The incorporation of North India in the Persian cosmopolis during the sultanate period (13th-16th century), and the rise of the Mughal dynasty during the 16th century, led many authors to compose tales in Persian (qiṣṣah, dāstān or ḥikāyat, often masthnavī in form) inspired by Indian themes and romances. A number of scholars, such as the Late Syed Amir Husain Abidi (1921-2011), dedicated themselves to the edition and study of these poetic compositions. More recently, several researchers, such as Simon Digby, Sunil Sharma or Francesca Orsini, attempted to locate more precisely the social and historical context of these works. Indeed, the composers of these tales stem from various social backgrounds. Some are Iranian émigrés from Khurāsān or Fārs, while others are Indian Muslims (khānzādah) or even Hindus. In this paper, I would like to focus on these multiple identities in the literary context of ‘Indian’ Persian mathnavī. My intention is to understand how authors chose to present themselves in their own compositions, and how in order to achieve this goal, they forged distinct ‘pen-identities’. The time frame of my analysis is the 17th century and, more precisely, the reigns of the Mughal emperors Jahāngīr, Shāh Jahān and ‘Ālamgīr.
Indeed, during the 17th century, a number of Indian tales have been translated or adapted into Persian both in verse and in prose. Persian literature, at that stage, already had a solid canon, located in several spaces: Central Asia (Khurāsān) and Iran itself (Fārs, ‘Ajam). India (Hindūstān), although associated with some important poets of that canon (Amīr Khusraw for example) remained a marginal space, situated, at best, at the frontier of the Persian speaking world. Using Amir Hasan Abidi’s editions (see, for example, the Rat Padam of ‘Abd ush-Shakūr Bazmī or the ‘Ismatnāma of Ḥamīd Kalānaurī) as well as some unedited manuscripts (notably, some copies of the Mihr-u Māh of ‘Āqil Khān ‘Rāzī’), I argue that South Asian translators/adaptors (mutarjim) acted as literary go-betweens who, following the established conventions of Persian poetry, asserted, to a Persian-speaking connoisseur audience, the literary relevance of Indian subjects. Their pen-identities, whether they were émigrés, Indian Muslims or Hindus, played a key role in that regard. I argue, notably, that they often chose to embrace their geographical ‘otherness’ only to develop an ‘Indian’ (Hindī) poetic imagery in which spatial opposition between Iran and South Asia (Īrān-u-Hind) allowed them to assert their ‘newness’ and modernity (tāzagī).