Isfahan, February 1675
My dear father,
A strange thing happened when I was returning home yesterday. A veiled woman, followed by three or four others, stopped to look at me. She approached my horse and from the corner of her veil she took nuts and raisins and offered them, telling me to eat.
My valet signalled me to accept them, but I was much taken aback and could not understand what it was all about. I caught a glimpse of a fine robe as she lifted the corner of her veil, so she seemed a woman of some importance. My assumption was that she was a courtesan and she was inviting me to go with her, so I ignored her. Afterwards I was embarrassed and annoyed as I discovered how distressed the lady must have been by my refusal.
Apparently barren and newly married women frequent a nearby tower to practice a very peculiar rite. Her relatives bring the barren woman, led by a horse’s bridle over her veil and carrying a new broom and a new earthenware pot full of nuts. She climbs the tower and breaks a nut on every step, putting the nut in the pot and leaving the shell. Coming down again she sweeps every step and puts the nuts, with some dried raisins in the corner of her veil.
As she goes home, if she meets any man who pleases her she gives him some of the nuts and raisins and begs him to eat. If he accepts, the Persians believe, her sterility is cured. If the man refuses their pious offering the women imagine that their barrenness will continue. What a blunder!
This reminds me of another tale I heard recently. The king had a white falcon, sent to him from the Caucasus, of which he was very fond. One day he wished to fly it but was told it was sick. He called the Chief Falconer and told him:
“Take care of my bird, for whoever brings me news of his death will be disembowelled.”
Eight days later the falcon died. The Chief Falconer was in despair, but he met the king’s jester, Kachal Anayat and begged him in tears to save him from death. Anayat was moved by this misfortune and went to the king, who had just dined and was luckily in a good mood.
“Where have you come from, fool?” he asked. Anayat put on a cheerful air and replied:
“Sire, I was sweeping a place in front of a gilded cage. I sprinkled it with water, spread out a little silken carpet and scattered it with flowers. Then I took your white falcon and, with my tears streaming, I laid it down on its back. The falcon was stretched out, its wings spread, its legs stiff and its eyes closed.”
The king was surprised and interrupted, crying: “Why then, my bird is dead?” “Sire”, replied Anayat: “May your head be saved for you yourself have said it.”
How clever was that!
I remain, your devoted son,