Bedtime audio stories - The Missing Statue

 The Missing Statue

In far away Arabia, once upon a time there lived a young Nawab. Well, Habib, for that was his name, was lazy and good for nothing man. So much so, after his father's death, he ruled his country with the help of his friends as incapable and inefficient as himself. Very soon, not a single piece of gold or silver remained in the treasury and the affairs of the state went from bad to worse. Not before long, the Nawab was reduced to utter poverty. His old mother chided him, "It's your foolishness that has brought upon us this curse of misery!" Habib was very sad. He repented over his foolishness. That night he dreamed a very strange dream in which an old man said, "Nawab, do not despair. Go to Cairo and there you'll find solace." The influence of the dream on him was so strong that the next morning, disguising himself as a wayfarer, he set out on a journey. For seven long days and nights, he traveled and passed through dangerous terrains. At last, he reached the great city. Tired, he sat under a tree to rest and soon fell fast asleep. Alas, he once again dreamed of the strange old man.

"Nawab," he said, "this long and arduous journey was only to test you. You've indeed proved yourself brave and determined, and deserve good fortune. Return to your land and deep under your father's chamber you'll find happiness." On reaching home, the Nawab at once began digging the floor of the father's room. He dug and dug and dug all day long and well into the midnight but found nothing. Still, he continued to dig deeper and deeper, for, the old man's words were ringing in his ears. Suddenly in the dead of the night, when all was quiet and one could even hear the footsteps of the wee mice, there was a loud metallic sound. The pickaxe had struck a large square trap doo with a big iron ring on it. Habib pulled it open and there stretched before him a long winding staircase. He hurried down the steps and came to a splendid room. Pure white crystals formed the ceiling. Its walls were studded with sparkling jewels and the floor was covered with mirrors. The moment Habib entered the room, countless little flames flickered from all sides. He then realized that they were only reflections of the lamp he held in his hand. There were large vases of shining marble filled with precious stones. At the far end were ranged seven gold pedestals and on six of them stood statues of beautiful damsels in various poses, each one carved out of a single diamond. They seemed so full of life, almost smiling at their onlooker, that the Nawab stood motionless staring at them.

On the seventh pedestal there was no statue but pure white silk on which the following words were written in blue ink, "Dear son, go to Baghdad where lives my former slave, Hussain. He will guide you to find the seventh statue which will bring happiness and prosperity." At dawn the next day, Habib set out on his mission. When he reached his destination, he asked a passerby for Hussain's house. He was at once directed to it, for his father's former slave was known throughout the city as the richest and kindest merchant. When the young man entered Hussain's chamber, in his palatial mansion, he got up from his seat and greeting him politely, asked, "What can I do for you, honored Sir?" "I'm Habib, the son of your former master, the Nawab," he replied. "How do I know that you're really the son of the Nawab? It's now nearly two and a half decades since I left Basra," said Hussain. Habib, showing him the white silk, replied, "I found this on the seventh pedestal in the secret chamber." "My lord," said Hussain bowing to him, "I was your father's slave and, therefore, I'm yours, too. Tell me how can I serve you." "Only guide me to find the missing damsel," said the young man. "The search will be difficult and the journey arduous," replied the merchant, "but I'll surely help you in your mission. Please honor me by being my guest tonight." Early the next morning, Habib and Hussain set out on swift horses. They rode for a month and encountered many adventures on the way. At last, they reached the shore of a gushing river.

"My lord," said Hussain, "we're now in the land of the Jinn. Only the Prince of Jinn has the power to give you what you seek." They saw, all of a sudden, a golden boat gliding towards them. It was manned by Jinn oarsmen, with the body of a lion and the head of an elephant. They lifted the two men by their trunk and gently placed them in the boat. It glided back on the glistening water and soon touched the shore of a sunny island. It was an enchanting land. There were flowers of many hue and color, gracious green trees, gurgling brooks, and birds singing the sweetest songs. Every step they took unraveled new beauties more charming than before. They soon came to a magnificent emerald palace with gates of gold which were guarded by giant Jinn soldiers. "We should proceed no further, for if we do, the sentries will kill us," cautioned Hussain. "But how then can we meet the Prince?" asked Habib. "I shall beckon him with some magical words. If he's angry, he'll appear as a dreadful monster. But if he's in a friendly and helpful mood, we'll see him as a young and handsome man. Whatever form he may take, let's sit motionless on these mats," said the merchant, spreading a mat on the tender grass. Then, in a loud clear voice, he pronounced some abracadabras and then said, "I implore you, O Prince of the Jinn, appear before us." There was a rolling sound of thunder and it became dark like the moonless night. Then a light of the seven colors of the rainbow dazzled and there stood before them a handsome young man. The sun, which had for some time completely disappeared, again shone brightly and all was quiet. 

The charming figure said with a serene smile, "O young Nawab, I know the purpose of your visit. But, in order to get what you seek, you've to fulfill a condition." "O noble being, I'm prepared to accomplish any task for you," said Habib, rather bravely. "Then fetch me the most beautiful maiden. Mind you, she should be seventeen summers old, no more no less. And she should be able to answer the following riddle: "What is happiness? Is it only wealth, And fine rosy health, Good food, and nice dress?" "But how should I know that I've found the right girl and who has given me the correct answer?" asked Habib. "Take this magic mirror. It'll always remain misty and opaque. But the moment the most beautiful girl stands before you and gives a satisfactory answer to the question, the mirror will reflect her face," said the Prince of the Jinn, handing him a lovely piece of glass gilded in gold. Then, in a flash of lightning, he disappeared. The elephant-headed Jinns escorted them back to the other shore. From city to city and hamlet to hamlet Habib and Hussain traveled and met many comely damsels and put to them the Jinn's question. But alas, the mirror remained misty. One day, as the sun was about to set, they came to a humble dwelling at the edge of the forest. An old woodcutter's family lived in it. They asked for shelter to pass the night and were warmly welcomed. When they entered the small hut, they drew a deep breath.

For, in the fading light they saw before them the most lovely maiden they had ever met. "She is Ayesha, my only daughter," said the old man. "Please do sit down and she'll get you some bread and warm milk." Habib lost no time in asking in a friendly tone, "Tell us, Ayesha, What is happiness? Is it only wealth, And fine rosy Health, Good food, and nice dress?" The woodcutter's daughter forthwith replied, "Lots of riches, good health, sumptuous dishes, and bejeweled garments will indeed make us happy. But alas they cannot give us lasting happiness." "Then what is true happiness?" asked Hussain with great curiosity. "Only when we stop to desire anything and are not attached to the things we possess shall we be truly happy," replied Ayesha with a smile. Habib took out the mirror from his pocket and looked into it. It was no hazier and reflected in it he saw the innocent beauty of Ayesha. In the morning, they introduced themselves and Habib asked the woodcutter for his daughter's hand. The old couple's joy knew no bounds, for, they were proud that their daughter was going to be the wife of a Nawab! But deep in their hearts, they were very sad indeed to part with her. Bidding farewell, the three of them set out on their journey. "What if I take her to Basra and make her my queen instead of giving her to the Jinn?" asked Habib in a whispering tone. "If you do so, the anger of the Jinn will not only destroy all of us but also your land and people," cautioned Hussain. Soon they reached the enchanting island. The moment the Prince of the Jinn set his eyes on Ayesha, she disappeared into thin air.

"You've indeed successfully accomplished the task and you deserve happiness. Now return home," said the glorious being and he vanished. At Cairo, Hussain took leave of his guest and Habib headed for Basra, all alone with a heavy heart. He loved Ayesha. Alas, now he had lost her forever! On reaching the deserted palace, he hurried down the winding staircase and into the room of treasures. There on the seventh pedestal stood the statue of Ayesha. But like the other figures she, too, was carved out of a single diamond. Nevertheless, with drops of tears trickling down, he gently kissed the lifeless fingers of her hand. The moment he had done so, lo! and behold, out of the statue walked a living Ayesha, radiantly beautiful. The Nawab looked on in utter amazement. Suddenly in a dazzle of light, the strange old man whom he had so often seen in his dreams appeared and said, "O young man, I wish you a long and happy life. May God bless you." The vision then disappeared and there was silence. But Habib recognized in the old man the Jinn's voice. "Indeed," he thought, "the prince of the Jinn is our guardian spirit. All the adventures I went through were only to make me a different man." Needless to say, Nawab Habib and Begum Ayesha lived happily for many years.

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