INTRODUCTION

As everybody nowadays is perfectly aware, a knowledge of the Persian language is practically a necessity for all sojourners in Mohammedan India. In the North-West, even more than Urdu, it is the lingua franca of the upper classes: it is the tongue spoken in the courts of the Believing Princes: it is the dialect alike of love and of literature: and its possession is a very talisman from Kabul to Yarkand.

As a subaltern stationed at R…P…, though in a British Regiment, I found it my first duty to acquire a thorough grounding in the tongue of Hafiz, for these as well as professional reasons. Thus I made the acquaintance of Munshi Mahbub Tantra, a Kashmiri from Bandipur, but one familiar with the ways, as well as the speech, of the `Arami from a residence of nearly 30 years in Shiraz and Bushir. My knowledge of the writings of Richard Burton came in very handy, as also the vague studies of Oriental Mysticism with which I had amused my leisure hours: so that a genuine friendship soon sprang up between pupil and teacher.

After some months, indeed – and this is how I find myself transformed into that glorious being, an Editor – the munshi, with the childlike frankness of the Kashmiri, blurted out: The Sahib is not like other sahibs; they begin by casting dirt at my people for their bad life, and end by spitting upon my beard, bidding me to procure for them a fat and fair boy: but the Asylum of the World, who lives like a great Prince and a fakir (meaning: “You have illimitable resources but are abstemious”) really understands the 'hikmat-i-Illahi' and will not jest if I myself bring to him the treasure of Iran.

What, I exclaimed, you mean to bring me a boy without asking? and dissolved in laughter.

He stammered, with the shamed smile of the Oriental, that he had a sacred and secret book treating of the 'hikmat' but that it was never shown to any but a Sufi of great and exceptional sanctity – such as “the Protector of the Poor, my father and mother, who glances at the earth in the hot season, and the fields are immediately tall and green”.

Me.

The MS., produced, bore on its front the legend Bagh-i-muattar, in all the glory of the finest Talik calligraphy. Why! I exclaimed, this is the Scented Garden! the famous Arab treatise of the Sheik al Nefzawi, which Burton rendered into English and his silly wife destroyed.1)

This is the Ars Amoris of the Bedawin! Mahbub, (who had never heard of all this) observed that Allah knew everything, and the Sahib nearly everything. The upshot of it all was that I started to read the work as part of my daily task. But it was not until a second perusal that I grasped what had happened. Some pedantic idiot had arranged the Ghazals in alphabetical order, according to the rhymes! A common practise in the diwan of the common poet! here a lamentable and fatal error. For there is a psychological order in the Odes: arrange them properly, and a complete story – nay! a complete system of philosophy issued therefrom, as the living water from a rock at the touch of Moses' wand. When, after long labour, I had made a provisional arrangement, and shewed my great discovery to Mahbub with open triumph, he calmly observed that oh yes! the Ruler of the World was wiser than Solomon, and the proper order could be checked by noticing that the first letter of the first Ode was Aleph, the second of the second Ba, the third of the third Jim. and so on! I take great credit to myself for the fact that with only six transpositions my provisional order became that of the poet.


1)
The two books have nothing in common but the name. Garden is the almost universal glyph for a book of mystic lore, and Perfume for divine chrism. The Arab book is a treatise on the various methods of copulation, plus some obscene stories, and a collection of prescriptions against impotence, pregnancy, and the like.


Thelema

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