Every true love and friendship is a story of an unexpected transformation. If we are the same person before and after we loved, that means we haven’t loved enough.
It was a late afternoon rendezvous over coffee of summer 2019 when I spotted this book at Hiteshree’s place, a dear friend and fellow literature lover. This was her second book from the author named Elif Shafak and she insisted I read her latest creation, Forty Rules of Love. Upon asking for any particular reason, she fell short of words and directed me to just read the book and experience myself.
It is a well-known belief that God speaks to his people through a myriad of ways, all unpredictable and unimaginable, so as to drop hints for things that will help them in manifesting their higher self.
In my case, it was coming across this book. I fell in love with the title the moment I saw it, “Forty Rules of Love.” This was despite the fact that for a good split second, I misjudged the book for being a guide to love, nevertheless, I purchased it and incepted the story of unexpected transformation.
Oftentimes, when you read a book that speaks to your soul, you wish you’d have read it earlier. Did it happen while devouring over Shafak’s creation? Absolutely yes!
Bored housewife Ella feels stagnant despite her glamorous lifestyle in Southampton of England. With her teenage children growing fast and husband being unfaithful, Ella finds a job as a reader where she is given a novel based on Sufism called “Sweet Blasphemy.” Reading this very novel, she experiences life-changing consequences.
In an open-air hall in Konya in the thirteenth century, sema, the dance of the whirling dervishes is performed for the first time. To the sounds of the ney and rebab, the dervishes spin, first slowly and then faster, their wide skirts opening up like lotus flowers. They point one hand up towards the sky and the other down to the earth, pledging to distribute every speck of love received from God to the people.
This description of the never-seen-before dance by Shafak transports me to the song Khwaja Mere Khwaja from the movie Jodha Akbar, bewitched by the peace that music and visuals bring to your eyes when you witness the perfect harmony between nature and humans.
The Forty Rules of Love takes Sufism into a blockbuster love story. And just like magic, love stories never gets old. Juxtaposing a contemporary man-woman love story of Ella’s quest to find love for Aziz, the author of Sweet Blasphemy, against the backdrop of an ancient tale of Rumi, the poet, and his Sufi master, Shams of Tabriz.
How can love be worthy of its name if one selects solely the pretty things and leaves out the hardships? It is easy to enjoy the good and dislike the bad. Anybody can do that. The real challenge is to love the good and the bad together, not because you need to take the rough with the smooth but because you need to go beyond such descriptions and accept love in its entirety.
In a nutshell, both Rumi and Ella, through their relationship with Shams and Aziz, are thrown into the space of questioning their own safety and security of their life for the ecstasy, joy and heartbreak of love. Though none of them can provide anything near to perfect happiness and utterly joyful life to their lovers, what they can provide instead is the divine union, indescribable love and symmetric harmony that emerges when one sheds the plastic layer- fabricated to meet the false demands of society- from their soul to make space for their unapologetic authentic selves.
The novel, in general, brings the best of Shafak’s efforts to illustrate a populist rather than scholarly Sufism, which facilitates the readers an easily comprehensible introduction to the Sufi thought.
On top of it, Shafak’s writing is an epitome of simplicity. Though, as one may assume, it is quite faultless to get lost in the poetry of Rumi and the truth of Shams, Shafak’s literary genius shines in a way she connects the dots with her words to the current circumstances, which provides a safe haven for the readers to lay down their vulnerabilities on the carefully crafted platform.
Love cannot be explained. It can only be experienced. Love cannot be explained, yet it explains all.
As I sat that night, turning the last page of the novel under the filament bulb, darkness surrounded the world and my heart alike. I started to realize my interpretation of love has been modified drastically after reading this novel. As Rumi says,
Don’t ask yourself what kind of love you should seek, spiritual or material, divine or mundane, Eastern or Western. Divisions only lead to more divisions. Love has no labels, no definitions. It is what it is, pure and simple. Love is the water of life and a lover is a soul of fire! The universe turns differently when fire loves water.
Without a doubt, what Shafak conveys is an extremely emotional story, if not sad at least not an entirely happy one. It costs a fortune to live an authentic life, Shafak says. But, as the novel intricately demonstrates, the cost of not living one is far greater.
Just like love, this book has to be experienced. My words are a mere joke if I try to encapsulate it within a few paragraphs. My opinion is, read only if you’re ready for your own reconstruction.
The chemistry of mind is different from the chemistry of love. The mind is careful, suspicious, he advances little by little. He advises “Be careful, protect yourself” Whereas love says, “Let yourself, go!” The mind is strong, never fells down, while love hurts itself, fells into ruins. But isn’t it in ruins that we mostly find the treasures? A broken heart hides so many treasures.