Hatim’s Journey to the Mountain of Nida— His lot among the Cannibals— His arrival in Hindustan, the Paradise of regions.

THE historians inform us, that as Hatim was journeying towards the desert of Nida, he continued to ask his way in every city and town through which he passed. In the course of six months, as he was approaching a large city, what does he see, but all the inhabitants assembled in a spacious plain without the walls. Hatim thought within himself, “What can be the cause of this concourse? I must go and inquire.” With this view, he was hastening towards them; and as soon as the people saw him, they exclaimed in a loud voice, “Welcome, stranger; may your arrival be happy; we are here waiting for you.”

When Hatim found himself amidst the crowd, he looked around him, and saw, to his surprise, large tables plentifully furnished with food and drink of every variety. He also observed a coffin laid out in state, and surrounded by the relations of the deceased. The chief of the assembly, addressing Hatim, said to him, “Such are our customs, stranger, that when any of our people die, whether rich or poor, we thus assemble in the plain without the city, and prepare a banquet of the most delicious viands. At the same time, it is one of our rules that we taste not of the food, nor bury our dead, till the arrival of a stranger among us. When a stranger arrives, we make him first eat of our fare, after which, we ourselves feast. This is now the seventh day that we have been here without attaining the object of our expectation. Every day we had the feast ready; and when evening came, and the stranger arrived not, we sent the food back to the city for our wives and children, for they are not prohibited from eating. As for ourselves, we have neither eaten bread nor drunk water for the last seven days. You may guess, then, noble stranger, with what joy we this day hail your arrival; let us now speedily bury our dead, that we may break our long fast.”

Hatim observed to them, “What becomes of your dead, and how do you contrive to live should it so happen that no stranger visits you for the space of a month?”— “That,” replied they, “is a rare, nay, an improbable case, for we are never above a week without seeing a stranger; and if it should happen that none comes, we are allowed to break our fast on the fifteenth day, and thus we do every fifteenth day till the stranger arrives: such is our law. With regard to our dead, no putrefaction takes place on them till the end of at least one month.”— “And may I ask,” rejoined Hatim, “what would you do with your dead, if you should not be visited by a stranger even in the course of a month?” — “If, by the expiration of that period,” replied they, “the dead body should become offensive to the smell, we bury it, and in such a case all the inhabitants of the city, both men and women, are made to fast by day for six months after, and we are allowed only to take a little food after sunset. This penance we undergo for the good of the soul of the deceased: for when the body thus putrifies, we look upon it as a proof that the deceased had led a sinful life, and we accordingly offer up our prayers in his behalf before the throne of the Most High.”

Hatim still continued his inquiries, saying, “But if in these six months of fasting another should die, what would you do?”— “We should keep him in the same way,” they replied, “till the arrival of a stranger among us, or failing this at the end of a month we should bury him if necessary, and betake ourselves to fasting and prayer on his behalf till the expiration of six months, after which we should hold a feast, and indulge in eating and drinking, and bestow alms in abundance on the poor of our city, and give gifts to all that are in need, and do acts of kindness towards each other, We then walk in porcession to the tomb of the deceased, where we again distribute money among all the poor and helpless, after which we resume our usual occupations.”

While Hatim stood wrapt in wonder at this singular custom, the people bore the dead body into the interior of the house, and having stretched it on an elegant couch, they embalmed it with costly perfumes, and burnt frankincense around it, after which they brought in the food that they were to eat, and carried the same seven time round the couch. This done, the food was brought out and placed on tables when the chief of the assembly, addressing Hatim, said, “Worthy stranger, stretch forth thine hand and taste of our food. Thy compliance will greatly oblige us, as we shall then be at liberty to appease our hunger.” Hatim ate of the food as requested, and after him, all the people sat down and ate. The remains of the feast they sent back to the city for their women and children to feed on. They then changed their raiments, each clothing himself in a clean apparel; and having sent the clothes they had cast off to the fullers, they took up the dead body and proceeded towards the desert.

As they were about to depart, the chief said to Hatim, “Brave stranger, I hope you are not to leave us immediately; if then, you choose to rest a few days in our city, every attention shall be paid to you.” Hatim willingly accepted the invitation; and having entered the city, a splendid mansion was appointed for his residence, and the best of food and drink placed before him. Nor was this all: damsels of surpassing beauty were sent to entertain him with their enchanting society.

Hatim could not help wondering in his own mind at the strange customs of the city where he happened to arrive; however, he ate temperately of the food presented to him, and paid not the least regard to the beautiful damsels that attended him. In the course of a week the governor of the city, informed of Hatim’s affable disposition and temperate habits, sent for him; and after the usual salu­tations, said to him, “Noble stranger, I am so delighted with the accounts I hear of you, that I beg of you to take up your residence among us and my own daughter shall be your wife.” Hatim having thanked the governer for his kind offer, said that he had business on hand which admitted of no delay. “At least,” resumed the governor, “let me know the object of your journey, and I will do my utmost to aid you, or even accompany you in person, if it should any ways serve you.”— “Truly, sir,” said Hatim, “I am indebted to you for your goodness, but I should be sorry to let any one accompany me through the fatigues and perils which await me.”— “At all events,” said the governor, “let me know your business.”— “Willingly,” replied Hatim; “and if you can direct me on my way, it will serve me as much as if you accompanied me.”

Hatim then related every circumstance connected with Husn Banu, and her lover Munir; and how he had himself solved four of the lady’s questions, and was then in quest of the solution of the fifth, which was, to bring an account of the mountain of Nida. It is now,” concluded Hatim, “six months since I left Shahabad; I have wandered through many cities, and made inquiries of every person I met, but no one has been able to give the necessary information. If you, noble sir, can tell me where the mountain of Nida is situated, it will serve me as effectually as if you had accompanied me thither.”

The governnr was a man of years, and possessed of much information; he remembered, then, of having heard from the learned that a mountain of this name, of immense altitude, was situated towards the south in the regions of Zulmat.* He informed Hatim of the same, and further, that there was a city close to the mountain of the same name where the people were immortal; in these regions,” concluded he, “diseases and death are unknown, nor is there a tomb to be seen in all the place.” On hearing this statement, Hatim was highly delighted, and said, “Thither I must go as soon as possible.”— “But how,” rejoined his aged friend, “can you go there alone and unattended?”— “God will be my guide,” replied Hatim.

The governor then offered Hatim vast sums of gold and costly jewels, of which he accepted a small portion for defraying his expense by the way; and having caused the rest to be distributed among the poor, he resumed his journey. In the course of three months he arrived at a large city, around which he saw no tombs or receptacles for the dead, whereby he was satisfied that it was the city alluded to by his former friend. When Hatim entered the city, the people crowded around him, and began to question him, saying, “Tell us stranger, whence are you, and where are you going?”— “I am,” replied Hatim, “from Shahabad, and I am on my way to the mountain of Nida.”

“Stranger,” resumed the people, “abandon such thoughts: the mountain of Nida is far distant, and the road full of danger.”— “I fear no danger,” replied Hatim, “for my trust is in God, who is my conductor.”— “At least,” said they, “rest here for the night, as you are much fatigued.” Hatim accepted their hospitable invitation, and there reposed for the night.

It happened on that day that one of the inhabitants of the city fell sick; whereupon his relations assembled and instantly killed him, after which they divided his flesh into equal portions among themselves in order to be eaten. One of the people whom Hatim had conversed with on entering the city, being a relation to the slaughtered, received his portion of the flesh, and had it roasted for his evening meal in the house where Hatim resided. He then brought in a jug of water and two loaves, along with the flesh of his relation, and with eager hospitality addressed Hatim saying, “Stranger, I invite you to partake of my repast, for never in your life have you tasted of similar fare.”— “I believe,” replied Hatim, “I have eaten of the flesh of every carnivorous animal on the face of the earth, may I ask what animal has furnished this dish, since you imagine that I have not yet seen the like?” The man triumphantly replied, “What you say may be very true, but have you ever eaten of flesh of man, for such is the dish now before you!”

On hearing this, Hatim remained horror-struck, and thought within himself that this must be the city of the cannibals of whom he had before heard accounts, and that most probably they killed and ate every stranger that came near them. His host seemed to read his thoughts, and accordingly broke silence, saying, “Yes, this is the city of the cannibals, and the time is coming, stranger, when some of us shall feast upon you.” Hatim, thus aroused, said to the man, “Is it possible, sir, that you kill the helpless stranger, and then devour him? Have you not the fear of God before your eyes?”— “Brave Arab!” resumed the can­nibal, “we are not quite so bad as you suppose, for we do not slay the traveller who comes among us knowing nothing of our customs.”— “You told me just now,” replied Hatim, “that this is man’s flesh before me; I concluded that it must have been that of a stranger, and not of one of your own tribe.”— “Quite the contrary,” rejoined the man of hospi­tality; “it is the custom of our city that when any one falls sick, his relations assemble and kill him, in order to put him beyond suffering.”— “Accursed be such inhuman practices,” replied Hatim; “know you not that the Creator of the universe at one time visits his creatures with sickness and when it pleases his divine will, bestows health? What then can be more heinous than to slay the sick with your own hand? The shedding of the innocent blood of so many thousands is a deed most revolting to humanity; nay, it is a sin for human eyes to look upon you.”

Hatim having thus spoken, rose up and fled into the desert. He halted not for the whole of that night, nor next day till sunset, when he thought himself far enough removed from the accursed city. Having slackened his pace a little, he continued to proceed leisurely till the following day, when the pangs of hunger quite overpowered him. Necessity forced him to commit what at another time he would have considered highly cruel— he killed a young fawn; and having kindled a fire with a flint, he sat down to dress some food. Meanwhile a lion stalked up to him; and Hatim, nothing daunted, said to the lion, “If thou art hungry, here is all the food that I possess: eat and be satisfied.”