The tale of a Mystic Persian
In many writers’ desks there is a drawer in which is stashed all manner of ideas, story fragments, lists of names, and other ephemera of the creative process. I am one such writer, and today I’d like to share something I wrote a while back and which I hope you may enjoy. It is inspired by a real event in the life of that transcendent spiritual poet Rumi, and I have tried to weave into its fabric some of the insights and lyricism of the poet whose world I would like to evoke.
In case you’re concerned, His Holiness Cat isn’t going anywhere. I’ll be updating you about her new book The Claw of Attraction, in the coming weeks.
Come and sit on this beautifully embroidered Persian rug, joonam. Close your eyes, draw in a deep breath and exhale slowly. Join me on a magic carpet ride through time and space to the 13th century, and the rooftop of a well-known home in the small town of Konya, not far from the Mediterranean sea.
What you seek is seeking you - Rumi
It was Rumi himself who suggested it. One summer’s night he had been pacing up and down the roof in full, lyrical flow when Maleke appeared at the steps.
“Time to eat, Baba!” she called, knowing that if she waited for a pause between verses it could be a long time coming.
No one else was so bold in interrupting the great poet at his work. Even the ruler, the Parvane, would wait in respectful silence when visiting. But Maleke was her father’s daughter with little time for convention. Placing a tray of food on the low table with an emphatic clatter, she settled beside it. “You need fattening up,” she said.
It was true. Silhouetted against the moonlit sky, the lines of his blue linen cloak revealed him to be thin as the rim of a cup.
Rumi glanced ruefully at Hosam who had been faithfully recording his every couplet, before the two men joined Maleke, who was soon handing out plates of yoghurt and flatbread, cloves of roast garlic and glasses of julep.
Hopping from my usual spot on the parapet, from which I could survey not only the rooftop, but the goings-on in the street below, as I made my way over I gave first my right back leg a leisurely stretch, then my left. Purring loudly in anticipation, I swept Maleke’s arm and shoulder with my lustrous tail.
She smiled, placing a small dish with my own morsels on the floor beside her.
It was Maleke who had given me the appropriately Persian name of Ziya – meaning light – on account of my bright, lilac coat. I had still been a kitten and she a young girl when she had adopted me. But cats choose their own people, do we not, and I was soon drawn to a different family member. The same person who was the source of enchantment to the whole of Konya.
What was it about Rumi that drew so many to him? There was a perceptivity about his face, it was true, a radiant clarity in his hazel eyes which was unusual. He walked with a certain poise, the balance of one who might quite effortlessly break into dance – as he was wont to do. But the source of his charisma really had little to do with his appearance. It was, rather, the curious sense you had when you were with him that he lived in an altogether different dimension. The feeling that although you might be sitting at the same fountain or sharing the same rooftop as him, what he perceived was extraordinarily different. A reality in which all that he saw and heard, everything that streamed through his senses had a transcendent quality that filled him with joy.
Walking along the street, the rhythmic sound of the goldsmith striking his anvil might evoke such sudden rapture that his footsteps would halt and he’d whirl a few times spontaneously. When he took a sip of julep, as he did right now, his expression was so beatific it was as if he was imbibing the rarest ambrosial nectar.
Most of all, when he met your eyes it was as though he was looking directly into your heart, and what he beheld was a source of such extraordinary wonder that you never forgot his enthralled expression. Nor how he made you feel. Because whatever you own perception, he saw you as no less than a manifestation of the divine. And his discovery made your heart sing.
Which was why he was the most beloved man in the city, as popular with merchants, tanners and carpenters as he was with the turbaned classes. He was as warmly received at the Sultan’s palace, where Tamara, widow of the late Sultan, was his greatest devotee, as he was at the tavern, where he would discuss very much worldlier matters with Armani and other working girls. In our ever-busting trade-route town he was even consulted by the Franks who occasionally passed through, on their way from the primeval darkness of the West to the uplifting light of the East.
The only people who truly disliked Rumi were the mullahs, scandalised by his refusal to conform to their narrow views about how life should be lived.