Sunday, 22 January 2012

Rumi’s ‘The Elephant in the Dark’

‘Disagreeing over the Description and Shape of the Elephant’

An elephant was in a darkened hall –
            Hindus had brought it as a spectacle.
Into that darkness everybody passed
            to have a look at it, so many people.
Since seeing with the eye was not permitted,
            they felt it in the darkness with their hands.
The hand of one fell on the elephant’s trunk.
            This someone said, ‘This structure’s like a drainpipe’.
The hand of one reached to the creature’s ear –
            It seemed to him as though it were a fan.
When one hand felt its leg the person said,
            ‘To me the elephant’s shape is like a pillar!’
And one who put his hand upon its back
            remarked, ‘This elephant’s just like a sofa!’
Just as each one had touched whatever part,
            so people formed their view from what they’d heard.
Their statements differed as their point of view –
            one man would call it ‘chalk’, another ‘cheese’.
If each had held a candle in his hand,
            the disputes would have vanished from their speech.
The sensual eye is like the hand, that’s all –
            a hand can’t grasp an elephant entirely.
The Ocean’s eye is one thing, spray’s another.
            Give up the spray! Look with the Ocean’s eye.
Spray leaping from the Ocean day and night,
            you see the spray not Ocean – how surprising!

Translated by Alan Williams from the third book of Rumi’s Masnavi, ed. R.A. Nicholson III.1259-1271, (ed. M. Este‘lami III. 1260-1272).

Alan Williams is Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Religion at the University of Manchester, England, and the author of Rumi Spiritual Verses: The First Book of the Masnavi-ye Ma'navi, London and New York: Penguin Classics, 2006 and an audiobook, The Spiritual Verses, read by Anton Lesser, translated and abridged by Alan Williams, London: Naxos, 2007.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Magical Gallows Humour in Tehran

Expectations have been enormous for the follow-up to Persepolis. Would it be a new masterwork full of rebellion and subversion? Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud have instead taken a completely different trajectory with their new film "Chicken with plums." The result is a wonderful, surreal melodrama.

Scene from Marjane Satrapi's ''Chicken with Plums''
By Susan Vahabzadeh,

One thing has to be made clear from the start – food is a big deal for your average Persian. If you can't shake someone out of a gloomy mood with their favourite dish, it can only mean that they are desperately unhappy. Nasser Ali Khan (Mathieu Amalric), the mournful hero of the new film by Marjane Satrapi, the creator of "Persepolis" (once again in collaboration with Vincent Paronnaud), sees no meaning in life after the loss of his violin.

At first, he attempts to find a comparable instrument as a replacement, but when he does not succeed in his quest, his reaction appears quite drastic. He decides to die. That is the opening premise of "Chicken with Plums," and the rest of the film is an exploration of misfortune and melancholy, as well as a fabulous explanation of why some people simply have had enough of life.

Angels of death and a good dose of black humour

"Chicken with Plums" takes us on a journey to Tehran during the era of the Shah. The film actually has the look and feel of the cinema of that time. It is as if Douglas Sirk filmed a melodrama in Persian, yet, with a surreal touch and featuring mysterious antique dealers, angels of death, and a good dose of black humour.