Then he went to a spring that bubbled up from the ground and splashed a handful of water on his face. Suddenly his vision became so clear that he could see the wind three miles distant. Then he drank a handful of water, and his hearing became so sharp he could hear the sound of mosquitoes sneezing. Ahmadak became so intoxicated and filled with life that he took out his flute and began to play a tune. He saw a flock of sheep scattered and spread over the slope of the mountain. They gathered about him, and their shepherdess came toward him like a ray of sunshine instructing the moon, "'Don't shine, I have appeared!"

With scented hair and pearl-like teeth, she followed her sheep. Ahmadak fell in love with her at first glance, not with one heart, but with a hundred, and he asked her, "Where am I?"

"This is the Land of Eternal Spring," the girl replied.

"I have come in search of the Elixir of Life," Ahmadak said. "Where is its source?"

"Everything is the Elixir of Life," the girl laughingly responded. "This Water does not have a special source."

Ahmadak thought for a while and finally said, "I feel ... as if I'm changed. Everything here is like a dream world. I would never have believed what I now see with my eyes."

"But from where do you come?" the girl asked.

When Ahmadak had related his adventures from beginning to end and told her he had come to get the Elixir of Life for his father and brothers, the girl took pity on him, saying, "The Elixir of Life does not have a special source. Only in the Kingdoms of the Blind and the Deaf do they give that name to the water here. If your brothers do not have the feeling of freedom, don't waste your time, because the Elixir of Life will be of no use to them."

"I think I may have made a mistake," Ahmadak replied. "I don't understand much of what you say. Everything here seems like a dream, and I'm really tired and worn out. I think I had better head for the city."

"You are a young man of good heart," observed the girl. "If you like, you may stay at our home and make it your own."

So she took Ahmadak home and introduced him to her mother.

" You are most welcome," the mother said. "Please be our guest and relax."

Ahmadak spent several days walking about the city. Day by day his love for the shepherdess grew. Soon, however, he grew tired of idleness and went to the girl's mother and said, "I want to find some work."

"What can you do?"

"Nothing special, but I have two arms. What work would you suggest?"

"Well, you choose the work according to your own ability."

Ahmadak thought, then said, "In my father's town I was an apprentice in a spice and perfume shop, and I am familiar with medicines."

"The pharmacy at the corner of our street is looking for an apprentice," the mother said. "If you like, go work there."

"Of course," Ahmadak replied. "What could be better?"

"Since you obviously are not lazy and are willing to work hard," the girl's mother continued, "you may live here with us if you like."

By day Ahmadak worked at the pharmacy, and in the evening he returned to the home of the shepherdess. Little by little he learned to read and write. He took care of the pharmacy customers and his life and affairs prospered. He even learned metal work and carpentry, because his father had advised him to learn a skilled trade. Then he gave a big banquet, and he and the shepherdess were married. Ahmadak lived a free and happy life with his wife and the friends he had made. His only sorrow was that he did not know what had happened to his father and brothers.

He waited anxiously for travelers to come to the Land of Eternal Spring and asked each one for news about his father and brothers. But none had any word until one day, after becoming friendly with one of the blind pharmacy customers from the Kingdom of Glittering Gold, he questioned him. "Bite your tongue. Don't blaspheme!" the blind man replied. "The one you are looking for is not 'Hassani the Hunchback'; he is our prophet. He came to our Kingdom of Glittering Gold a year ago and saved all of us who had lost our way and were suffering from blindness. It was a miracle! He comforted us, promised us paradise, and brought us out of our shame. Now we all wash gold for him with all our hearts and souls. He preaches to us and guides us. I have not come for a cure to my blindness but only to get a pair of artificial eyes. I don't trust this Elixir of Life here so I brought enough of our own water with me from the Kingdom of Glittering Gold," he said, pointing to a small sack hanging from his waist.

Ahmadak suddenly understood, realizing that the words of the dervish had been true. He didn't talk about it any more with the blind merchant, but he made inquiries of other people and learned that Hosseini was also robbing, plundering and killing the people in the Kingdom of Shining Moon where the lust for gold and material things had made all those unfortunate people deaf, speechless and captive. He felt sorry for his brothers and said to himself, "I must go and save them."

When the pharmacist came in, Ahmadak said to him, "Sir, I have worked for you for over a year, and since my arrival in this Land, I have come to understand the meaning of life and freedom. I was illiterate, but now I can read and write. I had no skills, but now I have learned several. I was blind and deaf, but now I can see and hear. Here I have learned the joy of breathing in an atmosphere of freedom and of working with pleasure. But I must fulfill a promise to my father. Therefore, I ask your permission to leave."

"I'm sorry you must, leave me!" the pharmacist replied. "But because you are a clever young man, and you've been such a good worker, I'd like to give you something. What would you like?"

"I'd like to have medicine to cure blindness and deafness," Ahmadak replied.

"Nothing could be easier," the pharmacist said. "Don't you know the water here is referred to as the Elixir of Life in the Kingdoms of Glittering Gold and Shining Moon, and this water is the cure for their blindness and deafness? Take a bottle of this water with you; with it you will cure all of them. But this work you wish to do is very dangerous, since the blind and deaf people are enemies of the Land of Eternal Spring and would like to kill us all because we do not worship gold and silver and we live freely. Were it not for the deafness and blindness of the people, Hosseini and Hassani could not maintain their power."

"That's hard to understand," Ahmadak mused. "I must go and save them."

"You are an intelligent young man. Perhaps you can. I won't stand in your way."

The pharmacist kissed Ahmadak, and they bade each other farewell. Then Ahmadak kissed his wife and child and set out for the Kingdom of Glittering Gold. He journeyed long until he reached the frontier of the Kingdom of Glittering Gold. Several blind guards, wearing suits of armor and helmets and carrying bows and arrows, were seated in a circle smoking opium. From the distance they shouted, "Who are you, stranger, and what have you come for?"

"I am a slave of God, and a gold merchant," Ahmadak yelled back, "and I have come to be converted to your new religion."

"Bravo!" cried one of the guards. "You're a good man. Welcome to the Kingdom of Glittering Gold."

When Ahmadak arrived at the first city of the Kingdom, he was shocked to discover that all the people were blind, dirty, ill and poor. They sat beside a deep trench by the river, tied with golden chains to their houses. These miserable huts were more like the burrows of animals. With callused hands and mud-stained arms they washed gold from morning until evening under the lash of the royal guards. The land lay uncultivated and neglected, the birds had flown away and the trees had withered. The people's only pleasure was in smoking opium and drinking. Ahmadak pitied them.

He took out his flute and played a tune he had learned in the Land of Eternal Spring. Soon a crowd had gathered around him. They offered him sacks filled with gold dust, and they bowed and prostrated themselves before him.

"I have no need of your gold." Ahmadak said. "Let me give you back your sight. I have come from the Land of Eternal Spring, and I have brought the Elixir of Life."

A clamor arose among them. Finally one group said they were ready to be cured. Ahmadak applied some of the elixir from his bottle to their eyes and immediately they could see. As their vision cleared and they saw the squalor of their existence for the first time, they turned in vengeance on the rich and powerful who had so cruelly enslaved them. They rent their chains, demonstrated in the streets and burned the speeches of Hassani published in the embossed type. Soon news of the rebellion arrived at the capital, where Hassani and the king received it with alarm--what had gone wrong? Then Hassani remembered the words of the demon in the well, "Abstain from the Elixir of Life."

Immediately Hassani and the king ordered the arrest of all who could see and especially that infidel who had come from the Land of Eternal Spring to lead the people astray. They also ordered that, as an example to the others, he should be dragged through the city and slowly burned alive. The town crier proclaimed in the streets and marketplace that any good and responsible citizen who captured Ahmadak and handed him over to the police would receive five gold mohurs.

It happened that the person who caught him was a deaf slave merchant from the Country of Shining Moon. When he saw that Ahmadak was a robust young man, he felt compassion for him, but his greed prevailed when he realized it would be possible to get much more than five gold mohurs for him. Thus he kept Ahmadak hidden and the next day took him to be sold at the slave market. By chance, another deaf merchant from Shining Moon admired Ahmadak and bought him for twenty gold mohurs. The following day that merchant took his prize and set out with his caravan for the Country of the Shining Moon.

On the way, Ahmadak saw that the caravan was carrying gold dust to Shining Moon and he learned that it also carried liquor flasks, opium pipes and golden chains from Shining Moon to Glittering Gold.

When they entered the Kingdom of Shining Moon and reached the first city, Ahmadak saw that here too the inhabitants were poor, miserable, tormented and trapped in their deafness. The city was isolated and dull and everyone was exploited by deaf, blind, stupid and rich landlords. Everywhere the fields were sown with poppies, and night and day smoke poured from the chimneys of the distilleries. There were no books, no newspapers, no musical instruments an there was no freedom. All the birds had flown away. He saw a group of deaf and speechless people toiling silently and unhappily under the lash of their foremen. Ahmadak's heart was heavy. He took out his flute and began to play a doleful tune. They looked at him with perplexity, but only a thin and dying camel came to listen.

Ahmadak felt sorry for these people, so he gave some of them the Elixir of Life to drink. Immediately their hearing was restored; they could talk and they began to understand. They poured the cargoes of gold into the river and, later that evening, they set fire to several distilleries and trampled the poppy-sown fields.

When the news of the uprising reached the capital, Hosseini the Bald was enraged and ordered that Ahmadak be arrested. Police and guards scoured the city and soon seized Ahmadak and threw him, chained, into jail. They decided to burn him slowly to death while dragging him through the streets and marketplace as an example to the people.

Ahmadak sat sadly in the corner of the dark dungeon, bewildered by his plight. Suddenly his cell door opened, and a prison guard carrying a bright lamp brought him food.

"Good man," Ahmadak said to him, "I know they are going to execute me tonight. Will you at least let me go up on the roof to say my prayers and repent?"

The deaf jailer paid no attention, but finally Ahmadak made him understand and the jailer took him to the rooftop. There Ahmadak brought forth the Simorgh's feather from his clothing and with the guard's lamp set fire to it. Suddenly the heavens thundered, the earth trembled, and from a cloud of smoke a huge bird appeared, snatched Ahmadak up onto her wings and, in a flash, was gone towards Mount Qaf.

The people of the Kingdom of Shining Moon were amazed. Runners in relays carried the news to the capital. When Hosseini heard it, he became so angry his blood froze. He realized this insurrection had come from the Land of Eternal Spring which was also trying to abolish the gold trade and sabotage his neighbors. And worst of all, Eternal Spring wanted the eyes and ears of the people reopened. Hosseini remembered the words of the three crows--he must abstain from the Elixir of Life if he wanted to rule. Now the Elixir of Life had been brought as a souvenir to his subjects.

Thus enraged, he declared war on the Land of Eternal Spring and secretly allied himself with the Kingdom of Glittering Gold. His factories were converted to production centers for the manufacture of gold spears, clubs, daggers, swords and bows and arrows. The army went on maneuvers.

Hassani the Hunchback in the Kingdom of Glittering Gold also made inflammatory speeches against the Land of Eternal Spring, arousing the people to fight. Finally he made a declaration of Holy War. On the same day, Hosseini the Bald appeared in a red uniform and issued a declaration stating, "We have always been desirous of the peace and well-being of the people. But for a long time now the Land of Eternal Spring has been interfering with and sabotaging our affairs and alienating our people. Last year they sent a measure of the Elixir of Life from their borders to our country. The year before last a cloud from the summit of Mount Qaf floated over and rained the Elixir of Life on a group of people here. Their eyes and ears were opened, they grew insolent and they had to be punished. It is we who should be interfering in their affairs, but instead they interfere in ours--the mouse is not nibbling on a sack of grain; instead the sack of grain is nibbling on the mouse! Absurd! This year Eternal Spring sent Ahmadak to us. They are clearly the aggressor. The Land of Eternal Spring and its people have always been the enemies of money. On the surface they appear to be our bosom friends, but secretly they plot to open the eyes and ears of our subjects, disturbing the peace and tranquillity of the world. We, together with the Kingdom of Glittering Gold, our neighbor and old friend, must uproot the intriguers and troublemakers, destroy the seed of this insurrection and annihilate the enemies of gold.

Long live blindness and deafness which open the way to paradise and eternal life for the people and ease the path to luxury and pleasure for us! We must destroy the enemy of gold."

Hosseini affixed the seal of his fingerprint to the bottom of the declaration.

Following Hosseini's order and Hassani's declaration of Holy War, the combined Kingdoms of Glittering Gold and Shining Moon attacked the Land of Eternal Spring by night. The blind and deaf armies invaded on all sides.

To prevent their soldiers from drinking or washing in the Elixir of Life, the warring kingdoms erected storage tanks in conquered cities, filling them with the worst fetid water for their soldiers to drink. Each soldier carried a leather flask of this putrid water with him at all times. This flask protected him, for if he lost it he was convicted of drinking the Elixir of Life and executed on the spot.

The Land of Eternal Spring had no warning of what was happening. Only the day before the neighboring ambassadors had encouraged friendship with them. They hastily assembled and equipped an army and sent it forth to meet the blind and deaf invaders as they swarmed like ants and locusts into the cities of Eternal Spring. The invaders killed, pillaged and plundered, reducing the cities to rubble. They forced opium, liquor and gold on the people and took them as slaves back to their own cities.

Ahmadak armed himself with bow and arrows and went to war. From where he lay in ambush, he could see that the commanders of the blind and deaf were sitting in pairs side by side so that the deaf could see for the blind and the blind could hear for the-deaf. Ahmadak took careful aim and pierced their water flasks with his arrows. Then by night, with several of his companions, eluding the blind and deaf guards who watched from the tower and the ramparts, he stealthily destroyed the water storage tanks, draining the armies' water supply.

The war dragged on, producing such a carnage that blood flowed and carried off the corpses. But the weapons of Glittering Gold and Shining Moon could not withstand the morally superior steel weapons of Eternal Spring and finally their armies scattered. Since their water tanks were destroyed, the invading armies had to drink Eternal Spring's Elixir of Life and their eyes and ears were opened. Now they realized what miserable lives they had been leading, mere instruments of a handful of stupid, deaf and blind moneylovers, deprived of even a whiff of life and freedom. They tore off their chains, killed their leaders and pledged unity with the inhabitants of Eternal Spring.

Then they returned to their own cities where they took revenge on Hassani the Hunchback and Hosseini the Bald and their mobsters who kept them enslaved to gold.

Ahmadak, with his wife and child, went to his father's house, where he applied the Elixir of Life to his father's eyes which had been blinded. The eyes cleared and Ahmadak, his father, his wife and his child lived happily ever after.

As they attained their wishes, may you too attain yours!

Our tale has come to an end, but the crow has not reached its home...

Sadeq Hedayat's Corner

Top of the page

Home | Courses