The universe has a way of creating synchronous moments that are mythic, modern, and a little bit hilarious. On the same day about a week ago, I encountered two very different stories -- but about the same subject -- the lore of jinns and augurs. One was a splendid original short story from Pakistani author Musharraf Ali Farooqi, and the other a very peculiar newspaper article from the Wall Street Journal about Iran's current president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
I have written a number of posts in the past (here, here, and here) about Musharraf Ali Farooqi for his terrific work translating The Hoshruba, an incredible Indian epic (inspired by the Persian tale "The Adventures of Amir Hamza") that tells of the adventures of rival Jinns and Sorcerers who battle for control of magic territories. It is a dense, elaborate work with a huge cast, dizzying plot threads, alternative worlds, battles between magical creatures, betrayals, and love affairs. This time, Ali Farooqi gives us an original fantastic short story about the "Jinn Darazgosh, A Fable Relating How the Curiosity of a Jinn Led to the Usual Unhappy Results and Brought About the Closure of the Heavens Upon His Race." The story is pleasantly complicated, woven from multiple strands as the Jinn Darazgosh learns the secret of God's plans (by eavesdropping on the "bovine-faced" angels of heaven) but reveals only part of the plans to his master, the augur Sarob, who advises the King about the future. It is a lovely knot of a story, tightly woven and great fun -- and available for e-readers for a mere $0.99.***
But on the same day I received and read this story, I also encountered this article in the WSJ: "Rough Spell For Iranian Politics: President's Staff Accused of Sorcery." It appears President Ahmadinejad has been seeking advice on Iran's political future from his local sorcerer, Seyed Sadigh, who consults first with the Jinn of America, the Jinn of Israel, and the Jinn of Iran before giving his sage advice.
The descriptions of the augur/sorcerer of the two stories sounds almost like the same man: "Sarob, the augur, lived in a dark cave by a swamp in the land of Bilman. He was as old as the oldest tree in the land, and had become shriveled and bent with age," and in modern day Iran, Sadigh is described thusly: "In a small leafy village outside of Isfahan, a 67-year-old sorcerer with thinning hair and deep wrinkles deploys his supernatural powers in service of Iran's government."
While it is fun to compare these two stories, the modern one has a darker finish that should not be ignored. "Mr. Sadigh's work with government officials comes as his profession is at the center of a controversy that threatens to bring down Mr. Ahmadinejad's administration. Since late April, more than two dozen officials in the president's inner circle have been arrested on charges of practicing sorcery and black magic. The accusations are part of a larger struggle for power by conservative clerics and rival political factions." It's risky reviving these old traditions -- as well as relying on them for important political decisions. (Though it might explain a lot -- remember when it was declared that women exposing their breasts could cause earth quakes? Really...it sounds like something right out of The Hoshruba with its many voluptuous sorceresses)
***The Jinn Darazgosh is available in three different formats:
Art: Detail, Persian Miniature, Elephant Composite Ridden by a Genie with the Head of an Ibex, Mughal school, early seventeenth century. See the whole work here.