Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Story of an Extraordinary Daughter

I read a strange book. I call it strange because it made me feel emotions I did not know exist inside me. I also call it strange because after finishing the book I was not sure whether I will classify it as a fiction, history , a spiritual book or a sufi poem. I read “Rumi’s Daughter” by Muriel Maufroy this weekend .
A delightful little book , which the cover rightly claims , is from the tradition of Paolo Coelho's 'The Alchemist' . A book which transcends the time it tells about, the people it talks of and the theme it narrates. Talking about those trivialities, it tells a story of characters which happened during the middle ages( 13th Century ) in Turkey. It is story of a girl adopted by Maulana Jalaludin Rumi in the city of Konya .
Not long back I was reading the Islam Quintet of Tariq Ali where the author discussed the love hate relationship of Islam and Christianity. It was a narration from the very macro level. Of course, there were men and women, some historical characters, some very ordinary individuals in a specific period of history, but except for the first book – Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree which was set in 1499 in al-Andulus during the time of Queen Isabella's reconquista of Spain , none of the four books could capture the beauty of that age as one finds in Rumi’s Daughter.
Throughout the series, Tariq Ali dwelt on the tolerance of medieval Muslim society and, without explicitly saying so, indicates that Islam has lost some of these qualities. I found Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree the most vibrant of the books as it is raising many issues that still confront Islam today while explaining that the religion, like any other, has its tolerant and liberal face, which has been obscured by those that preach a single-minded approach and see things only in black and white. The Quintet threads different geographies and time periods together with the idea of Islam. It was an interesting read but it will not shake you up- at least it did not impress me that much. I mean I agree that the medieval age is about clashes and Crusades. Hard-won treaties and tales of treachery- full of romantic images of knights riding forth, pennants flying high, to defend the Crown and the Cross but somewhere in the pages of history it is also about the life ,love , passion and emotions of the people.
I knew very little about Rumi that is about Rumi-the person. In fact when I started this book- Rumi’s Daughter , I was not sure if it’s about the Daughter of Rumi or the title is just a metaphor .
Well, the book is about Kimya a clever, pretty child given to mystical 'timeless moments', growing up in a tiny village in the mountains of what is now Turkey at a time when the traditional Christian families and the incoming Muslims are still living peacefully together in such remote parts. Her mother Evdokia is a Christian, her father Farokh one of the newcomers. But the tale is of days when in the tiny village a mosque could be raised in the church campus and when the Muslim farmer did not find anything wrong in the beautiful statue of the virgin. Farokh for example believed like many other villagers that Allah and Jesus must be good friends . It is about times when Evdokia can go to a witch doctor to find a cure for her husband’s fever and a Christian priest be-friend the maulavi despite the differences on spiritual matters between the two.
So our little Kimya , will go to Konya to be educated by Christian nuns at the age of seven as per the last wish of a Christian priest . However, the nuns are no longer there, and her father leaves her with Maulana (Jalal ud din Rumi) and his family when Kimya seems to recognize the philosopher (from her dreams and visions) and wishes to stay with him. Maulana’s family takes her as a daughter and his second wife Kerra becomes a friend, confide and almost a mother to the little girl. All is well in the small house of Maulana where Kimya is learning much more than Persian from the great sufi philosopher and poet till there arrives a man called Shams . A beloved friend and soul mate of the Maulana Shams will be seen as a devil-incarnate for the rest of the city and Maulana’s students . But Maulana and Kimya will believe in isDervish from Tabriz and eventuallyKimya will marry Shams . The book takes a new turn from this place. Till now, Kimya was a daughter missing Maulana who now had no time for her and others after the arrival of Shams but now Kimya is wife of a dervish who is always engrossed in his own longings for the God. Kimya is confused – both about her status of a married woman and about her spiritual self which very much like Maulana and Shams crave to seek divine bliss on its own. This strange marriage will end with Kimya’s sudden death and so will end the book. But the feeling it leaves you with will not end so soon.
It gives you a very touching account of women in that age, of what it takes to be wife/daughter of a great man and then it talks very subtly about spiritual awakening in a girl and her confusion about it. On the one hand she can feel the immense joy inside her and on the other it is a fear of breaking away from an ordinary but very familiar life. 'Rumi's Daughter' tells Kimya's story with great charm and tenderness. Well written and thought-provoking, …..an enchanting read .

“The drum of the realization of the promise is beating,
we are sweeping the road to the sky.
Your joy is here today, what remains for tomorrow?
The armies of the day have chased the army of the night,
Heaven and earth are filled with purity and light.
Oh! joy for he who has escaped from this world of perfumes and color!
For beyond these colors and these perfumes, these are other colors in the heart and the soul.
Oh! joy for this soul and this heart who have escaped
the earth of water and clay,
Although this water and this clay contain the hearth of the
philosophical stone.”

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