Two Forewords – 1935


 Being The Instructions to the Nakhoda,
The Captain, of this Ship, 1935

In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful!

[New York, 1935]

IN THOSE DAYS when neither thy Father’s beard nor mine needed the henna [dyeing] I gave thy Father commission to sell, on my account, my goods in bulk or single to the Western ports of this world. For that trade we built and equipped a little sailing-ship which we both loved. And her venture was felicitous.

Begins now, after very many tides, a voyage for thee, his son, in a ship laden with pieces and patterns and portions and naqshas [samples] of my wares, both new and old, as those have issued from beneath my hands during the procession of fifty years. Whereof, through forty and five, thy Father and I ran our Western trade together — ship and cargo — tack for tack.

This new ship here, is fitted according to the reported increase of knowledge among mankind. Namely, she is cumbered, end to end, with bells and trumpets and clocks and wires which, it has been told to me, can call Voices out of the air or the waters to con the ship while her crew sleep. But sleep thou lightly, O Nakhoda! It has not yet been told to me that the Sea has ceased to be the Sea.

She has no sail but only engines which jig up and down, and must needs be anointed with oils as though they were dancing-girls. (In the old days, a sailing-ship was as a beloved wife, whereon, with a rope’s end, one wrought miracles.)

Thou knowest all the Ports to which this ship is consigned, as well as that Western Sea whose waves surge like hills and smite like hammers. Thou knowest, too, the People of that land to be kindly and well-wishing and, in time of sickness — as I know, of a good-will beyond comparison.

But it has reached me that, at this hour, they have somewhat scattered their inheritance. For they believed that it would endure and increase, and when it did not so, they mourned as though earth underfoot were dissolving in dust. This, to my mind, comes about because their country has, till now, driven before following winds, which is always hard steering. But, this time, she has gybed and, the big boom having gone over, many things have fallen (from aloft). It will pass.

They have, since my sojourn among them, afflicted themselves with Voices out of the air which they suffer to call and command them even when they are in the bath. But, through custom and use, this affliction has become unto them a necessity, of which if they be deprived but one hour, they languish; esteeming themselves to be forgotten by mankind. This arises from the vast magnitude of their land; the inhabitants striving to fortify themselves, by noise, against its emptiness. We will add ourselves to those noises and assist to divert (the People).

They have many women; and much talk concerning them, in which women bear loud part. This custom is new since my time. I doubt, O Nakhoda, that our ship carries many goods likely to please (such persons). In respect to women-folk, it is well written:


‘Who, having found a Ruby, will tell (where he found it)?
Or who, having bought red glass with (his) blood, will tell (how he was cheated)?’

It is in my mind — but weigh it well in thine when thou art there — that our best trade will be among the children of those who were faithful to the toys that I devised for them long ago. (And it may be that Allah prepares for us yet a third crop of that sowing!)

Well said the Prince’s foster-mother, in the delectable tale of Azil and Azara: ‘Lend me thy babe for three years, and hear him call me “Mother” through thirty.’

Therefore, spare no pains. If any ask: ‘Where is that clay Tiger, or that painted Beast, or other some small gay image that I handled when I was a child?’, make most clear that this my ship is only a ship of samples, and carefully tell them the very places, in the very streets, of the very towns, where stand the very shops where they may buy perpetual abundance of my wares. Engrave this on thy mind!

As to the running-talk of the trade, thou knowest that it is the buyer who buys and riot the seller. I have seen good trade lost because the seller, almost, as it were, berated, for their slow-mindedness, men who, but for being too much urged to buy, would have bought. Or else he sickened them by too loud praise of the goods. My ship is a jahaz [a ship] and not a jihad [a holy war].

Remember the saying: ‘No ship so powerful as a modest eye.’ Bear all our business, then, softly—softly. Thus: If any overhauling my goods pronounce such-and-such of them to be worthless—agree. (He who has gold in his girdle may be robbed, but he can not be wrong.) If he press the matter, tell him how, long ago, I repented me that I had ever fabricated them, and that I went on pilgrimage to Mecca to cleanse the sin. But, if any other pronounce these very same goods to be excellent above the pearls of Oman, agree — agree. If he press the matter, tell him how I myself have always reckoned them the chiefest of my artifices. Thus, out of thy mouth and testimony, both those men will esteem themselves to be perspicacious and — Flattery digs down the wall where the (noise of the) spade warns the watchman.

Allah forbid that thou shouldst lie for none or small advantage; but Truth is as sand-ballast in the hold. Stow it where it cannot choke the bilges.

As to those idlers and sitters along the wharves who leap aboard to feel and to finger, and to fret, and unwrap, and rattle and split open and smell at my goods, that they may tell the world how such a carpet should have been stretched on the loom, or Queen-turquoise set and steadied in the lac, or the gold wire worked into a fringe—agree—agree—agree! Fill them cool pipes under the awnings, and let them run out the cables of their tongues to the clinch. Never was sailor or trader yet who could not instruct his fellow! And — last — I have left the sole choice of the number and the natures of the samples upon thy head. It is long since I had house or hearth in thy land, and markets, even when they are watched, shift like shoals. Nor would I resemble that Crow who said to the Tiger: ‘All my children are equally beauteous and equally young.’ Therefore, I have abstained from adding or subtracting in the manifests. Also, it is most certain that if I myself had chosen the samples, many men would have cried out: ‘Why did not this Uncle of Owls include in his manifest such-and-such packets or bales?’ Then would they have pursued me with their maledictions and their animadversions and their revisements.

But thou, O Nakhoda, art young and wideshouldered, and on thee will be the strain of that rope and the burden of that loquacity and the multitude of those letters. May it be to thee a refreshment and a delight and a most pleasurable exercise!

This is to end my Hukmnameh — Bill of instructions — to thee, son of my Friend, thy Father. Strike them all down into the hold of Remembrance and cover them with the tight hatches of Fidelity!

Lest there should be any loose ropes or knots that may slip, I send you in a murasla [envelope] apart those very instructions which I delivered to your Father concerning our first venture together in that little sailing-ship which we loved. What is not in the one will be in the other.