24. Khalifah the Fisherman of Baghdad

A fisherman from Baghdad name Khalifah catches on a day some apes from the river. One of them tells him to bring a caught fish to a Jew and exchange his ape for the one of the Jew. He will be rewarded for this. Khalifah does so, becomes rich but loses all his dinars in the river Tigris by accident. He also throws off his clothes to go after the gold, but they get stolen. Meanwhile the Caliph of the land falls in love with a servant-girl, Kut al-Kulub, he gets from a local, well-known jeweller and spends all his time with her. His Wazir, Ja’afar, advises him to go hunting, which he does. He meets Khalifah naked in a net. Khalifah gets a robe from the Caliph, whom he doesn’t recognise. He takes the Calpih as an apprentice and they bring a  huge amount of fish. The Caliph goes away to sell some fish and lets his Mamalukes take the fish. Sandal, a black eunuch, want to buy four fish, but hasn’t got any money. Khalifah has to go to the Palace to receive his money.

The Lady of the Caliph, Zubaydah bint al-Kasim, sets a trap for Kut and gets her asleep. She puts her in a chest and sends it out of the Palace. The Caliph is in tears when he returns. Khalifah also comes to the Palace to get his money. When he is recognised by Ja’afar he is brought before the Caliph. Al-Rashid lets rewards and punishment be written on pieces of paper. Khalifah has to take a paper. On the first it says he must be beaten a hundred times by a stick. On the second it says he gets nothing, and on the third it says he gets one dinar. Khalifah leaves in tears and encounters Sandal. The eunuch gives him a hundred dinars. With the money the fisherman buys the chest of Zubaydah in the markerplace without knowing its contents. At home he discovers the hand-maiden of the Caliph. She tells him to get her food and water, and to write a letter to Ibn al-Kirnas the Jew. When he goes to the Jew he receives a hundred dinars but discovers at home that Kut has been taken by servant of the Jew. When he returns to Ibn al-Kirnas, he finds Kut al-Kulub on a golden couch and receives another thousand dinars. They go the Palace. Khalifah is richly rewarded and Zubaydah is forgiven. Sandal receives a thousand dinars from Khalifah. The fisherman returns to his home town where he marries the daughter of a chief and he lives happily until his death.

There is a fisherman whose name is Khalifah. He is unmarried and poor. One day he goes fishing, but after throwing his net ten times he still hasn’t caught anything. He prays to Allah to give him a good catch. Once again he casts his net and when he brings it ashore it appears to be an one-eyed, lame-legged ape. He thanks the Almighty for his infortune. He then ties the ape to a tree and wants to whip it. Then Allah makes it speak out not to beat him but to cast out his net again to get his daily bread. When Khalifah does so he brings an even bigger ape. He returns to the first one saying the ape is lame as it promised him things which he did not receive. He wants to beat the ape, but the ape begs for mercy telling Khalifah to go to the second ape as he will guide him to his desire. So Khalifah goes to the second ape. The second ape tells him to tie him to a tree and cast his net a third time and after that he will him what to do. Khalifah catches a third ape. The ape says he is the ape of Abu al-Sa’adat the Jew. He gives the Jew every morning a good-morrow and five ducats and a good-even and five ducats. When Khalifah wants to beat the first ape again, Abu’s ape says to cast his net again and bring whatever is in it to the ape. He will then tell something that will make him glad.

When Khalifah casts het net he finds a fine young fish in it. Marvelled he takes it to the ape. The ape asks what Khalifah will do with it and the ape. The fisherman says he will leave the accursed other apes and will feed the third. Upon hearing this the ape tells Khalifah what to do. He gives him instructions to catch another fine fish which Khalifah does. The fish is larger than the first one. Khalifah has to take the fishes in a basket to Baghdad, he is not allowed to react to any questions or comments. He has to go to the shop of Master Abu al-Sa’adat, the Jew. He will see him sitting on a mattress with two coffers, one for gold, one for silver. Khalifah must go up to the Jew and set the basket before him. He will ask if has seen the fish but him, and Khalifah has to say no. He will then receive one dinar, but he has to give it back. He is then offered two dinars but he has to refuse those as well and do so with everything that is being offered to him. Then he has to say he only exchanges the fish for the agreement that the Jew will exchange his ape for Khalifah’s and that he will barter his lot and luck for Khalifah’s. If Khalifah does so, he will get ten dinars each day from the ape whilst the Jew only gets a good-morrow from the lame-legged ape and he has to pay the ape until he is reduced to beggary. Khalifah accepts the offer from the monarch if the apes and does what he has been instructed to do.

But when Khalifah has to exchange his deal, the Jew thinks he has to give up his faith and let his slaves beat him out of his shop. The Jew however comes back to his senses and continues bargaining with Khalifah. Khalifah continues as he was instructed by the ape. The Jews accepts the price and Khalifah returns to the Tigris. He throws out het net and catches many fish and sells them, earning him hundred dinars.

When he sleeps in lodgings at the Passage of Merchants, he says to himself that if the Commander of the Faithful, Harun al-Rashid, knew of his wealth he would ask for it. And when Khalifah lied would be stripped of his wealth and be beaten. So decided to beat himself to get used to it. Other folk hear the noise of beating thinking it are robbers, and find a closed door. Khalifah tells them what is going on and they leave him to his folly. He stops and sleeps again.

The next day he hides his money in a purse around his body and continues fishing. However he catches nothing even when changing fishing position there comes nothing in his net. Then he throws his net with such force that the hundred dinars flow out of his collar-pocket, fall in the river and are taken by the stream. He throws his clothes on the bank and jumps after his money, but fails.

Caliph Harun al-Rashid has a jeweller called Ibn al-Kirnas, whom everybody knows. A beautiful slave-girl is offered to Ibn al-Kirnas and he buys her for five thousand dinars. He brings her to the Caliph with whom she shares the night and is tested on her knowledge and accomplishments which she passed brilliantly. Her name is Kut al-Kulub. The Caliph buys her from the jeweller and the Prince of True Believers forgets his own lady, Zubaydah bint al-Kasim and his concubines. The Lords of the Realm get anxious when the Caliph only spends his time with Kut al-Kulub and Friday prayer. So his Wazir Ja’afar suggests to go hunting with the Caliph. Al-Rashid agrees and they go with his attendants.

When they are out the Caliph gets thirsty. They see a man in a distance to whom the Caliph goes alone. He sees the naked Khalifah wrapped in his net. Al-Rashid asks if he has any water upon which Khalifah irritated shows him the Tigris. Then, returning, the Caliph asks Khalifah why he stands here and what is his calling. Khalifah finds this an even sillier question. He says he is fisherman. The Caliph asks where the main part of his gear is. The fisherman gets into his head that the Caliph stole his clothes, he also thinks him a piper or singer. To get rid of the mad fisherman the Caliph pulled off his satin gown and gives it to Khalifah. The fisherman cuts the gown to his own shape and offers the Caliph to be his apprentice in fishing. When al-Rashid wants to pull in his net Khalifah has to help him because it is so heavy. The net is loaded with fish. The Caliph has to sell some fish at the market which he says he does. The Caliph tells his story to Ja’afar. Eventually it is decided to send a buyer to Khalifah to buy the fish. So many Mamelukes go to the fisherman and fill their bags eagerly. Then a black slave asks to buy the four fish Khalifah is holding is his hand. At first he declines but throws the fish to the slave after seeing his mace. The slave wants to pay him but can’t find enough to do so. So he says Khalifah must go to the Palace and ask for the eunuch Sandal to get a payment.

When Zubaydah knew of Kut al-Kulub she grew jealous. When she heard the Caliph went hunting she invited Kut al-Kulub for a meal. In the meal she puts Bhang. She gets to know the Princess and understands why Al-Rashid loves her so much. As soon as Kut eats the food and the Bhang settles in her stomach she falls asleep. She is put in a chest and her eunuchs have to report that Kut al-Kulub choked and died. When the Caliph returns he is told that Kut al-Kulub is dead. Lady Zubaydah sees her plot has succeeded and orders a eunuch to sell the chest closed.

When Khalifah comes to the palace he meets Sandal. But their conversation is interrupted by Ja’afar the Barmecide. Khalifah waits for a long time but gets impatient and asks him to let him go. Ja’afar doesn’t know who he is but Sandal explains him. Ja’afar wants to inform the Caliph and Khalifah is held. The Caliph wants Allah to decide his fate. He writes all kinds of sums of money on pieces of paper, and kinds of offices and dignities, but also twenty kinds of punishments from lightest beating to death. Khalifah is brought before the Caliph and says he was not right to leave him with his fish and be robed. Upon which the Caliph says to Khalifah to take a piece of paper. On the paper it says: “Let the fisherman receive a hundred blows with a stick.” After the beating the fisherman asks if jail and sticks are part of the game. Ja’afar asks to let the fisherman take another piece of paper, which the Caliph lets him do. On the second paper is stated: “Naught shall be given to the fisherman”. Upon which Ja’afar asks a third paper to be taken. On the paper it says: “Let the fisherman be given one dinar”. He is sent out and Khalifah meets Sandal. He throws the dinar to Sandal and leaves the Palace with tears in his eyes. Sandal calls some folk to bring him back and gives him a hundred dinars, as payment for the fish. Khalifah leaves with the hundred ducats and his one given by the Caliph.

Khalifah comes to a marketplace where a chest is put on offer with an unknown contents from the Palace, belonging to Lady Zubaydah bint al-Kasim. Khalifah buys the chest for a hundred and one dinars. At home he tries to open it, but fails. As the chest fills his entire closet he sleeps on the chest. After a while he hears something from the chest and thinks it are Jinns. He goes outside screams for a lamp which he gets. He opens the chest and sees a damsel inside. She asks where she is and Khalifah says in his house and she is his slave. She demands food which the fisherman gets from his neighbours. Then she demands water which he also gets for her. She tells Khalifah that she is Kut al-Kulub, the Caliph’s hand-maiden. At first Khalifah is negative about al-Rashid, but he quickly changes his opinion. He has to bring a letter from her to Ibn al-Kirnas the Jew which he does. Ibn al-Kirnas is rejoiced and after the fisherman told him where he lived he lets Khalifah get a hundred dinars from Mohsin the Shroff. When he comes home his neighbours tell Khalifah that Mamalukes have taken away his slave-girl. He goes back to the jeweller and asks why he is taken his slave-girl.

Khalifah is brought to a house where Kut sits on a couch of gold. The fisherman is given a thousand dinars from Kut al-Kulub. A eunuch from the Palace arrives and the hand-maiden goes with him. When the Caliph asks how she got back she tells him it was Khalifah the Fisherman who did so, upon which he is thanked by al-Rashid. He is given fifty thousand dinars of gold and a costly dress of honour, and a she-mule, and black slaves of the Sudan to serve him. But the caliph was enraged against his wife Zubaydah. She confesses her offences and he forgives her.

Khalifah receives a monthly solde of fifty dinars and is lead to rank and dignity. He gives Sandal a thousand dinars and lives the Palace. The fisherman marries the daughter of one of the chief men of his city. He pays frequent visits to Caliph Harun al-Rashid and enjoys the most honour and happiness and joy and gladness and in riches, until there comes to him the Destroyer of Delight and the Sunderer of societies.

From: The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night — Volume 08

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