Legend of Saif-ul-Malook & Ansoo Lake


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Once upon a time, there lived in Egypt a prince called Saif-ul-Malook. They say that Saif was the handsomest man to walk the earth since Joseph himself – tall and lean, with skin the colour of gleaming copper, a clear, noble brow, deep-set dark eyes and black hair that fell in waves to his shoulders. He was brave, a skilled hunter, rider and swordsman, true to his Arabic name – “Sword of the Kings”. Born to riches, Prince Saif had never wanted for anything in his life; there was not a stone, river, man or woman in the kingdom that he could not claim. Until one night, he had a dream. A dream that changed the course of his life, and robbed him of his peace of mind forever. He dreamt of a lake, a lake he had never seen before, surrounded by mountains that seemed to touch the sky and water that shimmered emerald-green in the moonlight. In the lake seven fairies were bathing - ethereal creatures, slim as gazelles, with creamy skins, wide, golden eyes, and hair like rippling ebony – but the seventh among them eclipsed them all in beauty. Her face was as radiant as the full moon, badr, but it was when she laughed, skipping on the water without a care in the world – it was when she laughed that Saif was seized by a joy and a sadness so intense, so inexpressible, that he awoke from his sleep with tears in his eyes. Badr-ul-Jamal…he had never seen anything more beautiful.
The next morning, Saif was visibly troubled.
“Why so crestfallen, son?” asked the king, his father, at breakfast.
“Father,” the young man confided. “I think I am in love.”
The king was overjoyed. “What happy news, son! This calls for a wedding! Who is the favoured princess?”
“No princess, father,” Saif replied grimly; then, with a sudden burst of elation: “She is a Queen…A Queen among fairies!”
The king’s face furrowed into a frown as he considered his son’s words. “Saif, you do realize what you are saying? A fairy! She is a bird, a creature cast of fire, naari. So how can a human being, an earthbound mortal like you, ever hope to possess her?” He shook his head vehemently. ”It is impossible. Abandon the idea at once. It will bring you nothing but misery,” he foresaw.
But it was no use. It was too late for discussion, for persuasion and advice. Saif’s heart was already on fire. He begged his father’s permission to set out and look for that magical lake where the fairies bathed, in the hopes of finding their Queen. With a heavy heart, the king consented, blessed him on his quest, and watched his only son ride away into the desert. For six long years Prince Saif searched, roaming every corner of Egypt, from Alexandria to Sinai. Begging on the streets, his hair in his eyes, his shoes in tatters, consumed by love, people no longer recognized him.”There he goes, the madman!” they cried. “There goes the madman, the majnun, who looks for a lake the colour of emeralds and mountains of pure white! Who ever heard of such a place?” And they laughed and pushed him out of town.
 Ansoo Lake”  title=
One day, as he wandered about the outskirts of Cairo, Saif saw a holy man, a buzurg, sitting under the shade of a lone olive tree. “Perhaps this holy man can help me,” Saif thought. As he approached him, the old man looked up expectantly.
“Ah, there you are,” the old man said, a smile playing on his lips. “I’ve been waiting for you, Prince Saif.”
Prince! No one had addressed him thus in years. But before Saif had the chance to express his surprise or explain his predicament, the buzurg dug a hand into the bountiful folds of his cloak and produced an old, battered round sheepskin cap, frayed and thinned with what seemed like centuries of use. Placing it in Saif’s hands, the holy man said, looking at him with keen eyes, “You have been through a lot, my son. But the important thing is that you don’t give up - nothing valuable is won without a struggle.”
Saif toyed with the cap in his hands. “Thank you,” he said hesitatingly. “But what am I supposed to do with this?”
The old man chuckled. “Why, what do you think? Put it on!”
Puzzled, Prince Saif gingerly placed the old cap on his head. What happened next cannot be described, only experienced by the wearer of a Suleimani topi, Solomon’s fabled magic cap, which has the power to transport its wearer to any place he or she desires in a matter of seconds. There was a gust of wind; Saif felt the earth give away under his feet; suddenly, he was shooting through the sky in a fantastic whirlwind of faces, places, colors and memories; a deafening rumble filled his ears; and then, in the blink of an eye, his feet were firmly planted again on the earth. When he opened his eyes, this is what he saw. It was the Lake – emerald green, calm as a mirror, ringed by rugged snow-capped peaks – the very one from his dream. Saif’s joy was uncontrollable. “I shall find her, I shall find her here!” he cried, jumping up and down like a child. ”My suffering is finally over!” In his excitement, he forgot about how he had been transported to the Lake in the first place – courtesy the jinn of Solomon’s cap, who was at this moment standing behind him in human form.
The jinn cleared his throat. “Prince Saif…there is one thing.” Saif turned around with a start. “What…?” he said slowly, peering at the jinn.
“You will not be able to see the Fairy Queen Badr Jamal. She is, like us, naari, borne of fire, hence invisible to the human eye in her true form.”
“So, what must I do to see her?” Saif asked impatiently.
“You may pray,” the jinn replied. “Pray for forty consecutive days – the chilla – without food, drink or sleep, without moving from the circle wherein you sit. Then, and only then, will you be able to see the Fairy Badr Jamal.”
With these somber words, the jinn vanished. It sounded impossible. Only saints and prophets like Jesus, Moses, Baba Farid Ganj Shakkar and Hafiz of Shiraz had been known to perform a chilla to completion – others either died or lost their senses in the attempt. But Saif was not about to be thwarted from his objective so close to the end. “I’ve looked for her for six years, wandering the streets of Egypt with nothing but a kashkol, a begging bowl. Surely I can endure another forty days?” So, drawing a circle of pebbles on the southern shore of the Lake, he seated himself inside, closed his eyes, and began to pray. He prayed, and prayed, and prayed, and as the suns went down and the moons came up, Saif grew a little weaker, his face thinner, his pain stronger, his yearning deeper. He lost count of the days, and awaited each night with the hope – “Perhaps I will see her tonight?” But Badr Jamal did not appear. One night, as the sun cast its dying amber rays on the Himalayan slopes, and twilight crept into the sky with the daub of a paintbrush, Prince Saif sat in his circle wondering if he would live to see another day. Physically exhausted, his body was about to give up the struggle, but his mind had never felt sharper, calmer. It was also a chowdveen ki raat – the 14th of the lunar month, or the night of a full moon – and the sight of that perfect silver orb, glowing in the star-studded indigo sky, enveloping the Lake, the mountains and himself in its ethereal light, filled Prince Saif’s heart with peace. “If I were to die here tonight, if my soul were to leave my body tonight, I would be happy man.” Suddenly, a sound reached his ears – like the fluttering of a great flock of birds, far away at first, then closer – intermingled with a delicate tinkling, like the chime of a thousand tiny bells. Saif looked up; a great white cloud was moving from the west towards the Lake.
 Ansoo Lake”  title=
“Perhaps it’s the Angels of Death, come to take me home!”, Saif thought. But they were not Angels, because Prince Saif-ul-Malook was not destined to die that night. That chowdveen ki raat, Saif became one of the handful of human beings to ever complete a chilla, and one of the rarer still to set eyes on the mythical Fairies of Koh Kaaf, the Caucasus Mountains, that magical land that lay at the border of Asia and the savage West. The Fairies flew to the Lake every full moon to bathe, and their Queen was Badr-ul-Jamal. The white cloud slowly descended at the shore of the Lake, and seven forms emerged – seven beatific creatures, fair-limbed, dark-haired, golden-eyed, with large gossamer wings on their backs that glittered in the moonlight. Saif was dumbstruck. An invisible force propelled him to his feet and he ran behind some large boulders, from where he could see without being seen. His mouth agape with wonder, he watched as the seven Fairies laughingly doffed their wings, folded them neatly on ground, and dived into the deep, shimmering waters of the Lake. And then he saw her – Badr Jamal. She was the last to enter the Lake, effortlessly gliding through the water with her long black hair spread out behind her, her face radiant as the full moon, eyes twinkling like a child’s. She was the most beautiful creature he had ever set eyes on. Prince Saif felt like he would faint from rapture. The object of his quest, of six years and forty days of tortuous struggle, was right there in plain sight; a living, breathing, palpable creature!
 Ansoo Lake”  title=
Suddenly, Prince Saif noticed that the fairies had begun to emerge from the water, and were one by one donning their wings. They were getting ready to leave! Panicking, he summoned the jinn of the Suleimani cap. “Friend, what shall I do?” he beseeched the jinn. “If I confront Badr Jamal now, she and her cohorts will be sure to take off in fright, ruining my chances forever. How do I stop her from leaving?” The jinn nodded his head sympathetically, and said in reassuring tones, “Worry not, master. Leave it to me.” With that, he vanished into the air whence he had come, and, unseen to Prince Saif and the Fairies, stealthily crept up to the shore of the Lake where the Fairies had placed their folded wings, and whisked away the largest, most iridescent pair of them all - Badr Jamal’s. Soon, Badr Jamal arose from the depths, the last of the group, to prepare herself for the return journey. “Has anyone seen my wings?” she asked after a few moments, looking around anxiously. “You put them right here, next to mine,” said one of her friends, pointing to a large rock by the shore. Badr Jamal was in utter distress. “They’re gone! My wings are gone!” She dashed about like a frightened animal, her eyes wild. “Oh, what will I do? How will I fly back to Koh Kaaf? What will he say?” Her friends were dressed and ready to leave. What would he say indeed! It was past midnight, and they were already late. He would be in a foul mood, heavily pacing the corridor of the palace, a scowl on his gigantic face, thundering like a black cloud - their master Deo Safed, the White Ogre. They had to go back, now. Glancing at each other nervously, the Fairies whispered. “There’s some mischief afoot here, surely. Some magic, some trap. We best be on our way, lest we are all ensnared.” And while Badr Jamal was still frantically searching for her wings, her back towards them, the Fairies abruptly took flight, and in one unanimous flutter, they were gone.
 Ansoo Lake”  title=
“My friends, don’t leave me here alone!” Badr Jamal cried, her hands imploring the sky. But there was nothing there. All was silent, except for the gentle lapping of the water against the shore. She was alone. The Fairy Queen sunk down to the ground, face buried in her hands. How cold she felt, suddenly! How enormous the sky seemed, and her favourite lake so menacing, so suspicious.
All at once, she heard a sound – a shuffling of feet. She looked up, alert. It was Prince Saif. Standing right before her. “You…” she said slowly, staring at him with her wide golden eyes. “You…”
“Please, don’t be afraid,” he spoke hurriedly, gently advancing towards her. ”I’m not going to hurt you. It was I who stole your wings, but please, let me explain…”
And the whole story came tumbling out – the dream, the old buzurg, his father the King, the Suleimani topi, the six year-long quest that brought him from Egypt to the Himalayas… he didn’t dare look at Badr Jamal in the face, for he was till weak from his penance, the chilla, and would not be able to stand the splendor of her beauty.
She was still staring at him, a look of disbelief on her lovely face. Finally, she spoke: “Prince Saif, you were not the only one who dreamt a dream.”
Saif glanced up in astonishment, and their eyes met for the first time. Badr Jamal smiled. “I never thought I’d see you. I didn’t think you were real…”
He couldn’t believe his ears. He felt he would explode with ecstasy. It was too sweet, too magical to be true. A moment later she was in his arms, and words cannot describe the joy and the peace that flooded over them as they embraced each other. “My sweet love, after all these years…” Saif whispered as he stroked Badr Jamal’s hair, holding her tightly. “We can finally be together!”
Badr Jamal suddenly drew back, as if she had just remembered something. “What’s the matter, my love?” Saif asked with concern.
She looked at him with a certain decisiveness, a certain resignation. ”No. I can’t stay here. I must go. I love you, Prince Saif, but I must go. Please return me my wings. I will try to come back. But right now, I must return to Koh Kaaf.”
“Let you go?” Prince Saif repeated, his voice hollow. He grabbed her wrist. “You think I would do that? After all these years? That I would give you up?” With a strange, violent laugh, he shouted to the sky, “Never!”
“But you don’t understand!” Badr Jamal fell to her knees, distraught. “He’ll kill us, he’ll kill us both! My master, Deo Safed. When my friends return and he finds me missing, he will come looking for me. He’s very powerful! And when he sees us together, he will kill us both. Instantly.” Her face streaked with tears, Badr Jamal was beautiful even in pain. “So you see, you have to let me go.”
Prince Saif took Badr by the shoulders. “Let him come,” he said passionately. “I am not afraid of him. Let him do what he dare. I am never parting with you.” He held her close, his face resolute, his heart beating with terror at what was to come.
Covering Badr Jamal in his cloak, Prince Saif fled with her down to the Valley to the nearest town, Naran. There, in a graveyard at the edge of the town, among shadows and secrets and silent tombstones, the couple hid for the night.
 Ansoo Lake”  title=
Meanwhile, 1, 600 miles away, in his castle in the Caucasus Mountains of present-day Georgia, Deo Safed was in a rage.
“Where is Badr Jamal?” he bellowed. “Where is she?” The walls shook, the glass windows rattled, and the six fairies huddled together in fear.
“We don’t know, master,” one of them ventured, her voice trembling. “When we came out of the water from our bath, she wasn’t there.”
“Perhaps she drowned…” another suggested tremulously. They could not tell him they had left her there, unprotected, vulnerable. He would kill them for it. He was a frightful creature, Deo Safed, tall as a mountain, white all over like snow, and the earth shuddered when he walked.
“Well, we’ll soon find out!” He stormed out of the palace, club in hand, heading East to the Himalayas.
Deo Safed adored Badr Jamal. He didn’t care about the others, the sniveling lot of them – she was special. He couldn’t forget, how he’d fallen madly in love with her ten years ago, when she was just a child, playing happily in the woods of Paristan, the Land of the Fairies; how he had kidnapped her and brought her to his lair, this vast stone fortress in Koh Kaaf, which was protected by such powerful magic, such fearsome beasts, that even her father, the King of Paristan, had been unable to penetrate it. He would never have let her out of his sight if he had had his way; but how could he refuse her the simple pleasure of bathing with her friends at her favourite lake twice a month? How could he deny her this one, sweet request? Oh Badr, my moon, my joy, how could you abandon me so? How could you? How dare you…he gnashed his teeth, seething with anger, and with enormous bounding steps hurtled over the mountains towards Kaghan Valley.
 Ansoo Lake”  title=
When Deo Safed reached the Lake, there was no one in sight. “Badr, Badr!” he roared. “Badr, Badr, Badr…” the mountains mocked his terrible cries.
Malika Parbat, the loftiest peak in the Kaghan Valley, towered silently above, her white slopes gleaming in the cold moonlight. “She’s gone, Deo Safed, she’s gone”, the Queen of the Mountains seemed to say to him. “Tonight you receive your just deserts.”
Deo Safed became desperate. Could it be? Was Badr Jamal truly lost? Did the Lake consume her, then, sucking her into its bottomless belly like a jealous monster, like he himself had done so many years ago? There was only one way to find out. Deo Safed struck one gigantic foot on the southwestern shore of the Lake. There was a dull moan, somewhere deep in the bowels of the earth, and, like a beast awakening, the ground heaved, shuddered, and ripped open where the ogre had stamped his foot. The serene waters of the Lake began to churn and froth, tumbling out from the crevice in torrents of emerald and blue. Deo Safed had released the Lake. As the waves went crashing down to the Valley below, Deo Safed stood, in the eye of the storm, rocks and trees and water hurtling over him. “I’ll find her! Even if she is dead, a corpse at the bottom of this accursed bottomless lake, I will find her!” The water did not stop. It was the first great flood of Kaghan.
 Ansoo Lake”  title=
Meanwhile, in the little cemetery on the outskirts of Naran town, Prince Saif and Badr Jamal had just fallen asleep under the shelter of a beautiful old deodar tree, when a tremendous thundering reached their ears, mingled with a hideous, unhuman wailing.
“He’s here!” Badr Jamal gasped, jolting out of her slumber. Her face was blanched.
For ten long years, the full bloom of her youth and beauty, Badr Jamal had been a slave, a prisoner of this monster, Deo Safed. For ten long years, she had not known family, or friendship, or love – only fear, and whispers, and unspoken dreams, the charade of loving a creature whom she reviled from the depths of her heart. He had tried to win her love, the ogre, using all manner of stratagems - fine clothes and jewelry, delicious, exotic foods, marvelous animals of all colors and shapes and sizes, a host of young fairies to attend upon her every wish.
But Badr Jamal was not free. And there was no pleasure in anything, not priceless jewels or the choicest morsel of food, if she was not free. Now, this moment, was the closest chance she had had of escape, a real escape. And yet, anything could happen. She held close to Saif. They then saw, in the distance, coming from the direction of Malika Parbat above, the flood. It was rushing towards them with lightening speed, tearing out trees, submerging sleeping villages, annihilating everything and creature that lay in its wake. In a matter of seconds, it would reach the cemetery. And that would be the end.
Saif looked at Badr Jamal, and said, shouting over the deafening roar, “This is it, my love. Tonight, we die, or we live. All we can do now is pray. So pray with me!”
Badr nodded, her face resolute, surrendering finally to whatever Fate had in store. And standing there beneath the sacred cedar, in the shadowy graveyard, on that clear, starlit night, they clasped hands, shut their eyes, and prayed. Saif prayed to God, and Badr to her gods, each with equal soul and passion. The roar of the flood was getting closer, and closer, until suddenly it seemed like it was over their heads, then below them, then all around.
“So this is what death feels like,” thought Saif. “Not as painful as I’d imagined, at least.”
But he wasn’t dead. He could still feel Badr’s warm hand clasped tightly around his. He opened his eyes.
Saif and Badr were standing in a cave, dry as leaves. At Saif’s feet lay the Suleimani cap, which he thought he had forgotten at the Lake and despaired of ever finding. “How?….” Saif’s voice trailed off as he stared at Badr, then at the cap, then around him at the cave. “Where are we?” Badr looked around in amazement. “How did we get here?” The cave was wide and airy, with a deceptively low mouth, so that they had to crawl to get out. Once outside, they saw that they were on a mountain high above the cemetery, which was by now completely inundated. Tombstones, rocks and fallen trees floated around in grim silence. The flood had passed. They were alive. They were safe. God, and the gods, had listened. But what about Deo Safed? Where was he, the great White Ogre whose fury had precipitated a flood? He wasn’t at the Lake anymore. He wasn’t even in Kaghan Valley. No, he was well on his way to his final resting place – to Deosai, Land of the Giants, where all giants were born, and where each one of them went to die. For Deo Safed had lost the will to live. Badr Jamal hadn’t drowned in the Lake. She had run away. Run away, from him. All these years, he had believed, he had convinced himself that she loved him. That she returned, to some degree, his ardent adoration for her. The truth was, he couldn’t live without her anymore; nor could he live with the knowledge that she had betrayed him. He had lost. He was defeated, broken.
In Deosai there was peace. There, at the confluence of two of the greatest mountain ranges in the world, the Himalayas and the Karakoram, in the vast, unending plains of his birth, he went, and lay down, and died. His massive body crumbled, killed by unhappiness, till there was nothing left but a mound of earth, and slowly, nothing at all. He wept the whole way there, and his large, heavy teardrops trickled down the slopes in sad streams, accumulating at a meadow in Kaghan Valley to form Ansoo Lake – “Tear Drop Lake” – a lasting memorial to his undying love for Badr Jamal. Back in Naran, Prince Saif and Badr Jamal were in ecstasies. They couldn’t believe that the struggle was over, that they had survived, that Saif’s quest was complete, that Badr was free, that they were together. Taking the beautiful fairy’s hand, Saif looked into her luminous, moonlike face, and smiled, “Let’s go home, my queen”. He summoned his trusty friend, the jinn of the Suleimani cap, and in the twinkling of an eye, the couple was 2, 500 miles away, at the gates of Prince Saif’s palace in Egypt. The news of the Prince’s return after almost seven years, and that too, with a bride, was the cause of much celebration throughout the kingdom. The King and Queen, Prince Saif’s parents, were beside themselves with joy, and wedding preparations were underway immediately. Soon, the couple was married, in a spectacular, sumptuous ceremony, and the feasting and festivities lasted for many days.

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