I keep thinking of the youth with the two little rabbits, sitting by the side of the frenzied path on the boardwalk. The two little rabbits, their ears pressed back, huddled tight on a small square platform with a pile of alphabet squares. I guessed they performed some sort of future telling trick. I wanted to stop. Reassure the youth and pet the rabbits. Give them money. The rabbits’ tiny pink quivering noses and the youth’s eyes imprinted on me. But my reflexes were frozen.

A crescent moon, like a silvery dagger, hung in the sky. Tables at the ocean’s edge overflowed with diners. Foot-tapping music blared, a man danced on a wooden table, cheered by the crowd. There was corn-on-the-cob, roasted on demand. The vendor’s hair, artificially dyed to a corn colour, hung over his shoulders and forehead in synthetic curls. Seafood, freshly caught, was displayed in an eye-catching array. I thought I would find the youth with the rabbits on my way back. But I had lost them.

Couples, young and old and middle-aged, milled around. Singles were few. Lights, bright but not garish, illumined the scene. Shops spilled goods — leather, finely tooled into bags, purses and footwear, sandals of every fashion. A big, plump dog sat by a shop window, looking indifferently at the kibble stockpiled for his delectation. Slender cats weaved a path at the crowd’s edge, staying close but not too close. And the azaan [call for prayers] floated above and beyond the crowds of revellers. A reminder of the final destination.

We chose to eat at a bistro in one of the elegant bylanes. There were tables set beneath a flowering bougainvillaea. A balmy sea breeze caressed my bare arms. “Live in the moment” was inscribed in our room at the bed-and-breakfast place we were staying. Yes, live in the moment, if you can block those memories that follow you around.

You can, yes you can block memories, or overlay them for the moment at least. But the rabbits are now following you and the kid goat, whose long silky ears were callously pulled by the butcher holding a big knife as he led it away that hot afternoon by the ocean cafe many years ago — I forget how long ago. The moment of departure.

Why am I thinking of departure in Bodrum? A happy place, swimming with swimmers in the sparkling blue waters of the Aegean Sea. I hadn’t seen such combinations of blue and white. White houses, clouds, blue sky, blue sea lapping on the pebbled beach. A happy place of dyed hair and tanned, toned bodies bent on grabbing the moment, living in it till it’s time to leave. Two nights, one day of romance. And then a bagful of memories to take back.

I know Turkish rugs as kilims. Cicims I’ve never seen. The owner sees me look and pulls it out immediately. “A cicim, you like it?” he asks.

Istanbul was a relief. A clean city of gilded palaces and mosques with slim minarets. Sweet air, sea breezes. Not overwhelming, but not underwhelming either; a place where you felt comfortable in your skin. Where you picked up street cats for cuddles. Where people smiled. Where buses and trams gleamed. Where strangers were helpful. Where people smoked in restaurants. Where there are avenues of plane trees.

The Mughal master painter Ustad Mansur’s exquisite miniature painting ‘Squirrels in a Plane Tree’ comes to life — without squirrels, though. I have a copy of Mansur’s miniature hanging in my office. I was right when I assumed that the plane tree was what we called the ‘chinaar’ in Kashmir. It’s called ‘sycamore’ in the United States, where I live now. The plane tree rises gracefully, its white bark speckled because it keeps peeling. The leaves look like grape leaves. It has elegance.

I must rewind. We are in Konya. Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi’s Konya. The hotel is in the city’s centre, a mere stone’s throw from the Sufi mausoleum. But it takes a while for our taxi driver to find it. The hotel turns out to be a boutique, tastefully decorated with Konya’s handicrafts. A pleasing perfume wafts in the lobby where Hasan, a young man true to his name, greets us.

Our room’s ceiling has Ottoman-style artwork. Painted ceilings are a feature of well-designed buildings here. I am captivated by the handicrafts carefully strewn around the main lobby. Eager to explore, we step out. We have barely walked 200 steps when the mausoleum museum complex comes into view. The square is paved with blue-grey stones dotted with pyramids of pink blossoms growing in pots. The whole effect is very pleasing.

Inside the mausoleum, the towering structure of Rumi’s grave itself is covered in black velvet with Quranic verses inscribed in gold lettering. There is a presence. A feeling of awe and reverence permeates your being. Exiting the area, you carry the mood with you.

I know Turkish rugs as kilims. They are rough, smell of sheep hair and their vivid patterns speak of tribal origins. Cicims (pronounced jijims) I have never seen. We search for someone who knows enough English to give us directions to the tent bazaar. A helpful stranger points to a shop. In the window is displayed a rug somewhat bigger than a kitchen towel. It catches my eye.

The owner sees me look and pulls it out immediately. “A cicim, you like it?” he asks. Forgotten are the directions to the bazaar. It is cicims and kilims for the next few hours. Some cicims — such as the one I like — come in pairs, or so I am told. Please don’t separate them, the owner plays on my weakness, they are twins. They will bring you luck.

And so, it goes from one to two cicims and two kilims.

We are offered an oversized bag with wheels in which to carry them with us on the plane. We resist. Then the owner asks his brother, who speaks fluent English, to take us to the bazaar.

*To be continued

The columnist is professor in the Department of Middle Eastern and South Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of Virginia

Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, July 31st, 2022

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