Sunday, August 14, 2016

ZORAYDAH'S TALE OR:THE TREE OF DIAMONDS

ZORAYDAH'S TALE OR THE TREE OF DIAMONDS

Manny Panta

I
n the great bazaar of Chandni Chowk, in old Delhi, during the time of the great Shah Jahan, the same who built that tribute to everlasting love known as the Taj Mahal, there dwelt a seller of gold, silver, diamonds and other precious stones. He was prosperous, his business was thriving, and, spoiled by his success, he had become quite greedy and cynical. He bought his jewels and precious metals directly from mines and impoverished widows for a pittance and sold them for huge profits to the public. He built for himself a sumptuous haveli near the Red Fort. Its walls and columns of its courtyard were adorned by colorful tiles and paintings of scenes from the Mahabharata. There was continuous feasting at his house. When the Shah paraded in his richly caparisoned horses and elephants through Chandni Chowk, he and his family stood in front of their shop dressed in their finest clothes and jewelry to pay homage to the ruler. Life for the dealer was good.
One day, a man in ragged clothes came into his shop. The seller looked at him crossly, thinking he was a beggar and shooed him away.
     “Please sir,” said the man in the ragged clothes. “I have something to show you.”
Overcoming his disgust, the dealer relented.
     “What do you have to show me?” he asked brusquely.
     “This,” said the man. He took out a dirty piece of cloth and undid the knot that secured it. The dealer’s eyes nearly flew out of their sockets when he saw what the man showed him. Staring back at him was one of the largest raw diamonds he had seen in his life. True, it looked like dried milk sap the size of a pear, but to his jeweler’s eye he could see that it had the attributes of a diamond.
His hand trembling with excitement, he snatched the stone, examined it with his jeweler’s loupe and sighed. It was real. He estimated that it easily weighed one hundred carats polished. If he had it cut into several smaller diamonds, his profits would be even more massive. As far as he could tell, the diamond had no inclusions. If it turned out to be flawless, it would be worth a rajah’s ransom.
     “Well?” he asked. “I can see that you want to sell this to me. How much do you want for it?”
     “Ah, sir,” said the man, “I do not quite know.”
     “It is diamond, that I must tell you,” the dealer said. “However, it is low-grade. I will give you ten thousand rupees for it.”
     “Sir,” said the man, “I am sure it is worth more than that.”
     “All right then,” replied the dealer, “twenty thousand and not a rupee more.”
     The man thought for a while.
     “You need the money, my friend,” encouraged the dealer, trying to distract the man from thinking too much. “You cannot eat diamonds for lunch.”
     “I accept your offer sir because I must leave tonight,” said the man. The dealer gave him twenty thousand rupees, and the man left.
     The dealer had his most skilled craftsman polish the diamond. He sold it for one million rupees to the Shah in Agra.  The Shah, dazzled by the size and brilliance of the diamond, caused it to be placed as a centerpiece in his processional turban where it provoked great admiration and envy among all those who saw it.
     Wealthier than ever, the dealer wondered whether he was going to see the man who sold him the diamond ever again.  He needed not have wondered. One year to the day of the sale of the diamond, the same man went into the shop of the dealer. This time he was dressed more smartly.
     “Do you recognize me?” the man asked the dealer.
     “Yes, of course,” replied the dealer. “Do you have anything for me?”
     “Yes, I do,” said the man. This time he produced a plain silk purse from which he produced the same kind diamond that he showed a year before. The dealer was even more mesmerized by this stone. If it turned out to be as flawless as the previous one that he sold to the Shah, it would make him even richer than he was now.
     “How much do you want for this?” asked the dealer, practically salivating at the mouth.
     “One million rupees,” said the man. The dealer looked up in surprise at him.
     “But that is outrageous!” he protested.
     “If you do not want it at this price, sir,” said the man, who did not look as abject as he did before, “then I shall look for another buyer here in Chandni Chowk.”
     “Wait! Wait!” said the dealer. “Five hundred thousand rupees. That’s my final offer.”
     The man looked at him and demanded: “Eight Hundred Thousand and that is my final price.”
     The dealer hurriedly calculated that he could easily sell the diamond to a maharajah or even to the Shah himself for double the amount.
     “Agreed!” he said, and paid out the rupees, albeit reluctantly.
Once again the man disappeared. Once again he would appear every year, bearing the same kind of diamond, striking a bargain with him that grew even more painful, but which proved to be extremely lucrative. His flawless diamonds now reached the noble families not only of India but of Europe as well.
     On the fifth year that the man paid him a visit, the dealer could no longer contain his curiosity.
     “Where did you get this diamond, sir?” he asked. “You must tell me its provenance.”
     “Ah, I cannot tell that to you, my friend,” said the man, no longer addressing him with the honorific sahib.
     “If you do not tell me now,” said the dealer, “I shall have you arrested by the Shah’s men. You won’t be able to refuse the Shah as you now do me.”
     “And what will you say to the Shah?” the man asked.
     “I will say that you are a thief,” said the dealer.
     The man considered this, sighed and said: “Yes. I might as well tell you. This diamond and the other ones before it do not come from a mine. They are the fruit of a tree. The tree grows from solid rock. Its roots go deep into cracks in the rock and into the ground. Once a year, it blooms and yields a single fruit. This diamond is that fruit. Believe or don’t believe me but it is the truth, by Allah.”
     “That is impossible,” the dealer exclaimed, incredulous at this assertion. “Diamonds come from deep beneath the earth!”
     “Yet, in this case, it does not,” said the man.
     “I must see this tree for myself!” said the dealer.
     “Then you must wait a year before it bears fruit again,” said the man.
     “I want to see it now, even if it hasn’t borne fruit yet,” demanded the dealer.
     The man sighed.
     “Then prepare yourself for a long journey,” he warned him.
     The dealer prepared a caravan, and at the direction of the seller of the diamond, traced a route inland from Delhi to Udisha, past the tiger-infested swampland of West Bengal and into a land where even the pebbles of the streams where rubies. But they pressed on and after many a hardship, they arrived at a valley with a pleasant river running through it. In this valley rose a rock of great height. Atop this rock, a solitary tree stood like a sentinel. It was stout at the base and many-limbed at the crown. The tree was leafless.
     “Is that the tree?” the dealer cried, trembling with excitement.
     “That is it,” replied the man. “We must climb up to the summit of the rock to be near it.”
     Grown fat from too much indulgence in food and drink, the dealer could not carry his weight up the rock. He called his servants to hack a staircase from the rock and caused himself to be hauled up on a palanquin.
     In time, he finally stood at the base of the giant tree.
     “You are in luck,” said the man who led him there. “It has been a year since the tree had borne fruit. I can see that it has produced a single flower. If you wait just a little bit longer, that flower will become a diamond.”
     After a week this came to pass. Up on a branch high up the tree, a milky white substance materialized from where the flower used to be. It was a raw diamond.
The man climbed up the tree and plucked the fruit from the branch. He went down and offered the raw gem to the dealer.
     “Behold!” cried the man. “The Fruit of the Tree of Diamonds!"
     “How is this possible?” cried the dealer, as he held the rock in his hand.
     “The roots of the tree probe into every nook and cranny of this rock and, by my reckoning, finds the diamonds from inside the rock,” offered the man.
     “If what you say is true,” said the dealer, “then the tree itself does not produce the diamonds. The diamonds come from within the rock!”
     The man looked doubtfully at him and said, “Perhaps.”
     “Why wait for the tree to render a single fruit once a year?” asked the dealer. “Why not dig for the diamonds now?”
     Despite the remonstrations of the man, the dealer had his men cut down the tree and the rock blasted until nothing remained of it but a pile of rubble. He was convinced that the rock extended into the ground and a fortune of diamonds lay within its seams. He returned to Delhi and recruited more men to excavate the place where the tree used to grow. In time the whole scenic valley became a wasteland. In time, as he poured money over his venture, he lost his shop, his customers and his haveli, so convinced was he that he had found a new Golconda.
     In the end, his expense and effort came to nothing. Several years of excavation rendered not a single diamond. All that he and his workers found were pebbles and rocks.
On his deathbed, as he lay ill and impoverished in a hut within the shadow of the cliffs that surrounded the now despoiled valley, the man who had first sold him the diamond came to visit him.
     “Where?”  the dealer cried. “Where are my diamonds?”
     The man looked at him sadly and said contemptuously: “The diamonds were the sap of the tree, didn’t you see? It took nourishment from the rock from which it grew. It drew the elements that make up a diamond from the raw matter of the earth. The tree combined these elements in its body and produced the fruit. You did not believe me. Now the tree and rock are gone, and so are the diamonds.”

     The dealer stared at the man. gave a deep sigh of disappointment and died.

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