Rumi caught me, yet again.
Have you ever had the feeling that when you love someone or something deeply, somehow they seem to drift into your life as if by chance? Then it is upto you whether to grab that chance or hesitate and hold back. Its been less than a year since I came to know about Rumi and his poems. First couplet of his and I was hooked. I was a bit confused though when I saw some of his poems attributed to Shams of Tabriz. There were allusions to the relationship between Rumi and his beloved in an earlier, disappointing book that I picked up just because it said, a study on poems by Rumi. Elif Shafak has given me all the answers in ‘The Forty Rules of Love”.
It was the picture of a woman lost in her thoughts, wandering along a beach that first caught my eye. The name befit a chick lit rather than a mystic journey, but something made me pick it up and read, ” So when Ella reads a manuscript about the thirteenth century Sufi poet Rumi and Shams of Tabriz, and his forty rules of life and love, her world is turned upside down”. In less than five minutes the book was mine and there I was in the next door coffee shop already lost in a quintessential, all American household in Northampton, Massachusetts and from there to the mysterious inns, streets, mosques and of course the sufis of thirteenth century Turkey and Baghdad.
At forty, Ella has it all, or so it seems. A husband “who worked hard and made a lot of money…a big busy house with children, elegant furniture, and the wafting scent of home made pies..“. The author beautifully summarizes Ella as ,“Building her whole life around her husband and children, Ella lacked any survival techniques to help her cope with life’s hardships on her own. She was not the type to throw caution to the wind. Even changing her daily coffee brand was a major effort.” And this sets the tone to the dramatic change that a book and its author brings into her life and that too in a matter of a few weeks.
Her children having grown up and her husband busy with his profession and his mistresses, she starts working for a literary agency based out of Boston. Her first assignment is to review the first book of an author based in Amsterdam , “SWEET BLASPHEMY, a historical, mystical novel on the remarkable bond between Rumi, the best poet and most revered spiritual leader in the history of Islam, and Shams of Tabriz, an unknown, unconventional dervish full of scandals and surprises.” Thus begins Ella’s and in parallel, Shams’ journey through paths of questions, faith, trust and ultimately love.
In a stage of life where she has lost faith in love and romance is found only in books and movies, it is only clairvoyant that something in the authors’s note touches a raw nerve, “For despite what some people say, love is not only a sweet feeling bound to come and quickly go away”. On a whim, she mails a note to the author. The book then weaves in and out of the growing relationship between Ella and Aziz and the life of Shams and Rumi. The writing style is crisp and tight, that one can seamlessly move between two widely different time periods and not even notice it. You are eager to know what happens after the last letter, at the same time wanting to go back to Shams’s life.
Lovers of Rumi know that no one could ever describe love so longingly and deeply as him. This book tells you his own personal longings, how he had to free himself of every possible truth and comfort that he had ever known to realize what real love is all about and the endless pain such abandon could bring about. It also takes us through what it really means to lose one who is not just your soul mate, but a mirror which reflects who and what you are. It shows us a love that transcends all boundaries and one that can be understood by only a very rare few.
Ella’s story of love is told through a series of letters between her and Aziz, whereas the tale of Shams and Rumi is narrated through the eyes of a host of characters who wander in and out – Suleiman the Drunk, Hasan the Beggar,Desert Rose the Harlot, Baybars the Warrior, Rumi’s wife Kerra, Kimya his adopted daughter, his sons Sultan Walad and Aladdin and a few others. Intertwined with this engrossing tale are the gems, ‘The Forty Rules of Love’ . Love here transcends the boundaries of all the definitions that we know of and have heard. It is love in its ultimate form, and which can be attained only through great pain. And these rules are as relevant today as was centuries ago.
“There are more fake gurus and false teachers in this world than the number of stars in the visible universe. Don’t confuse power-driven, self-centered people with true mentors. A genuine spiritual master will not direct your attention to himself or herself and will not expect absolute obedience or utter admiration from you, but instead will help you to appreciate and admire your inner self. True mentors are as transparent as glass. They let the Light of God pass through them.”
He consoles Desert Rose, who considers herself impure,
“Real filth is the one inside. The rest simply washes off. There is only one type of dirt that cannot be cleansed with pure waters, and that is the stain of hatred and bigotry contaminating the soul. You can purify your body through abstinence and fasting, but only love will purify your soul.”
I could go on and on and write more than a few posts, such was the effect that this book had on me.
Verdict : A must read for all the Sufi souls and Rumi lovers and anyone else with at least a whiff of mysticism in them.