The 13th century polymath Zakariya al Qazwini is acclaimed for his cosmography Ajaib al Makhalooqaat wa Gharaib al Maujoodaat [Marvels of Things Created and Miraculous Aspects of Things Existing].

In it, he describes the many ajaib [marvels or wonders] of creation, including the stars, the flora and fauna and the gharaib [strange and miraculous things and oddities] such as eclipses, earthquakes and the birth of conjoined twins in animals. In Urdu, the term ajeeb-o-ghareeb encompasses both phenomena, the marvels and the oddities.

Many years ago, I began making notes of the ajeeb-o-ghareeb phenomena I encountered in literature, to employ them in my own fiction. One such phenomenon was the union of lovers in death, which occurred in many forms. I quote some famous examples below:

In what I have read so far, the earliest such event is recorded by the 16th century Indian historian Ahmad Yadgar. In his book Taareekh-i-Salateen-i-Afaghina [A History of Afghan Monarchs], he writes that a faqir [mendicant] travelling in a boat with a wedding procession fell in love with the bride at first sight.

The repetition of the theme over centuries reveals it to be a major preoccupation of our literature.

Recognising his feelings, the bride, by way of teasing him, threw her shoe into the river and dared the faqir to dive and fetch it. The faqir accepted the challenge and dove in, but did not resurface. Remorseful, the bride threw herself into the river and, when the wedding party pulled their bodies out, they were found entwined in each other's arms. The faqir held her shoe in one hand.

With great difficulty, they were separated from each other's embrace. Their bodies were carried across the river and buried in separate graves. Two months later, the bride's family arrived to take her body for burial in their ancestral graveyard, but they discovered no signs of it upon opening her grave.

When the faqir's grave was opened, there were no signs of his body, either. But upon digging a little deeper into his grave, they came upon a small window.

Looking through it, they beheld a beautiful garden with many resplendent golden palaces and lovely ponds, where the girl and the faqir were seated on a throne studded with pearls and jewels, a troop of female attendants waiting on them.

While the witnesses were marvelling at this sight, a stone fell and blocked the window, obliterating all signs of it.

Two masnavis - Mir Taqi Mir's Darya-i-Mohabbat [the River of Love] and...

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