Sunday, December 30, 2007

Please read this, Mr Politician.

rumi bridge
Originally uploaded by yasmin the storyteller
The story of Jelaluddin Rumi’s funeral in the year 1273 is well known. People of every religion -- Muslims, Christians, Jews, Buddhists, and Hindus -- came to pay their last respects. When the non-Muslims were asked why they had come to the funeral, their reply was simple: “He deepens us wherever we are.”

It is said that it was his meeting with Shams Tabriz which provided the key to Rumi’s inclusivity. For it was Shams who once said that if the Kaaba were suddenly lifted up out of the world, we would see that each person is really bowing, five times a day, to his fellow human beings.

Today, of course, more often than not, it is greed and suspicion towards our “fellow human beings” which determine the course of our actions.

Where did we go wrong?

In his introduction to this new compilation of poems by Rumi, translator Coleman Barks suggested how the relationship between his home country, the United States, and Iran, may have gone wrong.

“From recently released documents, I understand it is clear now that the United States, in that year (1953), overthrew a democratically elected government in Iran and installed a dictator, the Shah. We did this because Mohammad Mossadegh, a tall, elegant, eloquent, beloved statesman with a European education decided, in 1951, to nationalise Iran’s oil industry. He thought it appropriate that Iran owns its own resources, for God’s sake.

“Throughout the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, oil profits went mostly to Great Britain. During that time Iran was getting about 16 per cent of the money from the oil taken out of its home ground by the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, which later became BP, British Petrol. Churchill wanted to invade Iran and take back the oil fields. Truman would have none of it. Then Eisenhower came to power and the CIA and the British MI6 conspired to arrange a coup. Kermit Roosevelt and Norman Schwarzkopf Sr., among others, were generously funded and sent secretly to Iran for the covert action. After it was successful and the Shah came to power, the profits were divvied up 50 per cent to England, 40 per cent to the United States, and 10 per cent to Iran.”

What would Jelaluddin Rumi or Shams Tabriz have to say about this blatant act of terrorism?

“Come out here where the roses have opened.
Let soul and world meet.

The sun has drawn a fine-tempered blade of light.
We may as well surrender.

Laugh at the ugly arrogance you see.
Weep for those separated from the friend.

The city seethes with rumour.
Some madman has escaped the prison.

Or is a revolution beginning?
What day is it?

Is this when all we have done and been
will be publicly known?

With no thinking and no emotion,
with no ideas about the soul,
and no language,
these drums are saying how empty we are.”

Would Churchill and Eisenhower have paused to reconsider their actions had they heard such a call? Or would business have gone ahead as planned?

“Why does the soul not fly
when it hears the call?

Why does a fish, gasping on land,
but near the water,
not move back into the sea?

What keeps us from joining the dance
the dust particles do?

Look at their subtle motions
in sunlight.

We are out of our cages
with our wings spread,
yet we do not lift off.”

This year, 2007, marks Rumi’s 800th birthday. The strange motley entourage which gathered on the day of his funeral somehow indicates a sort of pluralism, now frowned upon by certain quarters.

Me, I’m too ignorant to take sides here. There are mighty arguments for and against pluralism, no doubt, and the proponents of each will present a seemingly air-tight case.

And yet, all it takes is one tiny pin prick, does it not, for us to be able to breathe again?

Coleman Barks cited a Saadi poem carved in Farsi on the wall just inside the door of the United Nations building in New York.

“Human beings come
from the same source.
We are one family.

If one part of the body hurts,
all parts contract with pain.

If you are not concerned
with another’s suffering,
we shall not call you human.”

Perhaps every world leader would do well to pick up this book and read it, carefully and with an open heart. Thereafter, he should seek a place of solitude for a while, to take stock of who he is, what he has done, and what he’s about to do. There has been too much talk.

“A wealth you cannot imagine
flows through you.

Do not consider what strangers say.
Be secluded in your secret heart-house,
that bowl of silence.

Talking, no matter how humble-seeming,
is really a kind of bragging.”

Recently, Coleman Barks was awarded an honorary doctorate in Persian and literature by the University of Tehran for his thirty years of translating Rumi. Now he has collected and translated ninety new poems, most of them never published before in any form. And he has done so in a book, aptly titled “Rumi: Bridge to the Soul”.