Since I am running out of things to write to you about, I’m going to get back to keeping a promise I had made to you a few posts ago. I’m going to relate to you the one horror story that my professor, Sir Edgar Noronha, had told us that I repeat at every social circle. I can never tell it like he did, but here’s hoping I get it somewhat right –
There was once a very rich Arab merchant, who had a big palatial mansion and many servants. By the time he returned home every evening, all the lamps of his mansion would be lit and all servants but one would be gone. This servant lived with him in order to tend to him.
One evening when he returned, there was darkness in his home and his servant was standing alone outside. “Why aren’t the lamps lit?” he asked. “There is no oil in the house to light the lamps, master.” “Take this money, go to the market and buy oil to light the lamps” with that, the merchant sent him to the market and waited at the house.
Soon, the servant returned empty-handed and panting, with fear written across his face. “Master, I was standing in line to get the oil when I bumped into this tall hooded figure. Upon turning, I saw that a skull was staring me in the face. Master, I saw Death and he scared me.” said the servant. The merchant was a very brave man, not to be scared by such things. “Take my fastest horse and go as far as you can. You will reach Damascus by tonight. You have no reason to fear.” said the merchant.
As the servant rode off to Damascus, the merchant set out for the market himself. Upon seeing the hooded figure, he tapped him on the shoulder. Undaunted by his nightmarish countenance, the merchant demanded “Why did you scare my servant?” “I didn’t scare him,” said Death, “I was actually surprised to see him here.” “Surprised?” challenged the merchant. “Yes,” answered Death coolly, “because I have a meeting with him tonight in Damascus.”
Many years later, as I was writing this blog post today, I casually checked for this story online and figured out that it was an old story retold by the famous author, W. Somerset Maugham, in 1933, by the name of ‘The Appointment in Samarra‘. I also figured out that the merchant was from Baghdad, that he didn’t necessarily have a palatial mansion that was aglow with lit lamps every evening, that he might not have had a line of servants and one out of them who lived with him, that the servant went to Samarra, not Damascus, and last of all, that Death was certainly not a tall hooded figure with a skull staring you in the face.
Maybe literature does that to you – it makes you add the drama, the details, the prose, the poetry, the effects, the entire package. Or maybe the story was a hand-me-down from generations of storytelling grandparents who handed down their version of it to my professor, who in turn handed it down to us. Or maybe it was passed around in social circles and modified each time it went around and finally came to him. Or for all you know, maybe he just read the original and forgot all about it, until the day when he wanted to share it with us and he couldn’t remember the exact thing. Then, he told it to us in his own way.
But the best part about all this? Either way, none of it will matter.
To me, it will always be the story of the Arab merchant who sent his servant to Damascus where tall, hooded-skull, Death had a meeting with him. And that’s exactly how I will continue to tell it. Thank you Noronha Sir for giving me the key to not only feeling included in ‘horror’ conversations, but having one of the hit stories in each of these conversations. And for giving me one of the most successful icebreakers of all time in social circles.
That’s the beauty of stories – they have so much of the teller in them. Even after the storytellers are no more in your life or in the world, their stories are the parts of them that remain with you forever.
Gen. D himself is no less of a storyteller. It’s one of the many things I enjoy the most about him. There are a lot of times when he says that I don’t talk; but that’s because there’s so much to listen to when he’s relating tales about his childhood, his loved ones, his travels and his life.
Recently, Gen. D made me watch the movie ‘Big Fish‘. Being a Tim Burton fan, I was surprised at not having discovered such a beautiful movie of his myself. It’s a classic Tim Burton – full of crazy imagination. It’s the overwhelming story of a father-son relationship. A son, who grew up on the stories his father told him about his life, now tries to understand the real man behind the stories when his father is about to die. The most beautiful thing about the movie is the bond formed over these very stories and the passing on of a legacy that turns the son into the father.
There’s a beautiful line in the movie that goes ‘A man tells so many stories, that he becomes the stories. They live on after him, and in that way he becomes immortal.‘
This is what stories do to people. My grandmother was that person in my life. None of the stories she told me were about her – but I can’t describe what they’ve meant to me throughout my life. In the following posts, I’ll share her stories too, one by one, with you and your people occasionally. But here, the point I’m making is a different one. Now when my niece asks for a story at bedtime, I can only think of the treasure my grandmother left me with – although I can never tell them the same way. Believe me, I’ve tried.
My mom used to read to me in my childhood. And sure, sometimes she read to me with all the sounds effects and voice modulations. But it was never the same. Maybe it has something to do with age or circumstance. Maybe the storytelling stage comes at a different time in every person’s life. Like, when my niece asked my mom for a bedtime story, she told her a hundred and fifty stories until my niece finally went to sleep. I’m not kidding you – the woman, who used to tell me she knows no stories and preferred to read to me, came up with 150 tales in one night. Each with a moral, mind you.
Princess Scheherzade came up with a 1000 to escape her death. Today, they’ve been handed down to the world as ‘Arabian Nights’. Life has some of the strangest ways of making you a storyteller.
My literature professor could have read to us from our syllabus and left it at that. Our syllabus had stories and that was all his job required anyway. But he told us his own stories and anecdotes – and he recounted his versions of original pieces. He used some of them to teach us literature. He used others to teach us values. The rest he told us for the fun of them. And that’s one of the things about him that left him with us.
This story of mine has gone on for too long, so I’m going to skip to the moral of it – Read to your children and students, definitely. Have heart to heart conversations and intellectual debates with people. But never run out of stories. That would be greatly underestimating their beauty and power.
With that, I’m going to get back to not putting off my office work any longer.
PS – Once upon a time, there were two people traveling in the same train compartment. “Do you believe in ghosts?” asked one to the other. “No” said the other and disappeared. 😉