Dastans and Disenchantment: The Storyteller Mir Baqir Ali of Delhi and the Romance of Amir Hamzah

The marvelous story of Amir Hamzah was once popular in India, where it was recited or read in Persian, Urdu, and many other languages. Prior to the twentieth century, storytellers made a successful profession by specializing in the Hamzah-namah, both in the courts of rulers and in public spaces, weaving sumptuous tales of enchanted worlds and magical creatures. But by the 1920s, the art of courtly storytelling had all but disappeared. This paper will investigate the life of the “last storyteller of Delhi,” Mir Baqir ‘Ali, and consider other figures and texts before him in an attempt to lay bare the process of disenchantment that shifted the worldview of elite Indians after the coming of the British, and which led to the marginalization of romances like that of Amir Hamzah. Taking examples from the writings of storytellers and romance-writers, it will outline the pre-existing anxieties that some had about the Hamzah-namah’s great wonders, but also their justifications of the genre of romance.