The Search


On the third night, the train whistled, slowed down, stopped.  This was her destination.  Everybody in her compartment helped gather up her belongings, but getting through the corridor to the exit door was challenging; she was sorry she hadn’t taken the suggestion, to exit through the compartment’s window.

Once she made it to the platform, she waited for the train to leave.  Another whistle and the train pulled slowly out of the station.  At the moment it disappeared from her view, she experienced a darkness, silence, emptiness, the sound of crickets.  She was scared.  She shivered for a while until she saw someone in the distance approaching her.  A middle-aged, husky man asked, “Are you Andy?”

She gladly answered, “Yes.”

The person seemed surprised, “I thought, you were a man.”

“Andy can be the name of either,” she answered.

“Well, Andy, welcome to the steps of Central Asia.”

He was a librarian in this small city, a city with great historical importance: It was a university town with a past of famous scholars and mystics.  Over the centuries, it had been a safe haven for Buddhists, Hellenists, Zarathustrians.  Every kind of Islam had been practiced here.

She saw the city center the next morning, noting the monuments scattered around, reminders of past glories.  She spotted the library on the bank of the “river;” the mighty Oxus River that had kept its name despite having become a mere creek after losing its water to nearby cotton fields..

This library, an old building packed with old books, most of them not registered, was her destination.  She was a scholar at a major University in the United States.  Her interest was in finding the original Divan-i Kebir of Mevlana Celaluddun Rumi, the great mystic of 13th century Asia Minor.

As soon as she entered the library, the librarian, as promised, was waiting to greet her.

“So tell me exactly what you’re doing here,” he said.

“Most people believe that the original Divan-i Kebir was in Konya, Turkey.  I’m familiar with the two volumes there.  They are, in fact, just a copy of original Divan.  The first time I examined them, I found one page was missing in the second volume.  Since then my curiosity has become an obsession.  I realized I couldn’t settle down till I found the original Divan.”

She stopped for a while, looking at him.  “You still wonder why I’m here?  History tells me that the original Divan was brought here.”

The librarian looked at her with amusement, disbelief.

“Please be patient.  I’ll make it as short as possible:  Mevlana wrote one other magnificent work, the Mesnevi.  But, with the Divan, he was like a bard, a spiritual channel, creating, reciting perfectly finished gazelles and rubais on the spot.  These were recorded by many people, at least four- we don’t know exactly- and then read and corrected afterwards by Mevlana.

“Who stored them? Did he have them at the time of his death?  Did he know about the enormity of the entire collection? The answers to these questions are unknowns for us.

“Someone put together Mevlana’s poetry in classic divan [anthology] form.  Who was that person, and when did he do it? Basically, we don’t know anything about the original Divan.  All we know is that sometime after Mevlana died, the Mevlevi order had been well established, Konya had a big convent, and Mevlana’s grandson Celebi was the head of the convent.  That was about the beginning of the 14th century.

“When the Mongols invaded Asia Minor, they brought a lot of their own people and created a new government, mostly in Iran, running Anatolia by shadowy Khans, and they converted to Sunni Islam.

“The one who was ruling Konya at the time didn’t care for Mevlana or his grandson Celebi.  To get rid of Celebi, this ruler closed the convent and exiled his emissary to the north.  Celebi picked up valuable books, including the original Divan, and started the journey with his younger brother.  At one point in their long journey, they stayed in a city called Erzincan.  Your local governor liked the Divan so much that he hired someone to make a handwritten copy.  That was in 1368.

After the governor’s death, the governor’s son donated the copy of the Divan to the Mevlevi convent in Konya.  That was in the beginning of the 15th century.  Celebi’s younger brother continued the journey alone and ended up in your city with the original Divan.

“Since the younger brother never returned to Konya, what happened to him, what happened to the original Divan, we don’t know.

“For someone who is insanely curious to find such a book, your city, your library is the most likely place to look”.

She stopped; the information pouring out of her had tired her.  It also had tired the librarian; he listened to her with less and less enthusiasm.

“I have no information for you.”  He added calmly, “Such a book doesn’t exist, not in our library anyway.”

Tired, disappointed, she sat down.

After leaving a steady job, a secure life, after all her adventures and travels in far away countries and cities, she was exhausted.  This was the climax. Here. She had put all her hopes on this place.  His answer devastated her.  She looked intently at his face.  “How about the books in the basement, the ones not registered?”

He was annoyed.  “Look,” he said.  “I’m a civil servant.  I pretend to work.  The government pretends to pay me.  How about your university?  Your country has rich foundations.”

She had pursued this line before.  “Forget them.” She paused. “What if I have money, jewelry?”  She looked with desperation at his face.  He had a strange looks in his eyes.

“You are an attractive woman.”

She hesitated for awhile before answering him, not knowing what to answer.  Was it insult or compliment, and did it matter?  For him, it was simply the price of extra work.

Later that day, he made sure she understood him.

And every day after that, every day after working hours, they went down into the basement which smelled of yeast and humidity.  Under the poor light, they searched for the Divan.

One day, she found two old volumes on her desk, a gift from the librarian.

The original Divan.

She immediately turned pages until she found the missing one.  There was a single gazelle there, in multiple verses, and one verse was written in letters much larger than the others:

“A dog with Love is much better than a sober lion.”  (Vol. Gazelle 77, verse 775)

She started laughing.  She knew the dog.  She just had left to wonder about the lion – the one who had stolen the missing page from the Konya copy of Mevlana’s Divan-i Kebir.