Story with a Moral

Sadeq Hedayat

Howz-e Kashi

"Howz-e Kashi"
oil on canvas (67 x 48 cm)
Artist: Narges Rasoulzadeh Nameen

There was an ordinary man called Mashdi Zulfaqar; he had an ordinary wife called Setareh Khanum.

As soon as Zulfaqar came through the door, Gowhar Sultan, his mother, ran toward him and began bitching at him about Setareh Khanum and said:

angry jealous man

"Gutless! You should be very proud of yourself; you know that your wife has all kinds of lovers. In my days, when a stranger knocked on the door, the young woman of the house would put pebbles under her tongue to sound old. Even today they still preach this from the pulpit, but who listens? Earlier today, for a handful of ice, Setareh went half way down the street with nothing on but her petticoat. This morning she was gathering up the bedclothes on the roof. I came up and caught her talking of heaven and earth with Ali the tinker who was in the street below, passing by. Good Lord, she looks gaunt these days, just like a corpse out of the grave. I could kick myself for not marrying you to Ustad Mash-Allah's daughter. She was like a bouquet of flowers. A thousand skills flew from each of her fingers. I don't know if Setareh struts over her wealth or dowry! I have been killing myself to teach her how to prepare the dough for the bread; You suppose I suceeded? She spoiled a whole bag of flour; it went sour and I had to throw it away. I prepared the dough again and divided it into loaves. No matter what I say, she answers: 'I came to pretty up, not to patch up...'"

When the mother's complaint reached this point, Zulfaqar was boiling with rage. Frantically he ran into the room. As usual, he took the whip off the peg and started lashing the helpless Setareh. He hit her harder than ever. The serpent-like black leather of the whip coiled around her body, leaving L-shaped marks on her arm. Setareh shrouded herself in her prayer veil and moaned. No one came to her rescue.

Half an hour later the door opened and Gowhar Sultan walked inside the room biting her lips, pretending to be concerned. With a cunning face, she caught Zulfaqar by the hand and said: "God won't approve of this. You act as if you caught a Jew! Why are you hitting her like that? Get up Setareh, get up honey; I have kindled the fire. Go get the basin of dough and let's start baking the bread..."

Setareh took the dough from under the basket. When she was near the oven she saw her mother-in-law bending over the fire, blowing on it. As fate would have it, she stepped into the water bucket and fell with the dough basin on top of Gowhar Sultan. The mother-in-law was thrust deep into the oven up to her waist. Half an hour later when Setareh recovered from her fake swoon, half of Gowhar Sultan's body was done to a crisp.

The moral of this story is never to leave the bride and her mother-in-law alone near the oven.

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