The Bungling Barbar

In Baghdad, a very wealthy man had a son named Kamar. On his father’s death, Kamar seized a vast estate that included innumerable enslaved people. He ate the best food, wore the best clothes, and spent his time merrily. But, having an aversion for women, he avoided them altogether, nor did he ever think of marriage.

One day, Kamar was going through a narrow lane when he saw a group of women approaching him. To avoid them, he went into a bye-lane, where he saw a seat and sat upon it.

Just then, a fascinating young girl came out of the opposite house and began to water the plants in front of her home. One look at her made Kamar shed his aversion to women, and he instantly fell in love with this girl. She was a very comely maiden with a face as enchanting as the full moon. Even as Kamar wondered whose daughter she was and whether he could make her his wife, the Kazi came along with his entourage and entered the house. It was evident that the charming girl was the Kazi’s daughter, and Kamar had little chance of gaining her hand. With a sinking heart, Kamar got up and went home.

Kamar looked so depressed that his servants implored him, “What is wrong? Are you ill? Shall we send for the doctor?” and so on. Kamar evaded answering them, but his old nurse guessed the truth. She said, “At last, you are in love with someone. Tell me who she is, and I shall try to make her your wife!”

These words acted like a balm, and Kamar’s misery was greatly relieved. He told her how he had happened to see Kazi’s daughter and fallen in love with her.

“I know the girl well,” said the old nurse. I am sure I can get her consent to marry you. Be straightforward in your mind.”

But the first attempt of the old nurse failed, for when she moved the subject of Kamar’s infatuation, the Kazi’s daughter flew into a rage and said, “I do not know your master. If you raise this subject again, I will report you to my father, and he will put you in jail.”

But the older woman waited a couple of days and went to see the girl again when her father was not home. On seeing the girl, she burst into tears and sobbed loudly.

“What happened?” the girl asked her.

“What else should happen?” the old nurse moaned. “My master is dying! Ah, he was like my son. It was an evil moment when he set eyes on you; he has taken to his bed and is pining away!”

The girl was touched. “What a strange thing that he should pine away for love!” she said. “I want to talk to him. Let him come to this house next Friday during the prayers hour when my father is away. I want to know what sort of person he is.”

“Ah, my child!” said the old woman, getting up. “Thank you for saving my master’s life!” Then she took leave of the girl.

Kamar was pleased when he heard about the appointment. On Friday, he put on his best clothes and got ready to go to the girl he loved, though it was still a couple of hours before the noon prayers.

“Master,” said the nurse to Kamar, “you have plenty of time. I advise you to shave before you meet the girl. Let me send for a barber.”

Presently a barber arrived. “Sir,” he said, seeing Kamar, ‘you are pale! There is something the matter with you.”

Kamar replied, “I’ve just recovered from a slight illness.”

“A shave on a Friday drives seventy calamities away,” said the barber. “Among other things, such a shave is good for the eyes and the body.”

“Stop chattering,” Kamar said impatiently, “and give me the shave.”

But the barber was in no mood to get on with the job for which he was called. “Though today is very auspicious for a shave,” he said, “it lacks a few minutes for the best conjunction of the planets. Mars is going to join Mercury. But that very conjunction bodes ill for other purposes. If I am not mistaken, sir, you will visit someone. But if you are going to meet a new acquaintance, let me warn you, today is not encouraging.”

“Shut up!” Kamar shouted at the barber. “I did not call you to prophecy things for me. Finish your work and go away.”

“Sir,” said the barber seriously, “you do not seem to have enough regard for the planets. But they are mighty powerful things. It is a very dangerous conjunction, I warn you, sir!”

“Oh, my God!” Kamar ex- claimed in disgust. “I am sure that there is not another barber in the city of Bagdad who is an astrologer too. And I get you!”

“I beg your pardon, sir!” said the barber. “Besides Astrology, I am well-versed in Chemistry, Mathematics, Structural Engineering and Logic, not to mention my proficiency in Grammar and commenting on the Koran. Then add to my ripe age and experience above, and you will easily conclude that I am no ordinary barber.”

Kamar could stand the barber no more. He took out some money and offered it to the barber, saying, “Take this and go away. I have no desire to be shaved by you!”

“No, master,” said the barber with dignity, “I cannot accept payment without serving your honour. If only I could serve you, payment is of no consequence. I did great service to your esteemed father. I may say that he never did anything without consulting me.”

Kamar was so exasperated that he was about to call his servants and ask them to throw the barber out when the latter applied water to Kamar’s beard and began to shave him.

But he did not stop chattering. He described all the princes he had shaved with his own hands, the poets, ministers, and other great people who had admired his cleverness.

“Master,” he said at last, “I see you are in a hurry. May I know what the occasion is ?”

“I am going to dine with a friend,” Kamar replied.

“It is not desirable that your honour should go alone,” said the barber. “Permit me to accompany you.”

“But others are not permitted where I am going,” Kamar said.

“Aha!” said the barber. “I can see how it is! Your friend is a lady! But, sir, you should have a companion like me, a man of experience. I may tell you, these affairs with ladies are perilous! I can save you from any danger.”

“Shut up, fool!” Kamar shouted at the barber.

By the time the barber finished with Kamar, noon prayers had already commenced. Kamar sent the barber away, put on his dress and hastened to the house of the Kazi, for he was already late. The Kazi’s door was open, and Kamar mounted the stairs to the first floor. He hardly reached it when the Kazi returned home.

Now, the barber is determined to save the young man. So he waited till Kamar left his house, followed him to the Kazi’s house, and waited on the bench opposite. He saw the Kazi arrive soon after and said, “The young master is done for!”

Unfortunately, the Kazi got angry with an enslaved woman immediately on his return and gave her a couple of blows, and she began to wail. Then the Kazi thrashed an enslaved man who took up the female’s side.

The barber, listening to what was happening inside, concluded that the Kazi had discovered everything and was murdering his daughter and the young man he had determined to protect. “Help, help!” he shouted. “The Kazi is murdering my master!”

Soon there was a crowd, and everyone shouted, “What is the matter? Who is dead?”

The Kazi became aware of the commotion outside his house. He shouted, “What is all this fuss about?”

The barber pushed to the front and asked the Kazi, “Have you not thrashed the young man who sneaked inside to see your daughter?”

“What, young man?” asked the Kazi, puzzled, “and why should he see my daughter? You must be mad!”

“How can I be mad,” the barber asked, “when I saw him with my own eyes enter your house?”

The Kazi did not waste any more time. He ordered his servants to search the entire house. Poor Kamar, who had not yet seen the Kazi’s daughter, found an empty chest in a room and concealed himself in it. The barber got mixed up with those searching for Kamar, and he also searched every room. Finally, he came to the chest, guessed that Kamar hid in it, heaved the chest onto his back and rushed out of the house. But as he passed through the outer gate, he stumbled across the step and fell. The chest crashed on the floor, and Kamar’s leg was broken.

As soon as the crowd noticed Kamar emerge out of the chest, they rushed to catch him. With a significant presence of mind, Kamar took some gold out of his pocket and flung it away.

Having shaken off the crowd thus, Kamar limped home as best he could, and that night he left Baghdad for good.

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