Inter Continental

Open Sesame!

Category: Travel

An ifrit of a Jinni coming out of a cucurbit flask in clouds of smoke and granting a woeful, griping fisherman his wish: a good catch that, in turn, leads to a king unraveling the secrets of a tarn which brings him to a prince ensorcelled by his cousin-wife who loathes him to the bone and steals away into the night to have fun with her blackamoor slave of a lover…

…the story goes on: The Thousand and One Nights as told by a virgin who refused to die, Scheherazade, to her husband, a jaded paranoid Persian king, Shahryar who goes into the habit of slaying his wife after honeymoon for fear that she’d jump into bed with another guy, then marrying a new virgin for the same purpose. He finally ran out of virgins and thus ended up with Scheherazade, the last in his kingdom and daughter of his political adviser, who himself had been responsible for the king’s supply of virgins.

A Thousand and One Nights, as compiled and translated by scholars, are stories Scheherazade supposedly told the king in a manner so clever—a story within a story kind of way—that each night’s narrative is sewn into another to be told on the next, thus keeping the king wanting to hear more and some more till he finally changed his mind about her execution—on the thousand and ninth that is.

Common in the stories is the theme on fate and destiny—Scheherazade herself was supposed to be destined to die but fate has it that she lives. As the Italian filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini noted, the “chain of anomalies” created by the “appearance of destiny” in the stories culminate in something that would have to be followed through in the next story—in other words there was no deus ex machina ending where suddenly a complex thing is resolved and everybody goes home happy, which is a good thing because deus ex machina endings are works of idle minds as some writers agree.

But while The One Thousand and One Nights has great influence on western world with many films produced and books written about its characters, literatis say the masterpiece actually had little impact on Arab culture where it was actually disdained, “its stories regularly denounced as vulgar, improbable, childish and, above all, badly written,” said American Installation artist,  Robert Irwin.

 Moreover, scholars, noting how  fiction had a low cultural value among Medieval Arabs, said the stories were dismissed as “khurafa,” or fantasies fit for children.

Stories in the Arabian Nights, as The Thousand and One Nights has also been known to be called, include the Tale of the Bull and the Ass where a merchant was endowed power to hear animals talking but dare not tell about it for fear of death; and the ever-popular Fisherman and the Jinni where a jinni comes out of a bottle and grants the fisherman a wish—not three as some western versions have it.

And who can forget Ali Baba who open as cave full of treasure with a chant that says, “Open Sesame!”

In the United Arab Emirates, several tourism establishments carry the Arabian Nights theme. In fact, some places to visit in Dubai are patterned after stories narrated by  Scheherazade, including those engaged in outdoor activities like safari rides.

There are thousands of places to visit in Dubai and the entire United Arab Emirates for that matter that offers fun outdoor activities patterned after the Arabian Nights.

(By Jojo Dass)

Photos sourced from Flickr