Paradise of Song
Ahangar was a mighty swordsmith who lived in one of Afghanistan's remote eastern valleys. In time of peace he made steel ploughs, shoed horses and, above all, he sang.
The songs of Ahangar, who is known by different names in various parts of Central Asia, were eagerly listened to by the people of the valleys. They came from the forests of giant walnuts trees, from the snowcapped Hindu-Kush, from Qataghan and Badakhshan, from Khanabad and Kunar, from Herat and Paghman, to hear his songs.
Above all, the people came to hear the song of all songs, which was Ahangar's Song of the Valley of Paradise.
This song had a haunting quality, and a strange lilt, and most of all it had a story which was so strange that people felt they knew the remote Valley of Paradise of which the smith sang. Often they asked him to sing it when he was not in the mood to do so, and he would refuse. Sometimes people asked him whether the Valley was truly real, and Ahangar could only say:
"The Valley of the Song is as real as real can be."
"But how do you know?" the people would ask, "Have you ever been there?"
To Ahangar, and to nearly all the people who heard him, the Valley of the Song was, however, real, real as real can be.
Aisha, a local maiden whom he loved, doubted whether there was such a place. So, too, did Hasan, a braggart and fearsome swordsman who swore to marry Aisha, and who lost no opportunity of laughing at the smith.
One day, when the villagers were sitting around silently after Ahangar had been telling his tale to them, Hasan spoke:
"If you believe that this valley is so real, and that it is, as you say, in those mountains of Sangan yonder, where the blue haze rises, why do you not try to find it?".
"It would not be right, I know that," said Ahangar.
"You know what it is convenient to know, and do not know what you do not want to know!" shouted Hasan. "Now, my friend, I propose a test. You love Aisha, but she does not trust you. She has no faith in this absurd Valley of yours. You could never marry her, because when there is no confidence between man and wife, they are not happy and all manner of evils result."
"Do you expect me to go to the valley, then?" asked Ahangar.
"Yes," said Hasan and all the audience together.
"If I go and return safely, will Aisha consent to marry me?" asked Ahangar.
"Yes," murmured Aisha.
So Ahangar, collecting some dried mulberries and a scrap of bread, set off for the distant mountains.
He climbed and climbed, until he came to a wall which encircled the entire range. When he had ascended its sheer sides, there was another wall, even more precipitous then the first. After that there was a third, then a fourth, and finally a fifth wall.
Descending on the other side, Ahangar found that he was in a valley, strikingly similar to his own.
People came out to welcome him, and as he saw them, Ahangar realized that something very strange was happening.
Months later, Ahangar the Smith, walking like an old man, limped into his native village, and made for his humble hut.
As word of his return spread throughout the countryside, people gathered in front of his home to hear what his adventures had been.
Hasan the swordsman spoke for them all, and called Ahangar to his window.
There was a gasp as everyone saw how old he had become.
"Well, Master Ahangar, and did you reach the Valley of Paradise?"
"And what was it like?"
Ahangar, fumbling for his words, looked at the assembled people with a weariness and hopelessness that he had never felt before. He said:
"I climbed and I climbed, and I climbed. When it seemed as though there could be no human habitation in such a desolate place, and after many trials and disappointments, I came upon a valley. This valley was exactly like the one in which we live. And then I saw the people. Those people are not only like us people: they are the same people. For every Hasan, every Aisha, every Ahangar, every anybody whom we have here, there is another one, exactly the same in that valley."
"These are likenesses and reflections to us, when we see such things. But it is we who are the likeness and reflection of them -- we who are here, we are their twins..."
Everyone thought that Ahangar had gone mad through his privations, and Aisha married Hasan the swordsman. Ahangar rapidly grew old and died. And all the people, every one who had heard this story from the lips of Ahangar, first lost heart in their lives, then grew old and died, for they felt that something was going to happen over which they had no control and from which they had no hope, and so they lost interest in life itself.
It is only once in a thousand years that this secret is seen by man. When he sees it, he is changed. When he tells its bare facts to others, they wither and die out.
People think that such an event is a catastrophe, and so they must not know about it, for they cannot understand [such is the nature of their ordinary life] that they have more selves than one, more hopes than one, more chances than one -- up there, in the Paradise of the Song of Ahangar, the mighty smith.
Text: Idries Shah