The Gay Caliph
From ‘ Falafel and Shirazi Wine’ Collection
My friends welcome to my humble above under the wild oak. I hope you found everything you needed in the market. Thank you for stopping to listen to my ramblings. Today’s story is about Caliph Uthman Bin Djamil Ibn Musa al Wa’ahidi … no, no, no, you must not start to grumble. Last week, as you were
leaving I mentioned that some of you might not think the topic of today’s story would be suitable for the ears of children, and I notice that most of you have have left them at home today. I am a story-teller, and I tell tales I have learnt or made up, and must not be blamed if you not like their contents. This one happens to be a true story. I am not preaching for or against sodomy, I aim to tell you this story as I was told it by my ever-reliable sources. I have verified that all the facts are true. So if you have something against the events, you might as well say you hate truth. Those of you who have no stomach for it, can leave or close your ears.
I can be forceful sometimes, and speak my mind without fear. Of course nobody leaves.
The kingdom of Belwaqqaniyya, as you know is a large island off the coast of Yemen, with a population of six million. The capital El Minawar is a thriving and dynamic city of great splendour. It’s soil is rich and the people make a decent living, fishing in the rich waters of the Arabian sea, growing staples like potatoes for which there is a great demand from arid Saudi Arabia. It is also famous for the pearl divers who can stay under water for twelve minutes. The people were god-fearing and honest and led a peaceful life. They were also known for their love of music and singing. Caliph Djameel ibn Musa al Wa’ahidi was an easygoing unspectacular man with a love for women wine and dancing, which did not stop him from being pious and god-fearing. How he squared that circle is irrelevant to my narration and I shall not venture there. Although he had fathered many children, they were all girls, apart from Uthman, who, when he was born was the Caliph’s pride and joy.
Uthman was strikingly beautiful with smooth tea-coloured skin, thick jet black silky hair and amazing peerless eyes the colour of sea-weed. He was the pride and joy of the Caliph who used to say to his subjects that when Death knocked on his door he would himself go open it to welcome him, in the knowledge that his beloved son would be a worthy successor to him. He made sure the lad was properly equipped for the role Allah had obviously destined for him. Or at least he tried to.
A man who lived for the pleasures of the senses, he believed that his son should develop in the same mould, so at an early age he began to draw his attention to the beauty of the many beautiful young maidens serving his harem. When the boy was no more than eleven he took him to his private purpose-built little cabin equipped with telescopes which gave a clear view of the pool where their maids bathed his concubines. Together they watched these gorgeous women playfully take away all their clothes and dive and splash water over each other, fondling and teasing each other in a manner they were not supposed to. The boy was clearly delighted, and said that as they were having so much fun, he wished he could go and join them. The old Caliph was delighted. A true son of mine, he said to himself, he will make a great king, but he knew where to draw the line.
‘No,’ he explained said, ‘in the zenana men and boys are not allowed, but if you want, you tell me who you like best and_’
‘I like them all, daddy,’ the boy interrupted, which increased his father’s delight seven and a half times. ‘Indeed you are a true son of mine, Uthman Ibn Djameel, but tell me, which one do you like best, I’ll get her to join you in your bedroom and you can have all the fun you want, is it the one with the long silken hair?’
‘Bedroom? Why daddy, the bedroom is no place for fun.’ He can’t mean that, thought the old lecher. Perhaps he is too young, although I was eleven the first time I …
Caliph Djameel thought it best to allow nature to take its course for the time being, but little by little he saw things which struck him as potentially dangerous. One thing which rang alarm bells was when he noticed Uthman doggedly following the Vizier’s son Nasim Ibn Abdallah around. It should have been the other way round. He even thought of sacking Abdallah Ibn Gaffa’ar in order to save his Uthman, but the country needed Abdallah’s political skills, and he couldn’t take a chance. In he end he said that Nasim should go to Baghdad to study their business practices. When the boy left, he found Uthman in tears, and knew for sure that his son was cursed, a lutiyy. There were few things in the world Caliph Djameel hated more than what he thought of as perverts. Women had such delightful bodies, he used to say, that
he could easily understand them being captivated by each other. If he had the misfortune of being born deprived, he would doubtless want to bed other women, but a man attracted to another man, was a monstrous thing.He loved few things more than to spend his evenings with dancers and pretty women
The Caliph was not a man who when faced with a problem just gave up. If there is a problem, he would say, then there must be a concomitant solution. He was as convinced of that as he was that he was a wise and generous ruler and that his seat in Allah’s jannat was secure. He summoned his chief physician, Suleman al Harish al Tahrani.
I have never seen this lot so attentive. It confirms my belief that most men have doubts as to whether they were one hundred percent in the clear. Can my close friendship with so and so, they wonder, be really just friendship? They half remember an ambiguous dream. Could it be that deep down I am …Which explains why we all like to hear about others being perverts.
‘My lad Uthman is cursed with alaïnhiraf, perversion,’ he told al Tahrani, ‘you must cure him.’
Experienced as he was, Dr Al Tahrani had never known anybody who was “straightened”, although he knew of a number of cases where those who had fingers pointed at them ended by killing themselves after prayers and snake oils proved fruitless, but he knew better than to say this to the Caliph.
‘If your majesty commands, then I shall obey, consider the young prince cured,’ was what he said. He had not the faintest idea how he was going to approach the problem, but he knew that he should play for time, for he knew that there was no remedy for this condition, almost universally thought to be a curse. So he begged the Caliph to give him time to work on schemes which would bring about young Uthman’s treatment.
‘I’ll give you forty days,’ the Caliph said magnanimously, ‘if come Ramadan Sharif, the boy is still uninterested in girls, then I’ll have your head.’ Al Tahrani pretended that he had no fear at all, but he knew the old Caliph had criminal instincts and had no doubt that he would carry out his threat, if only to vent his frustration.
Next day he went to the palace and said that after due consideration, he had found how to tackle the problem. The method he had elaborated could be thought of as a three-pronged attack. He will carry out the first part as early as in three days’ time.
The first thing he really did when he got home was to start planning and preparing for a quick exit from the island.
Al Tahrani was a keen and accomplished hunter, and in desperation thought that if anything could help turn the feminine soul embedded in a male body, into a heroic and lionhearted masculine one, a passion for hunting might. He had his doubts of course, but thought he’d give it a try.
In those days guns were not very common, so hunters used bow and arrow or spears. He had himself downed oryx, wild boar, fennecs, wild ducks, so he knew how to tackle this. If he took the boy on a hunting expedition, he might gain some time.
On the third day, the royal party and the Caliph’s viziers and court officials set out towards the great Himla desert in the north of the island, proudly riding their horses, their equipment and foodstuffs following on a camel train. After two unadventurous days they reached the perimeter of Himla. They erected their tents and had an early night, for the plan was to get up at the crack of dawn on the trail of oryx. Uthman was excited by the expedition, but was unsure about the rest. It might be fun, he told himself. Although he was only seventeen he had fairly strong arms, and Tahrani was impressed with how quickly he learnt to manipulate his bow, and with his aim. He was clearly a natural. In practice, he had managed to dig many holes into palm date trunks with his arrows hitting target.
For three hours they rode under the punishing desert sun, with not half an oryx in sight, then their eyes drooping with fatigue, a majestic beast with two horns sticking out of its head like two magnificent scimitars appeared on the horizon. Al Tahrani felt his heart beating with anticipation. For half a minute he entertained the hope that if the boy felled this splendid beast his feminine soul would indeed metamorphose unto a muscular masculine one.
‘What are you doing, my prince?’ he asked Uthman, taking great care to hide his impatience.
‘I am admiring its beauty,’ he said, ‘I’ve never seen anything as beautiful as this creature.’
He felt like saying, you’re supposed to shoot it, you little wanker, not admire it, my effing life depends on this, but taking a deep breath he said, ‘Yes indeed, a handsome fellow, now get your arrow ready. He is in your direct line of vision and well within your range. The oryx, when not disturbed will stay still for minutes at a time, he continued, as if awaiting your hit. When you’re ready, let go. Uthman stared, his arrow still in his quiver. He had not heard Al Tahrani, but the Caliph drew near him and repeated what the adviser had said. With a lump on his throat the boy took out an arrow with quivering fingers, flexed his bow, put the beautifully crafted dart to the string and pulled with all his might. He knew that he had shoot it, but hoped he’d miss. Sadly he did not. The projectile sped out like lightning and hit target, piercing the valiant beast’s heart. The oryx felt the stab in his heart but refused to crumple. Uthman counted up to twelve before his four legs shook and he collapsed on the ground like a house of cards. They all rushed towards the poor dead beast, and Uthman was the first to jump down. To the amazement of everybody, he seized the bloodied head of the poor thing and began rocking it gently, his tears unstoppable. Al Tahrani thought there’s one of my lives gone. He had to act quickly.
Now for the second prong, dear listeners. With the help of the Vizier who was a connoisseur in these matters, he assembled a number of beautiful young dancers, dressed them in the most attractive and seductive gossamer silk of all hues, and organised an afternoon of music and dancing. The Caliph kept
asking his son if he was looking forward to this feast specially arranged for him, and each time the boy answered with decreasing enthusiasm, that yes, he was very much looking forward to it.
When the time came, they gathered in the verandah to watch the merrymaking. The Caliph could not help noticing that Uthman forced a smile on his lips but knew that the boy’s heart was not in it. Let’s hope that his second attempt works, thought the ruler, because I really mean to have him beheaded if he fails.
The musicians carrying their ouds, tabl baladi, qanun and darbukas filed past the guests and took position on a dais in the marble forecourt, on the other side of the fountain where rose-water spouted up, opposite to where the Caliph and the royals including Uthman were seated. Guests sat under the extension of the verandah on the two wings.
The first number was a dabke to the accompaniment of the the oud and the darbuka, which was performed by six young fellows dressed in tight-fitting robes and wearing their keffiyehs with a tail. Uthman’s look of boredom immediately gave way to one of interest, and Caliph Djameel was mighty pleased.
The session progressed with solos on the qanun which left the princeling cold, but the anxious father thought nothing of it. The test would be when the boy was exposed to the schikhatt. This is, as you all know, the most erotic dance devised. I is said that Shaitan himself appeared to a court musician in a dream and instructed him on its choreography. It is a dance with a purpose, aimed at brides-to-be, teaching them how on to seduce their grooms on their wedding night. It is so daring that the performers are often instructed to tone it down so as not to cause offence, but the Caliph gave strict instructions to the young performers to leave nothing to the imagination. The accompaniment was a solo tabl baladi. Fingers tapping on he stretched leather of the baladi can simulate the rhythms of sexual intercourse like nothing else but the real thing. There were seven of the most beautiful young women in the kingdom, all between seventeen and eighteen. The Caliph had earmarked a couple of them for himself, unless the boy expressed a preference for them, when, in this case the lad’s desire would come first. But perhaps after.
They were dressed in flowing skirts each of one of the colours of the rainbow, and had their midriffs bare. Their well-formed titties were scarcely hidden by the flimsiest choli. The Caliph saw Uthman crane his neck forward indicating a greater interest than he had shown until now. Two musicians began tapping on their tabl, one obviously an aggressive male dictating the agenda, the other a submissive but not unwilling responder who seemed to be the embodiment of the lead dancer, an impossibly curvaceous and lascivious young thing in a gossamer violet flowing skirt which when she swirled it revealed more than it hid. The girls began swinging their hips, making them tremble like bubbling boiling water. Uhman opened his eyes wide in admiration, and began tapping his feet to the beats of the tabl baladi. The Caliph thought that a cup of Shirazi wine for the boy might not be amiss, and signalled to one of his attendants to serve the boy who drank it up in one go. After a second cup, he had become quite tipsy and was moving his body in synch with the music. My boy is saved, said Caliph Djameel to himself. Allah be praised, my boy is saved.
He shook the boy who seemed to have fallen into a trance. Which one do you like best, he asked. The violet one daddy, who else?
Then she is yours,’ he shouted, doing an unmajestic little dance.
Our teachers instructing us on the art of storytelling could not tell us often enough that one’s narration falls below par if one told rather than showed. We greenhorns struggling to drink at their fountains of knowledge used to give them nicknames behind their backs, and the most popular one was always El Haji Shawdontel. If what I have shown did not register, then I failed my venerable kabir Qayyum bin Qayyum. My dear listeners, I may not have spelled it out, but inherent in my delivery was the fact that the old Caliph was not what anyone would call a refined and polished gentleman, so in case the information had not registered, I will say it: The Caliph was a coarse and vulgar individual, unlike our own beloved Saddam Hussain el Tikriti. He clapped his hands authoritatively and ordered the merriment to stop. Everybody was sent home apart from the seven dancers. In those days, and in his country, the girls who became dancers knew that there were conditions attached to their progress. My friends, I don’t have to tell you what they are. In America it is called the casting couch.
‘Feyrooz,’ he told the young beauty in violet, ‘you will spend the rest of the night with my son Prince Uthman. There will be nice gifts for you in the morning. But you will have to teach him everything.’ Feyrooz giggled, and bowed to the Caliph, and without further ado, the two youngsters were led to the boy’s bedroom. Never had Caliph Djameel spent a more peaceful night, dismissing the six other comely dancers he had initially planned to spend the night with. He did not need to add to his joy.
After the fajr prayers he went and knocked on the door of his son. He was surprised to hear laughter and merriment coming out of the room. He pushed the door open and entered, and saw Uthman dressed in Feyrooz’s violet skirt swinging his arse. The Caliph did not immediately cotton on.
‘So, you had fun the pair of you?’ he asked.
‘Thank you daddy,’ Uthman said.
‘Yes indeed, your majesty,’ Feyrooz confirmed.
‘Eh, … eh, what exactly did you do?’
‘Oh daddy, I fell in love_’ The Caliph glowed with pleasure.
‘You did? But she is a -’ he was going to say a whore, but he restrained that bad word and said dancer instead.
‘Daddy, I’m gonna ask you for one thing, promise me you will say yes.’
‘But of course son. If it’s the moon I will despatch Ibn Khaldun to go get it for you.’
As you must know dear listeners, Ibn Khaldun is the greatest world traveller on earth.
‘I have only one word, go ahead, ask.’
‘Daddy,’ the boy said, ‘the first time I set eyes_’
‘I know, you said, but say it again.’
‘Daddy, the first time I set eyes on Feyrooz’s violet skirt, I fell in love with it. Can you get one made for me.’
The Caliph went into a rage. It was all Al Tahrani’s fault his only son was a lutiyy. He must have his head. He summoned the physician with the intention of throwing him in the dungeons awaiting execution, but suspecting the Caliph’s sinister intent, the physician arrived at the palace with the widest grin on his face, and before the Caliph said anything, he burst out laughing, and told of a dream he had the previous night. Why had he not thought of it himself? He asked. This is a surefire foolproof cure. He guaranteed that young Uthman would be cured at a stroke.
‘So what are we waiting for?’
‘I need three days to prepare, but I assure your majesty that the result would make the wait worthwhile.
He rushed home, told his wife to get the children and everything ready, and in the night they slipped away to Malamariyya where a boat was waiting to them them to the safety of Hindustan.
Coincidentally, Hindustan is also where our story takes us. The fame and wisdom of Emperor Akbar’s adviser Birbal had crossed the country’s frontiers, and it was quite common for people at court to regale each other with tales of his mental jousts. After the betrayal of Al Tahrani, Caliph Djameel sent an envoy to Delhi to put him in the picture regarding his wayward and perverted son, and try to convince him to come to Belwaqqaniyya. Emperor Akbar was
the most enlightened ruler of his age. When he succeeded Humayun, he was appalled at the traditional and fratricidal enmity between his Muslim and Hindu subjects. True visionary that he was, he made it his ambition in life to eliminate all enmities between all nations. He therefore sent ambassadors to all the rulers in the region, offering them peace treaties. It was in this spirit that he had appointed the Hindu Birbal as his senior adviser. He was a man whose wisdom and wit had crossed the frontiers of his country. If Birbal could not solve Prince Uthman’s little difficulty, then nothing would.
When the emperor sounded Birbal, knowing that the Hindu sage liked nothing more than a challenge, he told him, ‘With you out of the way for a couple of weeks, I might be able to win some chess matches, dear Birbal.’
Birbal travelled light. A small bag slung over his shoulder with an extra dhoti and three neem sticks for cleaning his teeth. Before leaving he got Dasvant the court painter with the title of first master of the age, to paint two pictures of the Emperor’s nephew Rasheed, one in courtly gold-coloured silk jama with a red patka round his waist, and a blue woven cotton pagri embedded with rubies and emeralds, on his head, and a sword in his hand. The other, was of Rasheeda as the young man used to think of himself. There was nothing he used to love more than dressing in female garbs. Here she was dressed in a multi-coloured peshwaz, subtly open at the top revealing a silver-coloured choli with two mango-shaped cotton wool balls pressed against his chest. Her eyes were lined with kajal, her lips reddened with betel. Round her forehead she had a silver chain with a small almond-shaped sapphire encrusted in a bed of gold. From her ears dangled a pair of jhumkas embedded with pearls, which were also what the eight strings round her neck were made of. Her cheeks were expertly daubed with a syrup of pomegranate. She is looking lovingly at a slate-grey pigeon perched on her right hand.
When Birbal arrived at El Minawar, he was received with great pomp, for his fame had preceded him. He asked to see Prince Uthman in private, and showed him the miniature of Rasheed with the sword, and then made a great show of presenting Rasheeda to the Caliph and his courtiers.
You, my dear listeners, being a sophisticated audience do not need too many detailed explanations, because it is well-known that if there is an art for telling stories, there is also one for listening. You have proved to me that nowhere in the world exists a more sophisticated audience
A wedding took place in El Minawar which people would remember for years to come. In a large field next to the palace, one hundred and eleven sheep were roasted over open fires to serve to the guests. Falafels were fried in cauldrons one hundred at a time. A million grapes were imported from Lebanon, oranges from Morocco, pineapples from India. Baklava, basbousa, kanafeh, jellabi, gulab jamun were distributed to all the citizens of El Minawar. However much I hate gossip, I owe a debt to truth, and will be failing in my duty if I did not report that Shirazi flowed by the barrel, although not everybody partook of this haram drink.
The couple took to each other, and led a very happy life. Uthman became Caliph of Islam, and when Djameel was called by Allah to sit on his right hand side. Uthman, with his faithful Rasheeda by his side was, according to the history books, written by his trusted court historians, a wise and fair ruler.
A year after they were wed, Rasheeda gave birth to a bonny baby boy who was named Hasan ibn Uthman al Djameel al Wa’ahidi.
I know, I know, tarry your complaints dear listeners. This Hukawati never leaves his audience in suspense for too long. There is the problem of Hasan. Now that it can be told, it shall be. Although Rasheed/ Rasheeda had a feminine nature, he was, how do I explain? Let me put it this way, if he was really left-handed, he could also sometimes use his right hand. And the chambermaid was willing.
And I can swear that rumours to the effect that after giving birth to young baby Hasan, she was quietly disposed of are completely unfounded.