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Four Dervishes

Hammad Rind
Publication Date: 
Friday, October 1, 2021
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“Easily the most remarkable work of fiction to come out of Wales in a thousand moons.” – Jon Gower

“Four Dervishes is a fascinating adaptation of a medieval classic spun into a satirical and magical realist novel about our times.” – Tabish Khair

One monsoon night, a power cut forces a man full of disappointments on to the streets of the town. Sheltering in a cemetery he comes across four others – a grave digger, an aristocrat, an honourable criminal and a messiah – each with a past, and with a story to tell. Crimes have been committed, dark family secrets revealed, fortunes rise and fall, the varieties of love are explored, and new selves are discovered in a rich round of storytelling. And as the Disappointed Man discovers, a new story is about to begin…

Four Dervishes draws on a long tradition of storytelling as it skewers issues like religious bigotry, injustice, the denial of women’s rights, and class division. Lavishly inventive, verbally rich, an exotic confection, this novel is both darkly thematic and humorously playful.


“This novel arrives like the brightest comet, a dazzling work of art full of invention, playfulness and somewhat Chaucerian tale-telling, though this time told by fakirs in a far-off cemetery. Their ornate stories are full of mughals and caliphs, old kings and city black-outs, taking you to villages of sugarcane and to meet performers of dirges and various diverse djinns. This heady, compelling fusion of cultures – East meeting West – complete with oodles of social satire is a remarkable debut, no doubt about that. Imagine Italo Calvino came from Cardiff, was inspired by Indian-Persian poetry to re-conjure magical realism and you’ll just begin to get a sense of it. Easily the most remarkable work of fiction to come out of Wales in a thousand moons.” – Jon Gower




Review by Farida Ali, Asian Review of Books

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Set in an imaginary Eastern land, Hammad Rind’s Four Dervishes centers on four strangers as they gather around a fireplace to exchange stories while taking shelter from the rain. The book merges magical realism with dastan, a form of oral storytelling with origins in medieval Iran: the book’s title is borrowed from the “Tale of the Four Dervishes”, a dastan by the 13th century Indo-Persian Sufi poet Amir Khusro.

The story begins with a power outage, as citizens are about to settle down one evening to watch the nation’s favorite television show:

It was a ritual, a tradition, a ceremony of almost religious status and one of the few which bonded our people together, providing them with icebreakers for chilly, awkward social occasions. During that one hour, life would come to a standstill, nothing happening – all kind of activities, idleness, progress, regression, frolicking, skirt-chasing, fornication, petty crimes, misdemeanors, even felonies – yes, during that one hour burglars would refrain from breaking into the shiny marble bungalows of patricians; murderers would spare the lives of their victims for those sixty minutes.

Although sorrowful at the recent departure of his love interest, Zuleika, the narrator nevertheless finds humor in the discomforts of the power cut. Venturing into a cemetery to pass time, he witnesses a small group of individuals conducting a burial. As thunder and lightning give way to rain, Zeno the gravedigger beckons the small group to take shelter inside his hut. The strangers sit on a rug by the fireplace, surrounded by towers of classical books. It soon becomes apparent they are in the home of an erudite gravedigger, which becomes the perfect setting for the story.

We first hear the tales of Leila, an aristocrat from a land of “hardworking, hairy and superstitious” people. She narrates tales of her childhood and the strange custom she underwent in which she was made to marry a book to save her family from losing their ancestral lands:

After the reception, I was taken to the nuptial chamber to wait for the arrival of my husband. Around midnight my mother came in holding my groom in her arms. She laid him on the flower-laden bed. I glanced at him blushingly. At least he was thick—so thick that you could use him as a dining chair. I touched his cover and found it velvety.

And of Freydoune or Freddy, raised in the West by a mother who wishes to hide all traces of her own heritage in raising her son, only to drive him further Eastward to discover his origins:

My parents, and especially my mother, never uttered a word about their past. Although they never said anything explicit about her roots, I was tacitly made to believe that they were a local couple. However, when I attained more understanding about my surroundings, especially after I was enrolled in a school, I started to see potholes in this version of their wordless story. For instance, my mother had a slow drawl in her accent and her mannerism which I had grown up seeing as normal was slightly different from that of the other women I saw around me, such as my schoolmates’ mothers.

The story then shifts to the tales of Zeno, the gravedigger and finally Zoltan, a criminal with a dark past. In the storytelling of all characters, the author uses humor and folklore in his application of magical realism to the traditional dastan.

Four Dervishes invokes the magic of storytelling as a temporary diversion from the humdrum of daily existence and an escape into another time and place through the lives of others. At times these places seem otherworldly. The pace follows the dastan style of storytelling as it meanders from one tale to another. While characteristic of this distinctive style of oral storytelling, at times this technique requires  the reader to pause to follow the storyline.

Hammad Rind was born in rural Punjab, Pakistan and is a linguist, fluent in eight languages. Greek and Italian as well as Turkish, Persian and Arab words appear throughout the book. Four Dervishes is testimony to his passion for language and world literature and evokes not just Eastern classics of the genre such as One Thousand and One Nights but also Chaucerian tale-telling.

Review by Zoe Kramer, Wales Arts Review

Friday, February 11, 2022

A surreal and fantastical novel written in reverence to the act of storytelling itself.

“And then there was no light.” So begins Khusro’s tale in Four Dervishes, with a tongue-in-cheek inversion of Genesis. A power outage plunges him into a dark world which seems to exist outside of time, as he gathers with four strangers around a fire to shelter from the rain and out-wait the power cut. Each person – in turn – shares their story. The darkness remains awash throughout each unfolding narrative, and yet, the tales they tell are paradoxically vibrant.

The first one to recount their story is Leila, an aristocrat from a land where women are prized for their knees. Her story isn’t moralistic or preachy, and yet captures the absurdity of gender roles through its biting satire. She is married to a book to prevent her family’s lands from being split up, and spends her wedding night reading about natural history. Rind’s shrewd humor at times borders on farce, and yet is grounded by the humanity of his characters.

Freddy’s story offers a similar duality split between the comedic nature of the storytelling, and the heart wrenching struggles of its protagonist. Raised by a mother who wants to erase all traces of the family’s Eastern roots — to the point of condemning the very direction itself — there is an earnest disquiet that drives Freddy in search of an identity. He speaks of “an inextinguishable love of my real home, the land of which I have no memories”. There is palpable power in the way he describes the pull of his ancestral land, a place which he is both native to and isolated from. This is not undercut or diminished by the humor of the story, however, does at times set it off balance, giving an off-kilter edge.

That the pace of Four Dervishes is meandering is a part of its charm, however it can sometimes linger on the minutia and microscopic to an extent which occasionally interrupts the flow of the larger story. This hyperfixation on certain details feels supplementary at first, but – as the novel wears on —ultimately lends insufficient interest to warrant the interference, and eventually becomes somewhat tiresome.

Four Dervishes’s central topic is an unapologetic exploration of storytelling itself. This reverence is dedicated not only to the ways stories can bring people together, but also to the beauty of stories in and of themselves. Hence we find stories ornately framed within stories – meta-narratives curated by Khusro. This outer layer of narration, in contrast with the lovely strangeness of the inner stories, manages to be immersive in a different, more traditional way. We pause between tales to note a change in the weather, to hear a knock on the door or to wait for a narrator to catch their breath or return from the bathroom. In this sense, the reader is welcomed into the warm intricacies of storytelling as a human act, just as though we were also one of the guests.

In a time when the dominant form of the novel rejects all but the mildly improbable in the name of realism, this work embraces the exceptional. Earthquakes bring lovers together, wars are waged against barbers and men are turned into trees. It is a refreshing celebration of the fantastical, and is unburdened with a need to rationalise or justify that which breaks the boundaries of standard modern narrative. It is beautifully embellished, delightfully indelicate, and full of heart.

Review by Chinyere Chukwudi-Okeh, Nation Cymru

Sunday, December 12, 2021

The re-invention of folk and native wisdom in Hammad Rind’s Four Dervishes.

There is something eternal and revolutionary in the creative redeployment of folklore, fables, legends and ancient wisdom, adapting them to the 21st-century digital culture.

Hammad Rind succeeds in creating the narrative appeal of the popular Tales by Moonlight and Arabian Nights stories in a very vivid and imaginative storytelling pattern.

So vivid are these stories that one can imagine Rind, sitting on a fine stool, surrounded by hundreds of audience as he narrates these stories, commanding all the emotions of surprise, shock and jaw-dropping feelings that these stories effortlessly evoke.

The presence of the author is powerfully felt through mind-blowing twists and unexpected endings. There is no possibility of predictability to the turn of events in this collection. Four Dervishes is indeed a journey into alternate worlds and universes human and otherwise, drawing lessons and salient messages, which is the notable attribute of folklore.

In Rind’s Four Dervishes lies the gnomic representation of the material and aesthetic cultures of countries and continents, a cross-cultural intersection of lands, lineages and languages. This is such that the narrative shrinks borders and frontiers, lavishly deploying the charms of culture. Some of the stories transcend mundanity to the esoteric, but the author breaks them down for ease of understanding and clarity.

Harbinger of legends

We follow Alverdi who takes a U-turn from his ancestral skill of evoking laughter through comedic renditions to the opposite of evoking tears through dirgic tunes and narratives, and the suspense grinds to a halt in the most unexpected ending. Without any intentions of giving spoilers, this chink of the iceberg reveals the satirical nature of the narratives.

There is a rapid succession of events that yields to both fluidity of the tales and their fast-paced segmentation. The power of language through code-mixing and switching is made pleasurable with the fantastical stories behind their usage.

It is amazing how little things that may ordinarily be considered superficial, assume powerful consequences that make or mar the characters associated with them. Things like moustaches/beards, golden nose, TV programmes, knees, epitaphs, eyes, oven-baked bread and much more, all become totemic bones around which the major plots are woven.

Four Dervishes is enchanting, magical and holds the reader spellbound, wondering how the mind of the author conjures such tales-within-tales in quick succession and then manages to tie them all in at the end.

Rind paints the cemetery as a harbinger of legends, dreams, destinies, and an assembly of interesting personalities whose life journeys command attention.

I laughed out heartily and spared a thought to the underlying semantics of these stories. The deification of the unthinkable, the riddling effects, the laughable superstitions and lore, divine eccentricities, the tall tales and the casual appeal to common sense through symbolic circumstances, remain the ultimate selling point of Four Dervishes and the grand epitome of Hammad Rind’s mastery of the craft of storytelling.

I do not flatter you when I say this is a page-turner that will have your eyes glued to the pages, flipping endlessly till the very end!

Review by Richard Brown, James Joyce Broadsheet

Monday, October 25, 2021

The acknowledgement to James Joyce in this very lively, compacted and wide-ranging new novel is surely one of the more enjoyable so far in that most highly-populated field of Joycean acknowledgements. As the author elegantly puts it: ‘I owe gratitude to James Joyce for lending me his caliph’s hood on that remarkably torrential monsoon night. . .’. The night in question in Hammad Rind’s Four Dervishes is immediately reminiscent of Italo Calvino’s iffy winter’s night of strange and interrupted narratives, interlocking in this modern-day version of the caliph’s hood of the Arabian Nights. Both these looming narrative precedents are welcome for the reader to hold on to whilst navigating this extraordinary fiction debut from twenty-first century Wales. Just as intriguingly, for those fascinated by the rich mediaeval Persian literary heritage of the Indian subcontinent, Four Dervishes opens a window on The Tale of the Four Dervishes, on its thirteenth-century author, Amir Khusro, and on the translation of it by Mir Amman in 1801. This is the literary classic of modern everyday Urdu which helped to establish a literary status for that language. Khusro is the name given to Rind’s first narrator who meets the dervishes in a surprisingly wellpopulated graveyard from which he is exiled as a result of his domestic incompetence, hoping for some eventual forgiveness and reconciliation with his long-suffering spouse.

So here we have the James Joyce who is the patron saint of all world writers, whose Leopold Bloom is glimpsed as he slips out of the threatening world of Nighttown in a memorably surreal stage direction from the ‘Circe’ episode with (not to be outdone) both ‘caliph’s hood’ and ‘poncho’, ‘Incog Haroun Al Raschid’ (U 15. 4325). Word play, experiment with narrative and a sheer joy in the use of many languages, as well as the potential to open intertextual connections and build cultural bridges by means of them, are among the many things that align this novel with the Joycean world.


Some readers of Joyce might reach for the vituperative ghost of Mhananann Mac Lir from that same ‘Circe’ episode of Ulysses who cries ‘Punarjanam patsypunjaub! I won’t have my leg pulled’ (U 15.2270-1) just as Stephen Dedalus batters the gaslight chandelier with his ashplant. Meanwhile the novel’s extraordinary feats of imaginative leg-pulling not infrequently touch those places where the satirist and the magical realist can remind us that even the most extraordinary literary fantasy worlds have the capacity to remind us of the sobering realities of our own. No doubt with that variety of potential impacts in mind, much-admired Welsh writer, broadcaster and academic Jon Gower warmly welcomes the book as ‘Easily the most remarkable work of fiction to come out of Wales in a thousand moons’ and the book is already a hot tip for prestigious first novel prizes.



Review by Nida Qasim, Youlin Magazine

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

In the Four Dervishes, Rind merges the eastern classical genre of dastan (storytelling) with the genre of magical realism popular in Latin America, while using the literary device of satire throughout.

The title of the book is borrowed from Qissa-ye Chahār Darvēsh (The Tale of the Four Dervishes), a dastan by a renowned 13th century Indo-Persian Sufi poet, writer and musician, Amir Khusro. A dastan (Persian: dâstân) is an ornate form of oral history from Central Asia, Iran, Turkey and Azerbaijan.

Inspired by Amir Khusro, the story of the four dervishes is set in a fictional state (‘Saqia’) located somewhere between the Indian subcontinent and Iran. The four dervishes gather in a cemetery where each shares the story of his life through the rich tradition of oral storytelling.

While in conversation with Rind, he shared that the themes employed in the stories are themselves quite contemporary, and are inspired by the observations that he made during the time he lived in Pakistan. However, Rind emphasized that while some of the themes and social issues embedded within the novel might be inspired from Pakistan, that does not mean that they are also not universal. Rind said that humor is very important to him, and that for people to laugh is absolutely necessary. Therefore, while he addresses various deeply rooted social problems such as women’s issues, religious bigotry, class divisions and the concept of honor in his novel, he does so in a manner that is not preachy, but is satirical and thought provoking.

Four Dervishes is a fantastical novel, filled with an array of rich linguistic, poetic, and cultural gems from various parts of the world, and one that will make you laugh, and yet also reflect, which is in my opinion, the best combination. To this effect, I would like to share a passage that Rind read out for me in the interview. It sounds even better when you hear him read in multiple languages with perfect pronunciation, but even without that it’s worth reading.

Review by Billie Ingram Sofokleous, Buzz Magazine

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Reading this novel, I felt myself transported to a far-off land where you might hear stories around a campfire, the aroma of burnt wood permeating through every pore. It begins much like a Shakespearean tragedy, a monsoon setting the scene with pathetic fallacy where the four devised themselves find themselves. 

The style of oral storytelling feels rounded: a rich tapestry of characters, full of colour, embody universal issues that are timeless to humanity. These characters seem like immovable forces of nature who root themselves into our consciousness. Four Dervishes’ narrative has parallels with Arabian Nights as well as the allegorical tales of its (presumed) more direct inspiration, Mir Amman’s Tales Of Four Dervishes, originally written in Urdu.

Hammad Rind’s story lures you in with depictions of inter-gender injustice, disparate yet relatable. His manner of social commentary helps underline that we – that is to say, contemporary global society – have not fixed the same mistakes in our supposed utopia. This ripples through our own understanding and leaves us with as many questions as we started with.

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