Can you imagine how worlds will collapse if a 13th century poet, a lady living in Northampton of 2008, a dervish and a writer meet? Now try putting the names together – The Forty Rules of Love has Rumi for that poet, Ella Rubinstein for that lady, Shams Tabrizi for the dervish and a writer named AZ Zahara. So fascinating is this collision of centuries that you cannot put this book down, not even when hints of dawn are right outside your window and you have an office to go to. 

Before reading this I knew about Rumi. After reading this I know what (better say who) made Rumi as we know him today. He became the poet we know, the master of words, the voice of a religious movement that we know of as Sufism when he met Shams Tabrez on November 15, 1244. The struggle till they meet, their coming together and the parting is what makes the crux of The Forty Rules of Love. How their tale fascinates Ella and sends ripples to as far as AS Zahara’s nomadic world is the stuff mysticism is made of.

Elif Shafak has set a masterpiece in words – weaving tales of fascinating characters such as Desert Rose, a beautiful girl pushed into prostitution; of Hasan, a beggar and leper, whom people find too ugly to look at. But, this novel is about the magic of Shams, a dervish clad in all black who is as swift as wind, both in his movements as well as his thoughts. He saves the souls of many, including his disciple Rumi’s, risking his own.

His very name sets your heart racing as Elif Shafak paints a picture of his character in wild words, “…He had a sharp nose, deeply set pitch-black eyes, and dark hair that fell over his eyes in thick curls… I realised that here was a man who did not pay much attention to the judgements of society. That people should confuse him with some vagrant, or even a beggar, didn’t seem to bother him in the least.”

There is, of course, an air of danger, a foreboding that a man as bright and honest as Shams (which translates to “The Sun”) will not survive. But then, that is the price of listening to your heart, you are never a survivor, you either win or lose, rise like a phoenix or fall like a hawk who’s been shot for soaring too high.

I will not ask you to read it, for you might not unless you want your heart and brain come together for a change, wondering at what all you need to know about life before you die.

As for the forty rules of love set by Shams, you need to find those in the book.

Here’s one that I loved the most – “Intellect and love are made of different materials. Intellect ties people in knots and risks nothing, but love dissolves all tangles and risks everything. Intellect is always cautious and advises, ‘Beware too much ecstasy’, whereas love says, ‘Oh, never mind! Take the plunge!’ Intellect does not easily break down, whereas love can effortlessly reduce itself to rubble. But treasures are hidden among ruins. A broken heart hides treasures.”


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