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Book Review: Rumi: Tales to Live By by Kamla K. Kapur.

Decoding the mysticism of Rumi

Listen! Clam up your mouth and be silent like an oyster shell, for that tongue of yours is the enemy of the soul, my friend. When the lips are silent, the heart has a hundred tongues. —Rumi

Decoding the mysticism of Rumi

Kamla K. Kapur



Nonika Singh

Listen! Clam up your mouth and be silent like an oyster shell, for that tongue of yours is the enemy of the soul, my friend. When the lips are silent, the heart has a hundred tongues. —Rumi

Who among us has not drawn succour and inspiration from the mystical Sufi poet’s words? But when noted author Kamla K. Kapur decides to write a book on Rumi it is not his world-famous poetic wisdom that she wants to draw our attention to. In her latest book Rumi: Tales to Live By, she recasts his short stories; complex yet dramatic, bound by the common thread of suffering, for Sufi is none other than the one who finds joy in suffering. 

Indeed, Rumi’s poetry is all ecstasy and he finds joy in pain too. But his stories are made of sterner stuff. Besides, decoding them is not the easiest job in the world. “Rumi”, shares Kapur “never wrote his stories at one go. Just as mind meanders in many directions his stories begin in one volume, find form in another and finally conclude in another.” 

Kapur, who is writing for the “time-crunched” generation of today, doesn’t have the same luxury or the good-old concept of time for mere leisure. Yet, for each precise story that she brings to her readers, she also pens a long commentary.  This expository style of hers moves beyond what Rumi wrote yet carries the import of his thoughts in lucid and profound language. 

Suffering, its underlying potency and strength, are driven home in more than one story. In the story Gift she writes, “When does anything ever decrease by suffering and dying?” and reminds how suffering is a gift. Each story, running into a few pages, is a lesson in itself.

How we need to purge ourselves of negativity and how suffering helps us achieve equanimity…Kapur’s insight into all this is neither superficial nor ephemeral. Having seen pain up close and personal, losing her first husband who took his own life, she knows where it hurts. But she also understands what it takes to transcend suffering.

Indeed, most answers lie in spirituality, in the great spiritual traditions, three of which — Sikh, Hindu and Sufi — she herself has explored deeply.  In the long continuum of her writing lie books such as The Singing Guru, Ganesha Goes for Lunch and another one on Rumi. “A lover of Rumi rather than a scholar” she could easily pen at least two more books on him.

Yet, she, who views herself as a Sikh first, wants to carry forward the vision of her gurus that stood for egalitarianism. Quoting from Gurbani she talks of amrit vela and stresses upon saadh sangat, but wonders what should people do in a world peopled with living gurus like the likes of Ram Rahim? Once again, she turns to Sikhism, to Guru Nanak and the need to test everything critically and questioningly. If greats such as Guru Nanak and Rumi guide us out of the trap of duality, she, who mediates the two worlds (spiritual and material), advises, “We don’t realise we are part of our problems and that thinking drives us.”  

Intrinsically a writer, she doesn’t see her writing distinct from her message and secular any different from spirituality. Just as there are no boundaries among Rumi’s heart, mind and soul, in her books, too, there are none between various spiritual ways.  To spiritual seekers, young included, her book is more than a compilation of tales. It is a way forward, both inwards and outwards. 

To a world increasingly forgetting the existence of an overarching presence, her tales are a reminder of the unseen, the mysterious and the mystical.

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