Sunday, October 04, 2015

Book Review: A Mirrored Life: The Rumi Novel by Rabisankar Bal

book review rumi

Book Details. . .

·         Title: A Mirrored Life: The Rumi Novel
·         Author: Rabisankar Bal (Author), Arunava Sinha (Translator)
·         Genre: Fiction
·         Publisher: Random House India (January 2015)
·         ISBN: 9788184006155
·         Pages: 224 Pages
·         Rating: 4/5

Behind The Book. . .

On his way from Tangiers to China, the medieval Moorish traveller Ibn Battuta arrives in Konya, Turkey where the legendary dervish Rumi had lived, danced and died. More than half a century may have passed since his death, but his poetry remains alive, inscribed in every stone and tree and pathway.

Rumi’s followers entrust Ibn Battuta with a manuscript of his life stories to spread word of the mystic on his travels. As Battuta reads and recites these tales, his listeners discover their own lives reflected in these stories—fate has bound them, and perhaps you, to Rumi.

A Mirrored Life reaffirms the magical powers of storytelling, making us find Rumi in each of our hearts.

Book Synopsis. . .

‘A Mirrored Life’ truly stands true to the second half of its name – ‘The Rumi Novel’ as it takes us to the lanes and by lanes of the city of Konya – where Maulana Jalaluddin Muhammad Balkhi dwelt and evolved to what we revere and refer to as ‘The Rumi’.

The book starts with Sheikh Ibn Battuta sharing his experiences of travel (or Pilgrimage, as he refers them), when during one of his sojourn he learns about Maulana and soon a spark within ignites making him yearn to know and learn more about him. Spurred by that spark he arrives in Anatolia – the city of Konya, the Maulana’s playground and the place where the amazing ‘whirling dance’ was born. The city and his stay there enriches him with many of the mystical experiences and make him more & more enchanted by Maulana, his ways and his life.

As he explores the city further, he meets Al Mustasimi (who is working upon a manuscript of a book about Maulana). While Al Mustasimi works upon a copy of the manuscript for him to take it further with him on his travel, he shares with Sheikh, the stories and treasures about the Maulana and his teachings. The book then proceeds towards the life of Maulana Jalaluddin Muhammad Balkhi who was born in 1207 in Hijri to Sheikh Bahauddin Walad, who himself was a holy soul and a revered figure among religious scholars) and how he evolved & transformed into Maulana Rumi.

The beautiful story of the life of Rumi remains incomplete without the mention of Shamsuddin Tabrizi (Shams), the mad ascetic and divine soil. As a prophecy both await meeting each other and when they finally do for the first time, each one is left wondering whether the other is one they were waiting since long. And when they eventually discover each other, their love, penance and solitude stirs the ever-toiling soul-churning process which finally separates the Sufi saint into Rumi and Jalaluddin and as the churning continues the former prevails and remains. Their platonic relationship remains the talk of the town and Maulana finds himself so much involved that once Shams leaves, he is left sad, dejected and distressed with the void which grows with the each passing day until they re-unite again.

Then there are the two main disciples of Rumi amongst many others viz. Hussam (who was to be bestowed with the prerogative to be the writer of the great Masnavi) and Sultan Wahad (the favorite son and ardent disciple of Rumi). The book explores the sufi saint’s relationship of Maulana with each of these characters and the journey which entails his transformation from a religious scholar to a mystifying Sufi saint.

How did Jalaluddin Muhammad transform to Maulana Rumi? How he met Shamsuddin Tabrizi who groomed Maulana? What peculiar relationship they shared amongst themselves? How was ‘the whirling dance’ born? Why did Rumi immerse himself in dance, song and music all day? How did ‘the Masnavi’ the greatest work of Maulana came into existence?

Grab a copy of the book to unearth the answers to above and to be a part of the world of stories within the stories & mysticism they unearth which is so soothing to the soul.

My Thoughts. . .

There are times when some book enchants you so completely that you find yourself short of words to write anything about it. You know you are touched, mystified and soothed but to comprehend how again remains an enigmatic mystery to unravel. Even though there are so many wonderful things you want to scribble about the same, the vicious circle of how, what and when bowls you over and again. The similar lurch of thoughts is currently withholding my fingers from running into the keyboard of my laptop . . . Where I should start and how should I begin. This, probably, would be one of the difficult reviews for me to write and (may be) one of the peculiar one for you to adjudge!!

As someone who has always been enamored by Rumi’s writings and philosophy, ‘A Mirrored Life – The Rumi Novel’ was more than a welcome piece of literature. And with the blurb like “My learned readers, you know that there are stories even before there are stories, but some stories are bound by fate“ this became all the more compelling ‘pick-me-up-now’ read for me.

Rumi remains an eternal sea of intervening thoughts and philosophy for the interested readers, creating ripple of powerful bouts of emotions which stirs you from within, sending you in a ‘self-contemplating’ or ‘self-introspection’ mode, every time you read something about him. No, it doesn’t really matter whether you follow his writing or are completely indifferent about the Sufi saint, once you read this book you just can’t escape from drenching from the waves of this eternal sea of bliss.

The book exquisitely paints the world of stories within the stories each one woven beautifully tied by mystical strings of Rumi’s philosophy. It offers such a soothing experience to the reader that one just cannot escape from being charmed by its sheer poetic prose and rich narrative experience. Yes, though it’s a piece of prose but the narratives are no less than a poetic journey which the reader undertakes across the streets and by lanes of Konya. The city of Konya, which has served Rumi’s playground where the Maulana has observed the Chillah (the days of penance and solitude), comes alive . . . in every rock and every tree of the vicinity singing the soulful verses of Maulana Rumi which entices the reader’s mind . . . in the description of various sights of potters and blacksmiths producing the music of the wheels and hammers which soothes the reader’s ears . . . in the smells of various kebabs and delicacies like ‘Hanim Gobegi’ (meaning a lady’s navel) the aroma of which tickles the reader’s appetite . . . in the symphony of the whirling dance of the Maulana the melody of which spell bind the reader’s soul.

Intrigued as my words above, the reader is left with the experience he garners. The language so effortlessly flows that one completely surrenders himself to the flow of the stories and the stories within the stories & let them enamored by its velvety texture of the poetic prose and its inherent softness. Consider this, for instance, when the Sheikh contemplates “all that is raw must be made delicious and digestible through the process of cooking. The Lord will cook you with his own hands, for only then can he savor you” or this one, “Do you know why the flute weeps? - It wants to return to the wood of reeds from which it was taken”. I am not, by any measure, exaggerating the gracious blissful experience of reading the book, my trusted readers. In fact, I still recall reaching the last few pages of the book and then leaving them unread for few days as I (strangely) didn’t want the book to end lest I should lose the perfect ecstasy it delivered. How wrong was I to forget that the fragrance of the flower or the sandalwood remains even after those are crushed or chopped!!

The book might demand some patience and persistence from some of the readers but in the end the worth would all be more than these. The cover page of the book shows a dervish wearing a long robe and engrossed in the whirling dance connecting him directly with the Lord. The printing, font and word spacing are decent enough to grant the reader a comfortable read.

The Final Word. . .

‘A Mirrored Life – The Rumi Novel’ offers a unique bouquet of soulful verses dipped in artful prose and rich narrative, all peppered by amusing story telling skills which remain with you long after the book is completed. It is one of those books that needs to have a permanent space in your book-shelf so that you can re-read and re-re-read them again and again so as to cut through layer by layer the deep quilts of knowledge it houses. As the book culminates with “Shut your eyes, all of you. If the Lord so wills it, you may be able to hear Maulana’s voice” . . . I did and I am sure so will you.

Don’t miss this masterpiece at any cost!!!

Rating: 4/5

Five Favorite Quotes. . .

1.      Do you know what snow tells itself? I want to melt, I will become a torrent and then my journey to the sea begins, that is where my home lies. I cannot take this lonely, hard, dense existence anymore. When will the sword of the sun slice me up?
2.      If I close my eyes I can see the waiting love, my learned readers, the glow and anxiety on his face, his eyes lit up with the desire for union and tinged by the agony of the separation, as magical as sunset.
3.      Dance, now that you have been torn apart…Dance, now that you have ripped the bandage off…Dance, in the middle of the battle…Dance, within your blood…Dance, now that you’re a free soul.
4.      The entire world and even whatever lies outside it, is a story. The Lord has written all our stories with his own quill.
5.      There is no friend more intimate than the road. It's the kind of friendship that holds back nothing, only taking you from one mystery of life to another.

About the Author. . .

Rabisankar Bal, the author, is a Bengali novelist and short-story writer credited with over fifteen novels, five short story collections, one volume of poetry and one volume of literary essays. Born in 1962 he has been writing for thirty years, predominantly in Bengali. He lives in Kolkata and pursues journalism, apart from being a writer. He zealously follows literature, painting, and also world cinema. His novel The Biography of Midnight won the West Bengal government’s Sutapa Roychowdhury Memorial Prize. Dozakhnama acknowledged by the late doyen of Bengali literature Sunil Gangopadhyay, as the finest novel of 2010, won the West Bengal government’s Bankimchandra Smriti Puraskar.

Aunava Sinha, the translator, translates classic, modern and contemporary Bengali fiction and nonfiction into English. Thirty-one of his translations have been published so far. Twice the winner of the Crossword translation award, for Sankar’s Chowringhee (2007) and Anita Agnihotri’s Seventeen (2011), respectively, and the winner of the Muse India translation award (2013) for Buddhadeva Bose’s When The Time Is Right, he has also been shortlisted for The Independent Foreign Fiction prize (2009) for his translation of Chowringhee. Besides India, his translations have been published in the UK and the US in English, and in several European and Asian countries through further translation. He was born and grew up in Kolkata, and lives and writes in New Delhi

Where to grab a copy. . .

Please click here to buy the book from Amazon

Please click here to buy the book from Flipkart

~ Shubh Life . . . OM Sai Ram 

© 2015 Manish Purohit (Reserved)

Heartfelt thanks for visiting here. . . While the thoughts are woven with the strings of the words, what remains to be seen whether they do manage to form a bridge for you to cross and listen to the beating. And if it does, do drop in your beat in the comment box . . . it always feels great to hear from you :)

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