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  • Writer's pictureFolkloristan

Momin Khan Shireeno

In the vast land of Rohistan, where rugged mountains met the open skies, two brothers dwelled. The older one, a tribal chief with seven sons, including the eldest named Zabardast Khan. The younger brother, however, had no children.

One day, concern etched on the older brother's face, he asked his younger sibling, "What troubles your heart?" The younger brother, with a heavy heart, admitted his worry about not having children. The older brother, wise and kind, reassured him that Allah would bless his ears with good news one day.

As time flowed like the river winding through their lands, both brothers' wives found themselves expecting. A pact was made — if one had a girl and the other a boy, destiny would bind them in marriage. Fate smiled upon them, gifting the chieftain a beautiful baby daughter named Shireeno and the other a beloved son named Momin Khan.

The brothers joyfully announced the betrothal of Momin Khan and Shireeno before the jirga, declaring their intent to marry when they reached maturity. As the years unfolded, Momin Khan and Shireeno's friendship blossomed into love.

Tragedy struck when the two brothers, leaders of the clan, passed away. Chaos ensued as Zabardast Khan and his six younger brothers clamoured for the Malik's seat. Amidst the turmoil, Momin Khan, guided by a sense of rightful succession, claimed his father's turn for leadership.

Yet, instead of unity, Zabardast Khan and his brothers united against Momin Khan. The once harmonious clan now stood divided, each faction led by a different claimant to the chief's seat. Momin's mother, sensing impending trouble, advised him to call a jirga and marry Shireeno before matters worsened.

During the jirga, Zabardast Khan and his brothers denied the earlier agreement, demanding a bride price of 12 mann's* of silver for Shireeno's hand in marriage. Anger simmered within Momin Khan, but love for Shireeno led him to reluctantly accept the exorbitant condition.

With uncertainty clouding his mind about where to procure such wealth, Momin Khan turned to his loyal friend, Reedi Gul. Together, they embarked on a journey to Hindustan, a distant and wealthy land, in hopes of earning the hefty bride price.

Months passed, and they reached a city in India, where even men veiled their faces. As they walked the bustling streets, a mishap occurred — Momin Khan's face was exposed. The handsome young man caught the attention of royal guards, leading to an unintended incident. A distracted guard's spear went astray, piercing another soldier.

Word reached the king, who, intrigued by the peculiar turn of events, sent emissaries to invite Momin Khan to the palace. In the humble caravanserai where Momin Khan lodged, he welcomed the king's men, and after a shared meal, agreed to visit the royal court. Little did he know, this encounter would shape the next chapter of his journey.

In the opulent palace of the Indian king, Momin Khan found himself an unexpected guest. The king, impressed by Momin's strength, intelligence, and charisma, offered him royal hospitality. Their bond deepened through long conversations, and the king came to admire the young man's exceptional qualities.

One night, a mysterious voice in Momin Khan's dream beckoned him to try his hand at pehelvani, traditional wrestling. Driven by curiosity, Momin requested the king's permission to join the royal pehelvans in their training. Despite the king's concerns about Momin's safety, the young man insisted, and the king, respecting his guest's will, agreed.

To everyone's astonishment, Momin Khan showcased remarkable strength and skill in the wrestling ring. Pleased and relieved that no harm befell his guest, the king honoured Momin with a seat beside him in the Diwan, a place of great distinction.

As days passed, a letter arrived for the king, a secret he initially tried to conceal. Momin's curiosity got the better of him, and he inquired about the letter. The king reluctantly revealed that it was a tribute sent to a neighbouring kingdom to avoid war. Though Momin felt a pang of anger, the king justified the action as a means of maintaining peace.

Feeling a sense of responsibility, Momin Khan bid farewell to the king and set forth with Reedi Gul to meet the neighbouring king. In a city of the neighbouring kingdom, they encountered a goldsmith. Momin Khan, with an unusual request, asked for a golden horseshoe. Sensing Reedi Gul's objections, he urged the goldsmith to proceed without questions.

Meanwhile, a distressed young woman, mounted on a camel was weeping, and calling for help. Momin Khan, curious and compassionate, inquired the goldsmith, "Who is this young lady, and why is no one helping her?"

The goldsmith explained that an azdaha, a monstrous, deadly serpent which breathed fire, terrorized the city. Every day, a young woman and a camel were sent as a sacrifice, to appease the azdaha, and to protect the entire city from its wrath. Today, the sobbing girl was the chosen sacrifice.

Momin Khan's heart stirred with empathy at the sight of the distraught girl. Her tears and cries echoed in his mind, resonating with the memory of his beloved Shireeno bidding him farewell with tears streaming down her face.

Momin Khan spurred his horse forward, urging the distressed girl to lead the way. Beyond the city walls, they waited in the forest clearing, where the azdaha came to claim its prey. Fatigue weighed heavily on Momin, and he requested the girl to sit while he took a moment's reprieve. "Wake me up if I fall asleep," he told her.

He laid his head on a sturdy rock and succumbed to the embrace of sleep. Witnessing his sacrifice for her safety, the girl felt a swell of gratitude and sympathy. Unable to bear seeing him rest on the cold stone, she gently lifted his head, displaced the harsh rock, and cradled his head in her lap.

As a gentle hush enveloped the clearing, the azdaha emerged, a sinister shadow in the moonlight. Fear gripped the girl, rendering her voice silent, but a single tear escaped her eye, landing on Momin Khan's face. Stirred by the intrusion of the tear, he awoke, his initial anger, to discover himself resting on her lap dissolved as he faced the azdaha.

Now, Momin Khan had slept with his sword tied to his ankle. Swiftly, he thwarted the creature's attack, flinging his sword straight into the azdaha's throat. He secured the slayed serpent's teeth as a trophy. The girl - now revealed as the princess - returned to the palace, and her miraculous survival astonished the court, which was mourning her loss.

Upon learning of Momin Khan's heroic feat, the king wished to meet him. Momin, ever humble, declined the princess's hand in marriage but pleaded for an end to the tribute. The king agreed, and Momin Khan set off to share the good news.

Zabardast Khan and his brothers held sway, their rule marked by the cruelty that wore down the villagers' spirits. One fateful day, a little boy, adopted by Momin Khan's mother, innocently wandered into Zabardast Khan's fields. However, his mere presence invoked the wrath of his cousins, leading to a heart-wrenching assault on the defenceless child.

Bruised and battered, the boy returned to the embrace of his mother. With a heavy sigh, she instructed him, "Go to India, my child. Inform your brother of the cruelty we endure, and tell him how they cast me out of our home. Let him know the villagers have granted me refuge."

Momin, hailed as a hero upon his return to the Indian court, met his younger brother. The child narrated the plight of their mother and the villagers. Overwhelmed with concern, Momin decided to return to Rohistan.

Upon reaching the village, Momin Khan first visited Shireeno. The reunion turned tragic when Zabardast Khan, mistaking him for a thief in the dark, struck him with a sword. Shireeno, awakening to the chaos, laughed, seemingly losing her sanity. Momin Khan's mother, upset over the meeting sequence, arrived only to find her son lifeless.

The tragedy deepened when Shireeno, upon seeing Momin's lifeless body, also breathed her last. Heartbroken, Momin's cousins, who had once wronged him, felt remorse. The princess, accompanied by her handmaidens, arrived too late. She honoured Momin's memory, declaring that he, who died young and unmarried, shall have his Janazah shouldered by maidens. She, along with her slave girls, laid him to rest. Shirenoo too, succumbed to death the same evening and was buried alongside time.

Years later, when the princess passed away, she too was laid to rest next to Momin Khan. The graves stood as a testament to a tale of sacrifice, love, and the enduring legacy of a young man who ventured far and wide to uphold justice and honour.


Mann is a local measurement unit in Pakistan, equal to 40kg.

Malik is a title for tribal chiefs in Pashto.

Source: Translated from "Pathano ke Romaan"

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