Book Review: A Mirrored Life

The Mirrored Life reminds me of traditions of Kathasaritsagar, the story within story or of Scheherazade of the Arabian nights. It is story about life of Rumi recounted through the fictional journey of Ibn Battuta, the 14th century Moorish traveler. Ibn Battuta traveller on his way to China from Tangier makes a fictional stop in Anatolia. There he receives a secret manuscript from a calligrapher Yakut al-Mustasimi. Not only does Yakut play Scheherazade, which left me wanting for more, his manuscript also describes most famous friendship in the Sufi history – friendship between Rumi and dervish Shams of Tabriz.mirr_life

Rumi is an eternal subject for generations of the readers: it evokes powerful emotions of love and friendship. Personally I don’t much enjoy English translations of Rumi’s poems, but an Urdu translation of his verses never fails to move me. It is Rumi’s friendship with Shams, his pain at parting with his beloved that has to led to the writing of such marvelous verses in history.

Rumi, better known as Maulan Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Balkhī, is a revered preacher in Konya which is modern day Turkey. However, his life takes a complete turn when he meets Shams and he is engrossed in Sufi traditions. There is lot of prescience and faith in this extraordinary friendship between Rumi and Shams. Rumi entered a period of Chillah with Shams, alienating not only his disciples and students but also a few important people in Rumi’s life: his wife Kira, his son Sultan, his trusted disciple Hussam and Shaikh Bahauddin, who shows him the way in the beginning.

I’ve read several books about Rumi before, but this was first time markets of Konya came alive for me with descriptions of sights and smells of different kebabs (kofte iskender kebab, alti izmeni kebab) and sweets such as hanim gobegi (meaning a lady’s navel). The book also weaves in Sufi traditions, such as I learnt about Halqa-e-Zikr, repeating one or all 99 names of Allah. The voice and the body both intoxicated by Allah’s names, which Sufis refer to a Zikr-e-Zehri. Then, there is futuwwa – it was a Sufi ideology for reaching moral heights through compassion. It was brought to Anatolia by Umar-al Suhrawardi, the principal advisor to Abbasid caliph. The head of Futuwwas is known as Akhi (ie brother) while the disciples were Fityan or young men.

There was an authenticity to Sufi culture in this book written by the Bengali writer, Rabisankar Bal who recently made spalshes in the book world with his Dozhaknama. There is only one Bengali reference I found in book rakta karabi, Red oleander, a play by Tagore. However, I was left wanting for more stories and hoped closure to some of those started by this book’s Scheherazade Yakut al-Mustasimi. The translation by Arunava Sinha seems befitting.

This is a slim book, but a though provoking one. I read it with ease when travelling and felt a bit enlightened.:)

(I received a review copy of this book courtesy the publisher and Flipkart.)

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Visceral Observations is written by Poonam Sharma. It is licensed to her under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License
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