This is a beautifully written book, almost lyrical in its approach to the subject which of course is love. It is about a mature housewife who has been content to live a life of predictable consequences – a life that for forty years “consisted of still waters”. For the last twenty years she has seen things through the prism of her marriage with her children topping the list of her priorities. But she unconsciously senses an emptiness in her life. Then she is given a manuscript to read for a publisher which is the story of Shams of Tabriz and Rumi. The script strikes such a chord in her that halfway through it she starts a correspondence with the unknown author. And her life changes forever ” as if a stone had been hurled out of nowhere into the tranquil pond of her life”.
The book then follows two parallel stories , one, about Ella who faces upto the sense of unfulfilment in her life. Her correspondence with the author evolves into a journey of self discovery and a strangely warm emotional relationship. The other is the story of Rumi a 13th century muslim cleric and Shams of Tabriz Sufi mystic and how their relationship brought fulfilment and realisation to Rumi and turned him into a Sufi poet.
The book explores the transfiguring effect of love , the kind of love which transcends our earth bound limitations and brings us to an experience which allows us to sense the infinite. The depiction of the friendship between Rumi and Shams is vividly done , told from the point of view of the major players in the story. At appropriate turns in the story Shams ennunciates the forty rules of love. I have to quote some because they are the essence of the book :
“Only in anothe rperson’s heart can you truly see yourself and the presence of God within you
There is no seeker among those who search for Love who has not matured on the way.The moment you start looking for Love , you start to change within and without.
Hell is in the here and now. So is Heaven…. Every time we fall in love we ascend to heaven. Every time we hate,envy or fight someone we straight away tumble into the fires of hell.
What matters is to find the soul that will complete yours. .. Like a mirror that reflects what is absent rather than present, he shows you the void in your soul.
Love cannot be explained. It can only be experienced. Love cannot be explained ,yet it explains all.
Such a companionship is like a fourth reading of the Q’uran: A journey that can only be experienced from within but never grasped from the outside. “
These rules speak the language of all mystics and seers( people who have experienced these truths) irrespective of religion. I find the sayings to be completely non denominational. Also the response and reactions of all conventional, so called pious people to also be identical again irrespective of religion. Really people and societies are much the same everywhere, the differences are only of degree.
This book is a wonderful way to learn about Sufism , its place in history and in Islam. What a wonderful message of universal love and tolerance. The language put into the mouth of Shams is really fantastic. The counterpoint is the modern story where Ella also finds her own emotional and spiritual transfiguration… a pale reflection of the Rumi- Shams story, but interestingly plotted otherwise wouldnt have held much interest for modern readers.
Shakun was deeply affected and said it has made me question myself on my life….. If a book can do that even for a moment its great.
I am writing this after a few months and I want to visit it again. It has a message which makes you think that there is more to life.