A Tale of Friendship from the Anvar-e-Suhayli

There’s no dearth of Hallmark-Greeting cards that remind us of the value of friendship. A popular Friendship-Day poster says “a good friend is hard to find, harder to leave and impossible to forget”. Another one is about how lucky we are to be able to choose friends (unlike family). No matter what card you pick or poem you read, one thing is settled : friendships are delicate, and fragile. Enduring friendships need care and humility. Some are lost over distance and some grow stronger with it (the Partition Museum has stories on that); we all have those moments of hating a friend’s choice of partner and then there are friends that play cupid. And then there are some friendships which are simply incidental.

But is there a secret recipe or manual that helps navigate this beautiful, yet complicated world of friendships? Yes! But first, we tell you a story!

The Friendship Story of the Pigeons : Bāzandeh and Navāzandeh from the Anvar-e-Suhayli

We are big fans of bird-stories and animal fables that make us think deeper. This story discusses the difference in selfless and self-interested friendship and many of you might identify with it. After all, it is not uncommon to have friends who over time, develop different interests and move away; you might also find yourself to not be the same content self forever. This story, sheds light on a friendship that was harmonious until the time when one of them ‘found something better’.

In the painting you see a pigeon sitting atop a tree branch, helplessly saving himself from a torrential rain. There seems to be no nest in sight either.

The story describes the peaceful life the pigeon Bāzandeh (pictured above) once led with his friend and partner, Navāzandeh. Both pigeons in the story do not expect any specific benefit or advantage from each other. The lines from the story read:

I have heard that two Pigeons were living together, consorts in a nest, and confidants in a lodge. They were not disturbed in their minds by affliction, nor in their hearts pained by life’s misfortune. They were content with water and grain, and like secluded hermits, followed the path of reliance in God[… ]
And both of them, evening and morning were wont to sing harmonious strains […] Fortune was envious of the agreement of those dear friends and the malevolent eye of Time started to work on those two happy intimate companions.

On the face of it, you would think this is a beautiful friendship. But the story goes on to describe how Bāzandeh was not as “involved” as Navāzandeh. When Bāzandeh is struck by something more pleasurable he ceases to keep up his friendship with Navāzandeh.

Don’t fix your thoughts on any companion or place; for land and sea are spacious and mankind numerous

Anvar-e-Suhayli | Bāzandeh and Navāzandeh

As Fortune and Time play their part, Bāzandeh, struck by a desire for travel abandons Navāzandeh who does not share this excitement. Despite his pleading, Bāzandeh does not stay back. Instead he offers a consolation that “close friends are not wanting in the world…”. His suggestion that Navāzandeh would find a close friend soon enough reflects his own understanding of friendships.

When stuck in a storm, far from the comforts of his nest and and the warm companionship of Navāzandeh, Bāzandeh probably thinks of retuning to his friend.

The Anvar-e-Suhayli

The Anvār-e-Suhaylī (Lights of Canopus) is a collection of stories intended for the education of Princes. Composed by Husayn Vā’iz Kāshifī (1504), it said to be a retelling of the Persian text Kalīlah Wa Dimnah (written by Nasr Allah in the 12th century). The Persian text itself was based on the “Panchatantra” (five principles) – one of the most widely translated literary texts.

Kalilah Wa Dimnah friendship story
Kalilah Wa Dimnah | Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford 

The Panchatantra was originally written in Sanskrit, somewhere around 4th century (probably) in Kashmir. It was written for three young princes who had driven their tutors to despair and their father to distraction. Afraid to entrust his kingdom to sons unable to master the most elementary lessons, the king turned over the problem to his wise wazir, and the wazir wrote the Panchatantra, which concealed great practical wisdom in the easily digestible form of animal fables.

Kashifi’s simplified version found much favour amidst the Mughal Emperors who commissioned illustrated versions of the manuscript. The Mughal Emperor Akbar too, commissioned a version called ‘Iyar-e-Danesh’ for his sons!

The wisdom of these animal fables – no matter what language or culture you find them in, continue to enrich our lives centuries after they were written.

All friendships are special – but in our opinion, the one bound by love for stories and books is the strongest!

Do you agree? Help us spread the love for culture and heritage.

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