Jumar’s Horse

There was once an island kingdom far away from here, where all the camels were tall and proud, and the men were skilled in making pottery, from the soft clay near the shore. The king was fair to his people and a state of harmony prevailed. No one went without delicious fruit, or fine cloth for their clothes. Although the kingdom was prosperous, it was cut off from the world beyond, in the middle of the sea. Whenever anyone needed something not found on the island, a boat would be sent lo the mainland to bring it back. But the waters all around were so perilous that these boats often sank, drowning all on board.

Now, there lived in this kingdom a man called Jumar Khan. He was young and he was handsome, and he had a boat that he used to ferry goods from the next kingdom, far away. He would brave the high waves and travel there often. And on one such journey he spotted a stallion for sale. It was the colour of newly minted snow, with a jet-black mane and eyes that shone like coals. ‘Jumar Khan had no wife or children to support and he had a bag of gold, the profit from many dangerous crossings. He asked the owner the price of the horse. He had just enough money, but the animal’s owner said to him: “I will sell it to you on the condition that you promise never to sell it to anyone else.” ‘Jumar agreed and paid the money. The animal was loaded up on in the boat and, in rolling seas, carried back to the kingdom. A few years passed and everyone praised the stallion. Jumar himself loved it a little more each day. Then, one winter Jumar set sail as normal, but a giant wave struck and smashed the boat on to rocks. Jumar and the passengers were saved by the grace of God. But with no boat, Jumar lost his livelihood and he was ruined.

He might have sold his horse, but he had made a promise. In any case, he loved it with all his heart and could not be parted from it. ‘One day an important merchant visited the kingdom. He was known by reputation throughout the East and his name was Sher Ali. While staying on the island, he heard of Jumar Khan and the hapless circumstances in which he found himself. And he heard of the fabulous stallion and the promise not to sell it. But in the merchant’s experience every object had a value.

He sent word to Jumar’s. The next evening Sher Ali arrived. With no money to afford staff, Jumar received his guest himself and prepared a fabulous meal of succulent meat garnished with vegetables grown by himself. Sher Ali ate until he could eat no more and, after a tea, he asked about the horse. ‘Jumar Khan shifted in his seat. “Oh, respected guest,” he said, “as you know, it is our tradition to provide a feast for a visitor. And the more esteemed the visitor, the finer the meal is required to be. In my state of poverty, I was unable to provide a meal fitting for a distinguished guest such as yourself,” said Jumar Khan, placing his hand on his heart. “The only way I could keep my honour was to serve you my beloved horse.”‘

Indries Shah

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