Friday, May 4, 2018

The Tale of The Blessed Falaj

Falaj Al-Mabrouk

Aamer left his town very sad and in low-spirit. He had lost everything; his money, his wife who abandoned him after he had gone bankrupt, even his friends who had stood by him in prosperity and beamed at him in good times, changed countenance and disappeared.
“It is true,” thought he to himself, “good fortune makes friends and adversity tries them.”
Everyone shook him off now that he was reduced to poverty. He remembered that he had a poor brother, who sometimes dropped in to see him and then all of a sudden disappeared without a trace. He wished he could have seen him. But how impossible! His brother had probably died.

He walked away very dolourous and in great despair, dragging one foot after another, but from time to time, he looked back at his town, where some of its people had one day been his servants and slaves, and some others wished that they had been servants at his palace before his life had taken a turn for the worse. He roamed the desert, expecting someone to wave a magic wand and make life wink at him again. But alas! Everything had gone with the wind.

Where are the amahs and maids and the red nights? Where are the nights of gambling and alcohol-drinking, the fun and joy? Where are the silver plates and gold spoons? Where are the candles and the lamps that are lit from olive oil? Where are the singing and dancing girls? Where are all the types of fruits and beverages? Where are the silk-and-cotton padded bed, the sumptuous dining table, the thick oriental rugs, and all the other luxuries? Everything’s gone. Ah! Would to God that I had had strong ties with my brother and had not lost him.

He roamed heavily on and on and whenever the bell of hunger rang and his appetite spoke out for food, he chewed some tree leaves which sometimes tasted bitter and other times sour, and whenever he got tired, he slept under a tree, or in the open air. He was reduced to a ghost from hunger and fatigue. He caught sight of a village, while he was roaming. He thought of going to it in the hope that he could live there and nobody would know anything about him, or his past, and he would find work and start a new life.

When he arrived at the village, he found in it a luxuriant palm-tree garden, but he was amazed to see that its trees were so small that they looked as if they had recently been planted. He also saw a grapevine hanging down a hedge, and ripe bunches of grapes dangling from it. He was so famished that his mouth watered as he looked at it, and when he unconsciously stretched his hand to pluck a grape, he noticed a farmer standing by, looking at him. He felt bashful, and instantly withdrew his hand.
The farmer said, “Take it.”
“Thank you very much,” Aamer replied timidly.
“O decent man, please take it. The owner is a generous man,” said the farmer.
When Aamer heard him say so, he picked the bunch of grape, and ate it. Then he asked the farmer, “What’s the name of this village?”
“It’s called Al-Mabrouk; Falaj Al-Mabrouk, and its proprietor is a well-brought-up and a fair man,” answered the farmer.
“Is it owned by a single person?” enquired Aamer.
“Yes, it is. It is possessed by sheikh Obeid,” replied the farmer.
“And what about you?” asked Aamer.
“Together with me there are several other farmers, and this is a new village. This is also part of the falaj, and the other part lies in the wadi. Look, there is a shortage of farmers, and you look weary and poor; so if you want to work here, you can join us,” said the farmer.
“What can I do? I know nothing. I’ve never done any sort of work,” said Aamer.
“You’ll learn quickly, and we’ll teach you how to farm, and, at the same time, farming’s not hard.
The owner of this falaj is sheikh Obeid, who is a good man, and we join him in his sitting room three times a day: in the forenoon, at noon, and at night. And every night he dines with his farmers. After that he has a coffee-drinking gathering, and recounts a tale, and you’re very lucky because he’s going to relate his own life story and how he constructed this falaj tonight,” said the farmer.

Aamer agreed to stay and work at Al-Mabrouk village, and registered his name in the farmers’ list, a house, therefore, was earmarked for him. In the evening, the farmer whom he had met came to go along with him to the palace of sheikh Obeid, master and landlord of the village.

They got to the sitting room in the palace where sheikh Obeid was sitting down. They greeted him and shook hands after Aamer had been introduced, and then took seats next to each other. Aamer started to look fixedly at sheikh Obeid in the hope of recalling his fine-looking face that shone with opulence and comfort. He, one day, had probably gone to the city for shopping or trading, but he did not recollect anything. He was certain that he had never seen him, and thanked God for this, and that sheikh Obeid did not know him or his past. After having supper, sheikh Obeid leaned on a straw-padded cushion, and so did the farmers, and commenced narrating his own life story.

“I was born in Sohar, and my father was a renowned moneyed and landed merchant. He also had a lot of shops, farms, and ships trading among India, Basra, Yemen, Zanzibar, and Somaliland. My father married twice, and had only two sons: my elder brother, Aamer, and I, each from a wife. My mother died, when I was a child, so I was raised with my brother, Aamer, who was a man at that time. But as much as my father and brother had loved me, my stepmother hated me. She was very callous, and maltreated me for no reason. My father also died while I was still a little child, so I continued to be reared with my brother and his mother. My brother, who was very kind and compassionate, turned into an unfeeling person. He always beat me ruthlessly for reason or no reason. He treated me as if I had been his bitter foe, and his mother’s brutal treatment of me became much less cruel than his. When I attained puberty, I recognised the truth that money had changed my brother, and that he knew that, one day, I would ask him for my share of inheritance. Therefore, I hoped to turn to education to make up for the money. But my stepmother’s death made my brother harsher than he was before.

He prevented me from pursuing my education, therefore, I was brought up as a poor illiterate have-not. And whenever l was unable to earn my daily living, I requested him to give me some money, but he always expressed disgust of me, and felt ashamed of me before his bad company. What could I do when I had no other recourse but him? Despite this, I always wished him well, and invoked God for blessing him with more and more, but whenever he heard me supplicating God for him, he lost his mind and covered his ears with his hands. His wealth had augmented and boomed, and he sank deeper and deeper into dissipation, night-oil burning, alcohol-drinking, gambling and boisterous evening parties.

I began visiting him only on Eids and occasions for 1 had gained a trade in woodcutting and it spared me from asking him for money or anything else, but in spite of this he detested my visits. One day, I had sore eyes that lasted for months, and I stayed at bed all that time, and he never asked about me. I lost my sight because of it, and because I couldn’t go to the physician and didn’t have the money to buy medicine, and all my attempts to borrow money from my brother or to get him to help me were in vain. I felt that he had wished me to die or to lose my sight, and that fate fulfilled his wish.

I recuperated, but lost my sight. I had no other option than to count on my brother to help me to subsist. I was a powerless disable who can do nothing: I was not educated to teach children, and I couldn’t see to work. I started visiting him from time to time. He gave me food just enough to keep me going, or sent me one of his servants with some food in order for me not to visit his majestic palace and to have his friends see me. But I kept on visiting him.

One day, when I called in his palace, I was stunned to be warmly welcomed by him. I thought that his conscience had awoken and he had come to his senses, and I wished that he would have recognised me, and taken care of me as his brother. Then he sat next me, and said, “My brother, I’m so eager to sit with you, to chat with you. I’m athirst to hear your talk. I really missed you.”
“But you’re very busy because you have guests and feasts everyday, and I'm blind,” said I.
“You’re not blind as long as I’m alive. From now on I’ll never leave you alone. I intended to visit you, if you don’t visit me,” said my brother.
“Do you mean what you say?” I enquired.
“Yes, of course, I do. OK, tomorrow’s Friday, and I’m not going to open my shop because I want to take rest and walk with you in the desert as when we were kids. Ha! What do you say?” said my brother.
“In fact, I’ve nothing to say. I depend on God and accept your proposal, even though I’m blind. We’ll go together to the desert and talk with each other. I like you, my brother,” I said, thinking that my brother had really changed.
Early in the morning, I got up and sat thinking of my brother. I thought he would not show up, and that when he promised me to come, he was under the influence of alcohol. But my thinking did not last long, when, all of a sudden, I heard him call me. We went outside the city and walked on and on till I got exhausted. It seemed that my brother did not feel tired for he kept on walking and talking. And whenever I requested him to rest for a short while, he procrastinated until I could no longer move on. Then when it was late afternoon, he consented to have rest under a big tree. As soon as we sat down there, weariness overcame me and I at once fell soundly asleep. My brother abandoned me there and returned to the city. I woke up when I heard the howling of wolves, barking of dogs and hooting of owls.
I set out calling my brother, but nobody answered my call. I was sure that he deliberately cozened me and brought me to this forsaken place to get rid of me. To walk in a desert at night was very difficult and hopeless for the one who was endowed with eyesight, so how was it for the sightless? I realised that predatory animals would undoubtedly eat me, if I remained in this isolated place, so I thought of climbing up the big tree under which I slept, in the hope that, when the day broke, I would come across a house, a village, or Bedouins.

I climbed up this big leafy tree and spent the night there. I couldn’t sleep, but I laid awake and alert to the dangers of my situation, thinking about what to do. I was overconcerned for I didn’t know where I was, and what evils were in this tree. It was late at night, when I was still thinking of my predicament and waiting for sunrise, when all of a sudden, I heard the fluttering of big birds, and an indistinct noise. Then I also heard two great peals under the tree. Later I learned that they were sheikhs of the genies. Afterwards they started talking and I listened carefully to them:
The first one said, “O Sheikh of the West, peace be upon you.”
The second one replied, “O Sheikh of the East, peace be upon you, too. How are you today?”
“No one waited for his friend this time. We punctually came on time,” said the first one.
“You’re right. Thanks to God,” said the second one.
“I smell a human being. Do you think we’re close to residence of human beings,” enquired the first one.
“I don’t think so. This is a smell of two persons who were sitting under this shady tree yesterday,” said the second one.
“Probably. Look, if man had known the secrets of earth, he would have become very rich. Look. At that stone, there’s a treasure under it. Anyone who could discover it and take it, he would be very wealthy,” said the first one.
“This is very easy. There is a spring under that stone, but its water doesn’t quench the thirsty. However, if the blind washed their faces with its water, it would restore their sight. But it would dry up soon. As soon as someone discovered it, it would dry out,” said the second one.

They also talked about many other things, and about plenty of treasures inside the earth. I didn’t remember them. Then they said goodbye to one another and flew away.
I remained out of sight both fearful and blissful all nightlong, hoping that I would be favoured by God who would guide me to the healing water of the spring. In the morning when I heard the twittering of birds, and felt the sun warmth, I climbed down the tree. Then I made a straight line from the tree trunk in order not to get lost and started crawling and looking for the stone. Whenever I found a stone or a rock, I moved it aside and searched for water, or even a trace that might lead me to it. But when I got very tired and I was in a sweat, I crawled back to the tree and had a rest and then went back to search again, until it was late afternoon, and before sunset, I came across wet earth under a small stone, I moved the stone and started digging. Suddenly, the water came out with a spurt, and very quickly I washed my face with it. Then I saw wonders. I had recovered my sight after long years of darkness and despair and started to see everything. O people, eyesight is invaluable and cannot be measured by anything in the world. I never valued it as much as I did when regained it. Life is indeed very beautiful, but only for those who could see it. My ecstasy was about to make me forget the treasure, but hunger reminded me of it. I set out looking for the stone under which the treasure was, and which was supposed to be further than this one, according to what the sheikhs of genies said. Then the night came on very fast. I went back to the tree, and climbed it up, and made a comfortable place to sleep in. I had wished the two sheikhs of genies would have come back in order to listen to them, and to learn more about the secrets of the universe. I was also afraid that if they came and discovered me, what would. they do? But they did not come back.

In the morning of the second day, I got up with great delight, but I was very hungry, and the healing water of the spring smothered neither my thirst nor my hunger. My curiosity to find out the treasure was limitless. I set off looking for it until I found it. I marked it off together with trees and the mountains surrounding it. After that I set out searching for a road, until I reached the caravan road. I followed it until I passed by a grand wadi by which side there was a very beautiful, open and arable plain that needed only water. Then I came across a caravan bound for Al-Hajr,(1) I accompanied them until I arrived at a village. I left them and stayed at the village. Everyday I set off to where the treasure was to make sure of its place until I memorised the map. After that I went to Al-Dhahra, and in Ibri I found an expert in digging falajs. I took him to the grand wadi by which the fertile plain was in order to see if it had been possible to dig a falaj there. He explored the wadi for a full day, and by the end of the day he asked me to pay him a big sum of money, and to recruit a lot of workers. For me, this was very easy because I had a treasure. I went to the treasure and took as much gold as I could from it for this big enterprise. Then the work commenced, and people began to come to this place and live here. I called this place Al-falaj Al-Mabrouk and spent all the treasure on reforming it and this area. And whenever a man happened to pass by this place, I offered him a job, and thus Al-Mabrouk village initiated, and became as you saw it. This is my own life story.”

Suddenly, Aamer stood up and prostrated at Sheikh Obeid’s feet and started kissing them and asking for forgiveness. It turned out that Aamer was Sheikh Obeid’s brother, whom sheikh Obeid had mentioned in his story. Aamer was the person who had been very rich, and then, all of a sudden, was reduced to abject poverty. The two brothers finally shook hands, kissed each other, and forgave one another.
(1) A mountainous area located between Sohar and Ibri. Translator

Tales from Oman, translated by D. Abdulsalam Ali Hamad, pg: 16-29. 

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