The Bride’s Mirror: A Tale of Life in Delhi A Hundred Years Ago (Book Excerpt) by Nazir Ahmad,  Translated by G.E.Ward

Nazir Ahmad (1831–1912) was a well-known Urdu writer and colonial administrator. Besides the fame he achieved as a writer and thinker in his lifetime, he was admired for his attempts at social and religious reform. Nazir ahmad died of a stroke in 1912. G. E. Ward was a civil servant in Bengal. When he retired he studied and taught Urdu at wadham college, oxford university. Below you can read an excerpt from  The Bride’s Mirror: A Tale of Life in Delhi A Hundred Years Ago. Courtesy: Aleph Book Company. 

Book Excerpt from The Bride’s Mirror: A Tale of Life in Delhi A Hundred Years Ago by Nazir Ahmad,  Translated by G.E.Ward

Now listen to the story of Asghari. This girl was to her family what a rose in full bloom is to a garden, or the eye to a human body. Every kind of acquired excellence, every kind of natural intelligence was hers. Good sense, self-restraint, modesty, consideration for others—all these qualities God had bestowed upon her. From her childhood she had a distaste for romping and jesting and ill-natured jokes. She loved reading, or doing the work of the house. No one had ever seen her chattering rubbish, or quarrelling with anybody. All the women of the mohulla loved her as they did their own daughters. Blessed indeed was the fate of those parents who owned Asghari for a daughter! and happy was the lot of that family into which Asghari was now to be admitted as a bride!

At this time, by the grace and favour of God, Asghari’s age was fully thirteen years. Her betrothal had already been settled, and now there began to be a talk of fixing the day and the month.

But on her side, Muhammad Kámil’s mother, after her experience of Akbari’s ways, had become so frightened—according to the proverb, ‘He who has burnt his lips with milk[1]blows his butter-milk before drinking’—that her hair stood on end at the very thought of her. She had privately set her mind upon getting her son betrothed elsewhere. But Muhammad Aqil by some means got to know of this, and said to her: ‘Mother, I have heard that you wish to break off Muhammad Kámil’s engagement; is that so?’

His mother said: ‘What can I say, my son? I am in great perplexity what to do, and what not to do. As for you, I am ashamed to look you in the face; God has made me such a sinner against you. See, now, what kind of fate is in store for Muhammad Kámil.’

Muhammad Aqil said Mother, believe me, Asghari is one girl out of a thousand. You may take a lamp and search all your life long, and you will not find any girl like her. In outward form and inner nature alike, God has placed her in the foremost rank of His creatures. Do not have the least misgiving, but set about the preparations for the wedding in God’s name. And if you are thinking about her elder sister—well, perhaps you have heard the saying of the Persian poet:

Not every lady is a lady, nor every man a man. God has not made the five fingers all of one pattern.

Everyone has a different constitution, and everyone a different type of character:

Flowers in plenty, rich and rare, Bloom in the garden everywhere. Each has a hue none else may share, Each has a fragrance all its own [2].

“There is no power nor might, save in God”; but what comparison is there between your eldest daughter-in-law and Asghari?

The dust has no alliance with the pure sky.

God prosper us! after the marriage you will realize the truth of what I say.’

As a result of Muhammad Aqil’s speaking so strongly in praise of Asghari, her betrothal with Muhammad Kámil once more became valid; so that, by the common consent of both parties, it was now agreed that the marriage should take place with due solemnity on the day after the Baqar Eed.

Asghari’s father, DurandeshKhán, held a Government appointment in the Hills. Formal intimation was sent to him. On receipt of the letter the Khánsáhib was highly delighted, for, of all his children, he was fondest of Asghari. He immediately submitted an application for leave, but it was summarily refused, and all the efforts he made to overcome the resistance were fruitless. The cold

weather was approaching, inspection duties were just beginning, so that his superior officer had reason on his side. DurandeshKhán was much grieved at not getting his leave, but—‘in service one is helpless—’ what could he do? ‘The poor man’s wrath hurts only the poor man’s soul.’ He resigned himself to his lot in silence. But he had with him his eldest son, KhairandeshKhán. Him he sent home with a sum of 500 rupees, and careful instructions about every detail of the ceremony.

The jewels, clothes, copper vessels, and things of that kind, were in the house all ready in anticipation of the event. When KhairandeshKhán arrived, he made purchases of rice, ghee, wheat, spices, and salt, according to their requirements in each article. The extra trimmings began to be sewn on to Asghari’s dresses. It was her mother’s desire that Asghari should receive a trousseau considerably in excess of that supplied to her elder sister; that her costumes should be more heavily embroidered, her jewels more in number, and the cooking utensils for her use of greater weight n copper. Of course, anything of this kind could not altogether escape Asghari’s knowledge, for, after all, she lived in the same louse. When she found out that she was likely to have a larger trousseau than her elder sister, if she had been a silly girl she would have been pleased. Asghari was greatly vexed, and yet quite at a loss for some device by which she could manage to dissuade her mother. At last, with much diffidence, she addressed herself to TamáshaKhánam, her first cousin on the mother’s side, to whom the mentioned what she had heard, and said: ‘For several days I have been saying to myself, “Good heavens! what shall I do?” I am so glad you have come round in the very nick of time. I don’t mind speaking to you, because we are of the same age. Someone or other must just tell my mother not to give me anything in excess of my sister.’

TamáshaKhánam listened to her, and said: ‘Well, sister, I must say you are an extraordinary woman. Why, it is the old saying, They gave salt to the donkey, and he said, “I have sore eyes.” God bids you take it; why do you refuse?’

Asghari said: ‘Have you gone mad? There are several reasons against it. You know my sister’s disposition; she is certain to be annoyed. It will create in her a bitter feeling against our mother no purpose. It will make her suspicious of me also.’

  1. In India milk is boiled as soon as it is obtained from the cows, and is often drunk before it has had time to cool thoroughly.
  2. The lines in the original are from a poem by the last King of Delhi.


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