The Tutinama (Book of the parrot) is a collection of 52 moral tales told by an enterprising parrot to his mistress, to distract her from meeting her lover during her husband’s long absence.
The story was translated into Persian around 1335 from a series of 70 ancient Sanskrit tales. It is a fine example of Persian literature adapting ideas and stories from surrounding cultures. The Persian redaction of 52 tales became popular in later Mughal courts from the 16th century, where elaborate illustrated copies were created by the finest artists. Very few of these copies remain intact.
The State Library’s manuscript was made in northern India in 1808–09, and is a beautiful example of a traditional hand-made Persian manuscript created after the golden age of courtly Mughal book production.
The manuscript bears 110 intricately hand-painted, richly coloured illustrations offering glimpses of courtly life in India. Each page is gilded with a cloud pattern around the script, suggesting a wealthy patron. The book was rebound in the early 20th century with translucent interleaved pages to preserve the precious gilding and illustrations.
Complete manuscript copies of the Tutinama are very rare, and this is the only copy in an Australian collection.
The Tutinama story
In the Tutinama, the merchant Maimun presents a parrot and a mynah bird to his wife Khojista, to keep her company while he is away. No sooner has he left than his wife spies a handsome man and through intermediaries arranges an illicit meeting. The next evening Khojista tells the mynah of her plan. When the bird protests her act of disloyalty, an enraged Khojista kills the mynah and turns to the parrot for advice. Displaying great (and comic) cunning, the parrot approves of her plan and offers to provide a false alibi for Khojista when Maimun returns, like the parrot in the story of Ferukh Beg. Intrigued, Khojista asks to hear the story of Ferukh Beg. The parrot obliges. By the time he has finished, dawn is breaking and Khojista’s meeting with her lover has not occurred.
This episode continues over 52 nights, with each story contriving to add a different moral to the tale and to prevent the meeting of the lovers. The stories are a wonderful collection of animal fables, lovers’ tales and adventures, exploring themes of honour and courage, deceit and treachery.
One of the stories is ‘The tale of the goldsmith, the carpenter, the tailor and the hermit who quarreled about a wooden woman’. These four are travelling together and set up camp one night with each taking turns to keep watch. To stay awake on the first watch, the carpenter carves a figure of a woman. On the second watch the jeweler adorns the carving, and on the third the tailor clothes it. On the fourth watch the hermit prays to God and the statue comes to life. The four travellers quarrel over who among them should have this beautiful woman. They take their dispute to an official who, when asked to adjudicate, claims the woman as his lawful spouse. He takes the four creators to a police officer, who in turn claims the woman as his brother’s long-lost wife, and takes now five prisoners to a magistrate, who claims the woman as his own. In the hullabaloo of the argument an old man suggests they seek counsel from the Tree of Decision. Each of the seven men makes his case before the tree. When the last is heard, the tree opens; the woman enters and is taken back into the wood. A voice issues from the tree to say that everything returns to its first principles, and the seven suitors for the woman are overcome with shame.
The story of the parrot does not end happily for Khojista. After 52 nights Maimun returns and immediately inquires about the missing mynah. Khojista has no time to answer before the parrot tells of the mynah’s death and Khojista’s attempt at adultery. Maimun beheads Khojista and sets the parrot free.