In Iran Episode 22

About Nilanjan Hajra

Nilanjan Hajra, 49, is a poet, traveller and gourmet. He earns his living as a journalist.

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Allowing opportunities to the tongue to take rest is not among Iranians’ many virtues. They love to talk. So, between Khoy Airport and Mortaza Barin’s home, I once again hear from him all that I had read about Khoy on the net. I am also told that his friends are eagerly waiting to meet me, and we will quickly drop my luggage at his home and leave for the Shams-I-Tabrizi Cultural Centre. Just before we enter his home, Mortaza tells me, “Listen, my wife and daughter won’t be able to shake hands with you. That’s not very acceptable in the Islamic culture. I hope you don’t mind.” Hmm. I make a mental note of his point.

This is a thickly populated residential quarter, with houses elbowing each other. Mortaza’s home is decent and neat. Upper middle class family. We enter into a large living-cum dining room, with sitting arrangements divided into several parts. During my stay it becomes clear that one corner is clearly marked, though not separated in way, for the ladies of the household: Mortaza’s wife, daughter, daughter-in-law, a lady from the next door occupy that space for hours gulping endless cups of tea with walnuts. Obviously none of them is employed. The tea, as is usual in all Iranian homes, is being boiled on a samovar in the adjacent open kitchen, in this case very large. All the women are in full hijab, but not burqa. It’s true that while greeting me cordially, none of them shakes hand. That would be the same in almost all of India, except a few big cities. We have our folded-hands Namaskar and right-hand-palm-spread Adab. So, it doesn’t strike me as unusual at all. I do notice that there’s not an iota of unease with the Musafir. I present Mortaza’s wife a little bit of fine quality Darjeeling Tea, which I had specially obtained straight from one of the gardens, and tell her that it mustn’t be brewed like Iranian dark tea. She quickly accompanies me to the kitchen, and together we prepare the tea. All of them are delighted. They have never had such flavoured tea before.

Once done with our tea, we leave for the Cultural Centre. A fairly large institution, with a beautiful building and a large garden in front. I am told that one of the main jobs of the institution is to conduct research to support Iran’s bid to get the tomb of Shams recognized as a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO. It has a decent library and organizes regular international seminars on Sufisim. “Mr. Chittick was here in a seminar only a couple of years ago,” Mortaza informs me. He also informs me that the Iran government provides all possible support to the Centre. I also make a mental note of it, because I do have questions about Iran government’s position on Sufism. Sufism is hot these days. Being able to quote a few couplets of Rumi in Coleman Bark’s convenient translation is often considered enough to be Sufi. But that is mostly in the non-Islamic world. In India the proponents of ‘Syndicated Hinduism’, such as our Prime Minister Narendra Modi, are flaunting a new-found love for Sufism, as a bulwark against what is often termed as mainstream Islam, which is considered by them as the root of terrorism. Nonetheless Sufism in India has been targeted as much by a section of the Hindutva brigade, as it has been in Pakistan by Muslim fanatics. The Indian subcontinent, though, is the hub of Sufism, with tombs of great Sufi saints spread across the region.

I have spent long hours, over several visits, at the Dargahs (holy tombs) of all the Sufi saints in Delhi and Agra. It is a mesmerizing colourful culture. The heady music of Qawali, the thick fragrance of incense sticks, the bustling colours of the bazaars that almost always lead to the main shrine, conjure up an ambience of eternity where borders melt in your mind. But the real pull is the passion of faith, which knocks down all your goalposts of rationality. You begin to believe that you do appreciate Shams: Nothing becomes manifest, except through the seekers! (1)

You are suddenly face to face with how invaluable of your self is, for you experience that the sought, however precious or divine, can only be manifest through you, only of course if you seek. Thus pulled you are into the journey! Bon voyage, Musafir!

My heart becomes restless the moment I land in Khoy. Would the Dargah of Shams be the same? The flowers, the incense, the colourful strings, the Chador drenched in faith, the shrill sharp notes that cut the umbilical cord to what is perceived as reality, will those be the same?

Within an hour of leaving Mortaza’s home I get the surprise of my life. A small clean park with a tiny garden in front. Right at the entrance on your left is a bust of Shams. A little ahead in the middle of the park is the Saint’s grave, the tombstone is as plain as it gets. Behind it is an ancient tower, which has nothing to do with Shams’ tomb. That’s it and nothing else: No Qawal, no pilgrims, no flowers, no lamps. Nothing.

Underneath the vast open sky, in shower and sunshine is sleeping Shams. I am speechless. At the time of death Sana’i was saying something under his tongue. When they put their ears next to his mouth, they heard: I’ve turned away from all I’ve said / there’s no meaning in speech, no speech in meaning. (2) Amazing, how they all head finally for silence! Even someone as eloquent as Rabindranath: Neerab korey dao hey tomar mukhar kobire! (O! Silence now your eloquent poet.)

That indeed, it dawns upon me, is in order for Shams. I retreat into poetry. Into Rabindranath: Beyond flowers, the dazzle of lamps, beyond the incensed smoke you remain beyond our reach / The more we chant the deeper we bury you under a verbose sheath. All his life Shams had run away from flowers and dazzle of lamps.


Photo Credit : Nilanjan Hajra

Reference :

  1. Me & Rumi: The Autobiography of Shams-i-Tabrizi: Translated, introduced and annotated by William C. Chittick. My Time With Mawlana: Our Encounter: 2. P 179.
  2. P 46. (Hakim Abul-Majd Majdūd ibn Ādam Sanā’ī Ghaznavi was a Persian poet in the 12th century. Shams often quoted him to make a point.)


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2 Response Comments

  • Doug30/08/2017 at 1:07 AM

    Hi Nilanjan – Interesting what you say about Sufism in India and Pakistan, in your story above about the Shams-i-Tabrizi cultural centre, and your pilgrimage to the grave of Shams. Fascinating. You know of course that our mutual friend, Rafique Anwar, studied Sufism extensively. He would love to read your story about your visit to the grave of Shams.
    Wonderful chapter; thanks! Doug

  • Doug30/08/2017 at 1:12 AM

    Hi Nilanjan – I’ve been trying to post a comment here but the website is not allowing it; will try one more time. I enjoyed this chapter very much. Rafique Anwar would be very interested in it too, as he has studied Sufism extensively.

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