Clothes of Spirits

A Balochi Folktale translated by Fazal Baloch

Balochistan. Courtesy: Creative Commons

Once upon a time there was a certain kingdom somewhere on the earth. The moment night set in, thieves and robbers would let lose all across the kingdom. Despite all efforts from the king, the robbers were not contained. One day, the king, his emirs and viziers all put their heads together to devise an effective plan. At last, one of the viziers floated the following idea:

“Let’s us call the day the night, and the night the day. It is the only way to protect our people”.

The king liked the idea very much and immediately he issued the decree asking the people to start their day after the sunset and mark the sunrise as the beginning of the night. Initially, many people violated king’s decree and they were subsequently hanged. In due time, the unusual routine ensued in the kingdom. People slept during the day and resumed activities at night.

One day two strangers arrived in the city at midday. They went to a shop. The shopkeeper was asleep. They were looking around the shop, when the shopkeeper woke up and caught saw them. He instantly presumed they were thieves and accused them of shoplifting.

“We are no thieves. We have come to get some merchandise,” said one of the strangers.

“Why did you come so late in the night?” asked the shopkeeper.

Confounded by shopkeeper’s remarks he quipped: “Night? It is not night! Rather it is midday”.

The shopkeeper accused them of violating king’s decree and subsequently dragged them to the king’s court. The king told them that he would investigate their case in the daytime. Meanwhile, they were locked in a room. They were astounded by the strange behaviour of the king and his subjects. At night – the time they took to be the day — the king summoned the two strangers and asked them the purpose of their visit to the city.

“We are no ordinary folks. Rather we are royal tailors from the neighboring kingdom. We sew clothes for spirits”.

The king said: “How do these kinds of clothes look?”

“Only the legitimate sons of their fathers can see these clothes,” the man replied.

The king provided them with a sewing machine and asked them to sew the clothes. Later on, he asked his vizier to see if the clothes were ready. The vizier walked over to the room allotted to the strangers. They were absorbed with the sewing machine. The vizier drew nearer to the men and asked them about the progress in their work.

“The shirt is all done. We are half way through the trousers.  Isn’t it visible to you?” Surprisingly asked one of the men.

The vizier was quite confused. He couldn’t find any clothes there but he reckoned any negative answer would mean he was not his father’s legitimate son.

Hence, he said: “Of course, it is. It looks beautiful”. Then he cleverly asked them: “Where is the shirt?”

“It’s there in the box. See it for yourself.”

The vizier opened the box. It seemed empty, but he exclaimed: “What an exceedingly beautiful shirt!”

Then the vizier walked over to the king and told him that the clothes looked wonderful. Then the king strolled into the room. The vizier asked him to try the clothes on. The king opened the box. Lo, it was empty! He knew any remarks about the invisible clothes would call the legitimacy of his own birth into question. Thereupon, he peeled off his clothes and pretended to wear the clothes of spirits. He was naked but the vizier asked the people to clap and praise him new clothes. The king made a detour around the city. Everybody clapped and admired him being clad in the spiritual clothes.

The next day he issued another proclamation asking his subjects to wear the clothes of spirits. A few days later, the king invited the king of a neighbouring kingdom which was the home of the two strangers. When the king arrived there, he was astonished to see that nobody had a thread on their body and they slept during the day and worked at night. Then the two strangers whispered the entire story into his ear. The king said: “Let’s hurry off; otherwise they will force us to wear the clothes of spirits.”

This folktale has been translated from a retelling by Ghulam Jan Nawab in “Cher Andaren Neki” (The Hidden Virtue), a collection compiled by Ghulam Jan Nawab and published by Chammag Chap o Shing in 2021.

Fazal Baloch is a Balochi writer and translator. He has translated many Balochi poems and short stories into English. His translations have been featured in Pakistani Literature published by Pakistan Academy of Letters and in the form of books and anthologies. Fazal Baloch has the translation rights from the publisher.


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