Monday, January 19, 2015

A Mirrored Life: The Rumi Novel by Rabisankar Bal - A review

Book: A Mirrored Life - The Rumi Novel
Author: Rabisankar Bal
Translator: Arunava Sinha
Publisher: Random House India
ISBN: 978-8-184-00615-5
Pages: 215
Rating: 4/5

There are at least a few books every avid reader deems life-changing. Dozakhnama by Rabisankar Bal was one such book for me. For months after I’d read it, I walked around enveloped in its magical haze. It became an impossibly high yardstick that few books have been able to match up to. Naturally, when I heard about A Mirrored Life by the same author, I wanted to read it. I wanted to pit Bal against himself. Knowing it was a novel based on the life of the celebrated Sufi saint, Jalaluddin Rumi made the wait harder. I wanted to savour it, drown in it.

When the review copy finally came into my eager hands, I read it cover to cover in one
breathless sitting. Bal has this way with words… they stick to your skin and then to your soul. Tell me how one can stay unaffected with lines such as these?

'I am complete in you. This skin, blood, bones, marrow, mind, soul... all, all of it is you. This
existence is your existence.'

'You cannot count the number of creatures lurking inside a man. There's a rat, there's a bird too.
Don't be the rat. Try to be the bird.'

'Do you know why the flute weeps?
- It wants to return to the wood of reeds from which it was taken.'

Reading Bal is an immersive experience. The author becomes the subject becomes the reader and back. In his quintessential style, the author often tells a story within a story within a story. The rich oriental tradition of qissas comes alive in his work. Parables over moral discourse, metaphors over reality. Lines are artistically blurred and sometimes you’re not quite sure whose voice you’re hearing. But it doesn't matter because the beauty of these words is so sublime.

It’s no less than a mystical journey that one undertakes with Ibn Battuta, the narrator into the life and times of Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi. The book is populated with several other characters, historical and otherwise, who drift in and out of the plot enriching the narrative. Prime among them are Shamsuddin Tabrizi or Shams - the mad ascetic and Sultan Walad - Rumi’s favourite son and disciple. The book explores the Sufi saint’s relationship with each of these characters and the journey that takes him from being a Maulana (a religious scholar) to a whirling dervish.

But it is when he portrays the relationship between Shams and Rumi that the author is at his most profound. Rumi calls Shams ‘The Sun of Tabriz’, an expression of the deep love and reverence he feels for his spiritual mentor, friend and lover. The nature of Shams and Rumi’s alliance is historical fact, but it is the other-worldly flavour of their relationship that the author succeeds in bringing out. Nothing is profane in their consummate love for it is no different from a seeker’s love for God. The pain of separation and the ecstasy of union are penultimate in this equation. When Rumi whirls in divine rapture, the reader is drawn right in.

Peppered with Rumi’s own poetry, the book is a rich tapestry of human emotion, divine experience and artful storytelling. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that Bal outdoes himself when compared to his last book, but A Mirrored Life - The Rumi Novel is a powerful work unto itself. One must also doff their hat to translator Arunava Sinha who doesn’t miss a trick. I haven’t read the original Bengali version of the book, but I cannot imagine having missed any flavour. It occurs to me as the most faithful translation there can be. And am I walking around with a magical haze around me all over again? Ah, yes.

No comments: