July 11, 2018

Of Jinn and Justice: Musharruf Farooqi's supernatural short story makes for great Islamic fantasy

Reading The Jinn Darazgosh was an interesting experience, because until recently the entirety of my exposure to jinn stories included the Disney version of Alladin. A genie that came out of a magic lamp and granted three wishes sounded like a brilliant concept, right up until last year, when my exposure to the anthology The Djinn Falls in Love and Other Stories as well as the trilogy Bartimaeus Sequence exposed me to a whole new side of the differently-spelled ‘djinn’.

The former anthology tackled djinns as both protagonists and antagonists in stories which showed them as more than creatures whose sole purpose was to fulfil the whims of fickle humans. The latter trilogy introduced me to the idea of levels of djinns as afrits and marids with varying powers and purposes. Around discussions with my best friend about the course she was planning to teach about these supernatural creatures as well as the recent burst of publication of books about djinns, I’ve come to realize that there’s a whole world out there beyond elves and dwarves when it comes to supernatural creatures.

Farooqi’s story tackles a side of fantasy that I wish I had read more of. In a world where jinn creep into the heavens to overhear the angel’s plans and come back to tell those who pretend to portend events, a jinn named Darazgosh works for an augur named Sarob. With augurs all over the world using these jinn to spy on angels to predict the future, Darazgosh is entrusted with the same tasks. He, however, gets more involved than allowed in his curiosity to see how what the angels have said will come to pass, setting off a whole chain of events.

Darazgosh went away after witnessing those events, but every night he returned to watch what went on in those places, and to await the time when God’s decree would be fulfilled.

Most of this story is told in a format I like to call the old-school-dastaan way of narrating. The dialogues are limited, and most of the narration in in the form of stock paragraphs that relate what happened in simple and clear language. With two lovers fated to die in the far distant future due to rains in the here and now, we follow the jinn as he keeps track of how these events come to pass.

It’s not a simple, one-generation narrative, with a story starting and ending with the life of one person. In keeping with the large-scale narration, the actual hero and heroine are the grandchildren of the people with whom we begin our story. An unhappy couple with a wife who bears a miracle child lead to our hero, whereas a verdant tree and the birth of a baby girl lead us to our heroine. Decades pass in the matter of minutes as people give birth and grow older, as deaths are faced and fates changed, and the next chapter begins, with Darazgosh watching over it all.

He again sent for Darazgosh and said to him: “Find out once more what is being said in the heavens and bring me the news!” Darazgosh again returned, and said: “The angels in the heavens say that the fortune of the kingdom is tied to the two slaves gifted to the king by a courtier.”

The story, which seeks to describe how the jinn were locked out of heaven, culminates in Darazgosh playing a more active part in the events than he is allowed. With an omnipresent narrator and a certain emotional distance from the story itself, this is not one of those tales where you judge them on how closely you felt for the characters or how three dimensional they were. Given that you barely get to spend a large amount of time with anyone beyond their functionality to the tale itself, what’s more important is the story, and how things lead to another. And overall, this makes for an okay reading experience. It’s not the best story I’ve ever read, and I certainly won’t remember it a month from now, but it also wasn’t a complete waste of my time, and I didn’t have to struggle to finish it. For reference, I’d suggest everyone should read this brilliant article by the author, where he talks in detail about the Islamic concept of jinn and their background. Recommended.