Before Sikander Lodi arrived to give audience, his assembled nobles had been overpowered by a fragrance that wafted in from the ante-chamber where the aide of the Rana of Jodhpur was waiting with his gift of fresh pomegranates for the sultan.
The Rana hearing rumours that the sultan in need of funds for his campaigns was planning to revise his tribute upwards, had sent an offering to the Lodi court to gauge the sultan’s mood.
Having tasted the fruit, the sultan remarked that he found it superior to pomegranates from both Iraq and Persia. The Rana’s aide now sought permission to narrate the legend about a magician and his magic orchard. Given leave, this is the story he told:
“It is said that many years ago, an illusionist presented himself at the court of the Raja of Jodhpur. The illusionist, who had a thin, wasted body, claimed that within the space of a night and day he could grow from saplings mango and pomegranate orchards with fruit ready to be eaten. The raja looked at him and smiled, and gave his consent.
“The man set to work and planted the saplings. And within the course of a night and day the saplings grew into trees. Song birds sat on the trees and nested in them.
The trees flowered, and gave forth fruit that presently ripened, and at the appointed time, the raja arrived in the illusionist’s orchard with his retinue.
“The raja tasted the fruit, and pronounced it exquisite. The illusionist now prostrated himself, awaiting some token of the raja’s favour. The raja cast one look at the man quivering at his feet from the anticipation of reward, and said, “Behead him!'
“Even before the man’s terrified cry had been fully uttered, the executioner’s sword had interrupted it.
“The raja now looked around in wonder, for the orchard had not disappeared at the illusionist’s death. It was not some illusion but such powerful magic that survives the maker of the spell.”
Rana’s agent now said, “May the sultan know that the garden exists to this day, and it brought forth the fruit the sultan had eaten.”
The Rana’s agent fell silent, but the sultan who was both a despot and a poet, and possessed the premonitory instincts of the one and the refinement of the other, smiled and said he believed there was still more to the tale.
Rana’s agent bowed his head, submitting that the sultan in his infinite wisdom had indeed guessed right. Before continuing he sought reprieve for his life lest the inauspicious incidents he was to relate should offend the august court’s dignity. Having received it, the agent recounted: “Some years having passed, another illusionist presented himself at the Raja of Jodhpur’s court. He claimed that he could grow a field of melons within the space of a night and a day, with the fruit all ripe and ready to be eaten.
“The raja looked at the emaciated young illusionist whose face was etched by the signs of dire poverty, and nodded his consent.
“The illusionist set to work. Like the one before him, he too grew within the course of a night and day a whole field of melons.
“Under the watchful eyes of the royal guards he then picked a few melons, and presented them to the raja, the rajkumar, and the grandees, requesting them to cut the fruit at his signal. The smell of the melons was overpowering, and when the illusionist gave his signal, everyone eagerly cut them with their daggers. Only the rajkumar vacillated, from a sudden sense of menace and foreboding, and this saved his life. For when the raja and his grandees cut the fruit, it was their heads that were severed and fell at their feet.
“The young magician was captured and confessed that he was guided in his actions by revenge, as he was the son of the magician killed at the raja’s order.
“Ordered to be put to death, the young magician pleaded that since he was a Muslim he be allowed to make his ablutions before his execution.
“He was granted his last wish, and a small clay vessel filled with water was brought and put before him. No sooner was the vessel put before him than he dove into the water and disappeared into the small clay vessel. Everyone rushed forward to inspect the vessel but there was no sign of the magician.”
It is said that Sultan Sikander Lodi was so very well pleased with the story that he absolved the Rana of Jodhpur from submission of tribute in perpetuity, and so terrified by it that for as long as he lived, he never touched another fruit.
Musharraf Ali Farooqi is an author, novelist and translator. He can be reached through his website www.mafarooqi.com and on Twitter at @microMAF