Anahita’s Woven Riddle


Status : Read from June 11 to 18, 2015
Format : Paperback
My rating: 5star /5
Author: Meghan Nuttall Sayres

An enjoyable read with colourful story depiction. The book cover itself is beautiful. The title pages and chapter pages have lovely background.

Nuttall Sayres was successful in bringing in the colourful picture of the nomadic life of people in the ancient land of Persia (Iran). This is story of a 17 year old, a semi-nomadic weaver girl Anahita, who lives a nomadic life with her family, spending summers in the mountains with their herds and winters in the villages where they wove sheep’s wool into beautiful carpets for their living.

Anahita’s family consists of her Maman (Mother): Mojdeh, Baba (father): Farhad and Maman Bozorg (grandmother). Anahita’s father, Farhad is the Kadkhuda (the tribal head) of their Afshar tribe appointed by the Khan (the chief of entire Afshar tribe who represents the tribe with the shah’s government). There is a guy named Dariyoush, who is Anahita’s family neighbour and helps Farhad in is daily chores. Anahita’s family resides in the village of Hasanabad, Iran.

Anahita is a girl who has much interest in posing riddles and solving riddles. In her day to day life, she keeps playing her riddle games with her father. She also dreams to become a master dyer. She wants to learn the dye-master’s secrets to keep alive the colours of their tribe’s carpets, which are the most beautiful at the market.

The story revolves around Anahita’s marriage. One day while posing a riddle to her father and helping him in shearing a sheep, Farhad tells her, that, next year by this time, she will be old enough to wed.  And the Khan is interested in marrying her and this will be a prosperous wedding, as this will benefit their tribe. This news makes Anahita anxious, as she is not yet ready to get married. And the thought to wed the Khan cripples her, as the Khan is much older than her own father and the only good quality she can remember about Khan is that, he is nice to cats. She is reluctant to marry the Khan, also because he was married before and he lost all his three wives to illness. Anahita feels that, the Khan is an awful bore with no sense of humour. Anahita tries to convince her father with the reasons, why she cannot wed in the next spring. But her father loses his temper and gives his final decision and asks her to start weaving her wedding carpet (qali) for the dowry.

When the qali is complete, you must prepare to marry.

Marriage is what gives women value. Don’t ever forget this. To be unwed in this world is to be nothing!

Anahita is too disturbed by the thoughts of her marriage and that too, with the thought of marrying the Khan. Then it occurs to her that, she could not live with someone who did not enjoy riddles. She feels more confident of this reason to not to get married to the Khan and voicing her though to her father.

Baba, I’ve been thinking. I will agree to marry when my qali is woven. But I will marry a man who has wit and likes for riddles.

Baba, I will weave a riddle into my wedding qali. The man who solves it, I will marry.

But her Baba and Maman are not happy with their daughter’s suggestion. Entertaining such ideas will foster bad feelings. As one cannot receive such special treatment of choosing her own husband and people in tribe will feel jealous. Even the Mullah will not approve such arrangements.

In Farhad’s view, Khan is the voice of their tribe in the divan in Mashhad and they need to be in his favour. And more over, Anahita, as the daughter of the tribe’s head should give priority towards her tribe’s well-being instead of being a khod pasand (her self-absorption).

But Anahita could not come out of the notion that, she deserves to choose her own husband. She decides to voice her thoughts about her marriage to the Mullah. But she is not sure, how positively the Mullah will take her thoughts. And will he make her father understand her concerns. The Mullah gives her a response, which she could not make out, if he is against her wish or supports her.

Dokhtaram, this request…is like none. A man who can solve your riddle, you say? I shall have to ponder this.

Meanwhile, the time comes for their tribe to move to the summer pastures. Their caravan sets out toward Mashhad, the ancient city of ‘holy earth.’ Once reaching Mashhad, the tribe set up temporary quarters beside the overcrowded caravanserai.

Anahita with her Maman, Mojdeh, walks out of the high walls of the caravanserai, to visit the crowded markets of Mashhad. Mojdeh goes into a booth selling copper vessels. Anahita walks to the stall selling silk carpets. While examining the carpets made from the synthetic dyes in the stalls, she meets a stranger. Anahita’s stare is held for a moment by the soft brown eyes of this stranger. She likes her conversation with this stranger and she feels it’s more like a riddle. She even likes the sound of his accent. But their conversation could not last long, as she had to leave. The memory of this man she met in the bazaar in Mashhad becomes a constant companion in Anahita’s thoughts during her migration to her summer pastures and she wished if she could meet this man again or at least she knew his name.

As a turn of fate, the Mullah meets Farhad to discuss about Anahita’s thoughts of a riddle for her wedding and he approves of the plan. But Farhad is still doubtful. If he refuses the Khan, he will no longer work on their tribe’s behalf. Their water and migratory privileges will be at stake. When the Khan comes to know about the riddle contest, he is angry. And instead of paying a bride price, he gives an ultimatum to Farhad. He arranges for a school teacher, Reza to start teaching Anahita. He makes a promise that he will pay twice of whatever he is paid now, if he agrees to educate Anahita. Now Farhad and Mojdeh see the stingy and impatient side of the Khan. Farhad understands the Khan will stop at nothing to get what he wants. Khan should not be trusted with the livelihood of his people and Khan would risk his tribe’s welfare to meet his own ends.  This makes Farhad agree to the riddle contest for his daughter’s wedding. He prepares parchments and announced the wedding riddle contest to the entire city of Mashhad.

The time comes for the Afshar tribe to return to their village in Hasanabad, as winter approaches. On their way back, Anahita again stumbles on the same stranger in the bazaars of Mashhad. And this time she just gets to know that this man, who has spell bound her with his riddle like talks is from Marv. But this meeting also does not last long and they have to part in moments. She gets a keepsake from the stranger: a poetry book, collection of Rumi’s poems (a Sufi poet, born in Persia many centuries ago). But she does not know to read and write. She just wished if she could read.

Tempers ran high in the Afshar tribe, as they suffered from the Khan’s revenge. Following Anahita’s wedding riddle news, Khan refused to negotiate their usual right to passage across the estates. They did not get permission to camp for the customary one day and one night. The caravan had to walk continuously and their livestock withered from the dearth of water.

After returning to Hasanabad, Anahita makes herself busy by helping her father with his chores, with the cloth basket in the mosque and spending time with her grand-uncle, the village dye master, learning the secrets to become a master dyer. A rural Madrasa opens in Hasanabad. The school teacher from Mashhad takes this opportunity. He joins the Madrasa as the teacher to teach the people in Hasanabad. Farhad enrols himself in the school. And Anahita too starts learning reading and writing the alphabets in the school. Reza helps Anahita in reading the Rumi’s poetry book, she had acquired from the stranger in the bazaar of Mashhad. In the reading process, she gets to know that the stranger’s name is Arash (written in the poetry book). Along with all these things, Anahita starts weaving her wedding qali, thinking and keeping in mind her wedding riddle.

As her wedding day approaches near, Anahita feels anxious and confused. She is worried, who will solve her riddle in the qali. What will happen, if the Khan solves her riddle? She will have no option but to accept him as her husband. She is not sure, whom she hopes to solve her riddle. She is not able to decide, who will be more suitable suitor for her: Reza (the school teacher, with whom she spend her all days learning to read and write),  Arash (the stranger she met in the bazaar of Mashhad, who is a Qajar prince of which no one is aware) or Dariyoush (the neighbour, who was always with her since childhood and taken care of her in all possible ways). What will happen, if a complete stranger, whom she has never met or known, solves her riddle?

On her wedding day, a dozen suitors turn up for the wedding riddle contest including the Khan. The wedding riddle is: which opposing life forces Anahita has woven into her qali? Every suitor present their gets a chance to examine the qali, and give his answer. Read the book to find out who wins this game of wits and Anahita’s heart?

What I didn’t like in the book is there is no mention about the aftermath of what happens to Farhad? The Khan gives the documents to Farhad, from the mujtahad, the religious jurists in Mashhad, which gives him the right to arrest Farhad. As the wedding riddle contest is against civil law.

The things I liked in this book:

  • The balance it tries to create between tradition and change. As this story takes place somewhere in 1885, when as per tradition girls had no choice of their own. Their prospective husbands were chosen by their elders in the family. But here, Anahita gets a chance to choose her husband.
  • This book encourages following your heart and mind.
  • In the entire book you can discover the beauty of Iranian culture and the life and hardship of nomad weavers. And the story they tell through their woven carpets.
  • Books contain few really good translated verses of poems of Jalaluddin Rumi. If you have a love toward poems, you are sure to like it.
  • You can learn a few Arabic and Farsi words used in the book.
  • The author’s note in the book contains the complete detail of carpets weaving, the nomadic life, the history of Iran and explanation of the Farsi language and the Sufi poems of Rumi and Rabi’a.

One of the translated verses of Rabi’a’s poem I liked the most in the book:

O my Lord

if I worship you

from hope of Paradise, bar me from its gates.

But if I worship you

for yourself alone, grant me then the beauty of your Face.


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