(Last Updated on : 09/09/2009)
It is a strange fact of history that Akbar, the greatest Mughal emperor, was illiterate. At the time of Akbar's birth and for many years after, his father Humayun was a fugitive. Having lost his kingdom to the Afghan Sher Shah Suri, Humayun was constantly moving from place to place seeking shelter. He was too unsettled to think of educating his son and that is why Akbar came to the throne without having received a formal education but perhaps this was why Akbar valued learned men so highly. He honoured them with money and titles and positions at court. This is a story of one such man. He is popularly known as Mulla Do-Piaza because he invented a dish known as 'do-piaza.' Do-Piaza is made with mutton and onions.
Mulla Do-Piaza was the son of humble parents. His father was a schoolmaster. There was never much money in the house so Do-Piaza never enjoyed any luxuries. All he wanted was to learn more and more. Books were not that easily available then as they are now. They were handwritten and very expensive. Mulla Do-Piaza read all the books that he could lay his hands on. Sometimes he went to a rich man's house and took up a petty job just so that he could read the books in that house.
In due course he had mastered Persian and Arabic, philosophy and astronomy. And now Mulla Do-Piaza was not content to stay at home. He began to dream of going to Agra and getting a position at the court of Akbar.
It was very difficult to get a position at court. One really had to excel in some field. Also, one needed a patron, that is, a man who was already a courtier and close enough to the emperor to recommend a newcomer. It was months before Mulla Do-Piaza could find a patron and months before the patron could find a suitable opportunity to recommend him to the emperor. Akbar asked for details of Mulla Do-Piaza's life - where he lived, what he had learnt, and what kind of work he could do. On hearing that Mulla Do-Piaza was well versed in Persian and Arabic, philosophy and astronomy, Akbar was quiet for a while. Then he said that this young man will be given a chance and he was to take up tha charge of the poultry house.
When Mulla Do-Piaza got the news he was heartbroken to hear that he would be given the charge of royal poultry house. He, a scholar, capable of debating with the most learned men in the empire, had been asked to look after a few hundred brainless, clucking hens.
But Mulla Do-Piaza was basically a patient man. He knew that to get good things in life one must work hard and wait. So he got down to work with great determination. Day in and day out his only concern was hens, hens and hens. He saw to it that they were well fed and given clean water to drink. He saw to it that their living quarters were clean. And if a fowl was taken ill, he made sure that it was immediately separated from the rest and given proper treatment.
After a day's hard work among the hens, Mulla Do-Piaza still sat down with his books. Now and again he heaved a deep sigh as he eagerly awaited the day when the emperor will admit him in the court. Meanwhile Akbar had forgotten all about the scholar whom he had packed off to mind the hens. But one day he remembered. His finance minister, Raja Todar Mal, was reading out the palace accounts to tell Akbar how much money had been spent on the royal household. When the minister came to the expenses of the 'murghikhana', he mentioned such a low figure that Akbar sat up. He enquired how this was possible. Todar Mal gave the credit to the young man was looking after the hens. Akbar immediately asked to summon the man.
Mulla Do-Piaza came as fast as he could. Akbar looked at him sternly and asked why so less was being spent on the hens. Mulla Do-Piaza replied that they are being looked after very well but their food is different. He explained further that he is feeding them what cannot be used in the royal kitchen. Vegetable stalks, fruit and vegetable peelings, stale chappatis and dough used for sealing the mouths of vessels when royal cooks prepare special dishes are being used. Normally these are wastes but hens not only enjoy it, they thrive on it.
Akbar nodded and promoted him to the post of royal librarian. Mulla Do-Piaza 'salaamed' the emperor a dozen times. But in his heart of hearts he was bitterly disappointed. He had spent the first thirty years of his life gaining knowledge. Now he wished to air that knowledge. He wished to show people how clever he was. But as head of the royal library he would be seeing only books and more books and very few people.
In time, however, Mulla Do-Piaza got over his disappointment. He buckled down to work organizing the library. One day, about a year later, Akbar came to inspect the library. He was surprised to find each book covered with a jacket of silk, velvet or brocade. There were hundreds of books and not one without a cover. Akbar sent for Mulla Do-Piaza again. He said that expensive material had been used to cover the books but he has never charged for it. So he must be spending his own money.
Mulla Do Piaza bowed and replied that the book covers did not cost anything. When the emperor refused to believe him he explained. He said that every day dozens of people come to the Diwan-e-Aam (Hall of Public Audience) with humble requests to the Majesty. These requests are written on sheets of paper. The paper is folded and placed inside a bag made of the most expensive material that the person can afford-silk, velvet or brocade. The ministers take out the paper to read out the requests but the bags are discarded. He has discovered these bags lying in a store behind the Diwan-e-Aam. The royal tailors soon made them into jackets for the books. Since the tailors are working for the emperor they charged nothing.
Akbar looked at Mulla Do-Piaza and smiled broadly. He was so impressed with the young man that he granted him a position in the royal court. And that is how, through patience and hard work, Mulla Do-Piaza finally fulfilled his most cherished desire.