Tuesday, February 19, 2008

On If You Have Read "The Saddlebag": Get out of the bath, smother the candles, dry yourself, put on a warm cotton wrap and type a response

John invites anyone who has read The Saddlebag to "get out of the bath, smother the candles, dry yourself, put on a warm cotton wrap, and type a response." I love Bahiyyih's subtitle: The Saddlebag is "a fable for doubters and seekers." Doesn't that cover just about everybody? -gw

Bahiyyih Nakhjavani is a Persian writer living and educated in the West and a follower of the Baha’i faith. This is important as a founder of Baha’i plays a momentous but hidden role in the story set in the mid 19th century. We follow nine characters over a 24 hour period as a caravan bound for Mecca and Medina is raided by bandits. The events prior and post the raid are told from the perspectives of each character so the meaning of events and behaviour alters as we visit and revisit. A connecting thread to all the stories is a saddlebag and its contents passing around each of the characters so driving some to death and ruin and others to salvation and joy. ...

How do its ideas connect or resonate with the intellectual concerns of both the West and the East?

Bahiyyih Nakhjavani takes the core incident of the plot from a Bahá'í historical narrative titled "The Dawn-breakers" which mentions briefly that a saddlebag belonging to the Báb - the prophet-herald of the Bahá'í Faith - was stolen during His pilgrimage to Mecca. She then used the language, metaphors, symbols and traditions of the major world religions to create her archetypal characters. They the Bedouin thief (a pagan), the Arab chieftain (an atheist), the Zoroastrian bride, the Indian moneychanger (who switches from Hindu to Moslem to whatever else the occasion demands), the Felasha(Jewish Ethiopian) slave woman, the pilgrim who has amalgamated Confucian, Buddhist and Moslem beliefs, the Persian Shi`ah Moslem priest, the English spy (a lukewarm Anglican Christian), and the corpse of a rich Persian merchant. Their fates reflect the impact of Bahá'í and it inner meanings: the pagan dies at last free, the chieftain abandons power, the Shi`ah Moslem priest torn between stamping out heresy and [following] the driving force of Bahá'í love.

{Excerpt reposted with permission}

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