In Khayyam’s Tent
By Zaman Stanizai
To the reader:
In this story, concepts are personified as the cast of characters. They are given in boldface as Time, Synchronicity, Silence, Language, Thought, Being, Reality, and Imagination. Enjoy.
With the fall from heaven humanity sank into estrangement, with the death of gods we became spiritually alienated in a strange world, but with the disappearance of the heavens, nothing remains beyond the grasp of our perception. In this continuously shrinking reality the macrocosm of possibilities within each human being faces even greater challenges to make sense of what our senses cannot grasp.
Contemplation in the depth of these realities had taken me away in the ecstasy of their joyous perplexity as I had unknowingly risen to my feet that carried me wandering beyond the realm of time and place. I met my senses again only when I felt raindrops running down my cheeks pretending to be tears of joy. An early evening light drizzle was pouring forth its omen of mercy.
Out in the wilderness, I came upon the familiar shadow of a stranger who seemed to know why I was out at night.
“May this night bring you in peace!” he said.
“Peace unto thee as well,” I replied.
“You were expected,” he said and added, “I am Abu-Hafs Omar, the tentmaker. My dwelling is up ahead. Its hospitality awaits your arrival until destiny brings me back.”
As if responding to my unspoken inquiry his apt assumption added, “I’ll be back soon… If it is so willed.”
I found my way to Khayyam’s tent and was welcomed by Silence to the tent’s seemingly abandoned emptiness. Silence directed me to the living space where I nestled in cushioned comfort by the glowing hearth.
A Rubaiyat in beautiful calligraphy graced a small table. The open page read:
As hours and days, they never repeat,
Flowing transient time be it bitter or sweet.
Days of yester or morrow concerns me not,
Live the present of Time with joy replete.
A chime by the entrance heralded an arrival. Silence lifted the curtain and saw Time and Synchronicity shivering by the door. Silence welcomed them with a nod and a smile. I was happy to see them both. Time stumbled a little at the threshold. He is pretty old but stays young by putting on a new persona every morning. I see Time all the time, but it’s been a while since I had seen Synchronicity.
“This must be your doing, Synchronicity?” I asked. She gave me an inquisitive look to which I responded, “Leaving this timely gift on the table.”
To her not-so-puzzled impression, I pointed to the quatrain in the Rubaiyat, “The gift of this timeless ‘moment,’ wrapped in pause, and hesitation.”
Time chimed in, “He’s talking about Khayyam’s philosophic precepts of nihilistic illusions.”
“Either that,” I added, “or the significance of the ‘moment’ as the present of time in the here and now or a present for Time on the table.”
Synchronicity echoed, “It could be the work of my impersonating sister, the not-so-bashful Ms. Coincidence. She follows me like a shadow.”
Silence brought some offering for the guests and sat tight-lipped in his favorite dimly lit corner.
Synchronicity is Time’s introspective reflection. She is the key to the disclosure of Time’s enigma—pleasant, but shy and reserved. Synchronicity is selective, spontaneous, and rare. She wills her own occurrence and doesn’t keep Time. Time is Synchronicity’s shadow side if you will—another dimension of Reality. Time tries to define everything in its own terms.
I stirred the blazing charcoals in the hearth. Time, sat arms stretched in a rocking chair by the clock. He seemed disturbed by the global disenchantment.
“Rarely is my presence appreciated by humans,” Time began to speak. “While they often complain about not having enough of me in the present, they usually trivialize me as a timepiece ornament on their wrists or as a ‘once-upon-a-Time’ expression.” That expression sent Time wandering in the alley of reminiscence.
“A thousand and one years after One Thousand and One Nights,” recollected Time, “Scheherazade’s stories are still being told with some difference. These days, a thousand and one stories tell their narrative through the lives of a thousand Scheherazades.
Today’s Scheherazades speak directly and boldly through their action as they resist the tyranny of time, no pun intended. Scheherazade is very appropriately named scheher, ‘city’ and azade, ‘freedom’ to connote ‘civil liberty.’ Is it any wonder then that here in Naishapur and in destinations farther west today’s Scheherazades have taken to the streets demanding civil rights and liberties as they fight for their freedom and dignity? Streets of Isfahan, Tehran, and Tabriz swell with throngs of women, and men, who want their humanity defined by their deeds and not their compliance with a dress code.
Synchronicity mumbled, “How long must men define women’s destiny?”
Time continued, “The situation is even worse to the east. In Herat, Kandahar, and Kabul Afghan Scheherazades who survived foreign invasions, tyrannical turmoil, and shades of religious and secular despotisms are struggling through yet another civil strife: the misogynistic suppression of women in the name of God. While most Afghan men are struggling with the self-inflected confusion of their political identity, they are very clear on subjecting women to a religious identity wrought eons ago, imposing the severest of restrictions on women’s education, employment, and public appearance. In large urban centers throughout Afghanistan, women seem to have simply vanished from the face of the earth.”
Synchronicity echoed her concurring displeasure, “Even gods must be astounded by these dehumanizing deeds done in their names.”
A non-synchronistic presence was sensed outside the tent. Silence lifted up the curtain. Thought and Being invited themselves in. Glances of courtesy greetings were exchanged. Thought politely gestured, “Please continue, we didn’t mean to interrupt your conversation.”
Time continued to weave his narrative from strands of reminiscence and reflection:
“As I was saying, two decades ago, Baghdad lived through the horror and miseries of its own. Life was reduced to the temporality of a moment that may not have followed—a moment whose silence could be broken by the crackling of machinegun fire, the breaking down of doors and windows, and the robbing of the citizens of that ancient city of their dignity, life, or both. Plunder was seeking terror in the dark of night while by day, merchants of death robbed people of their identities and their souls as their faith stood naked at the auction block waiting to be traded for the promise of salvation that never came. Baghdad awaited the verdict of its destiny.”
When something interesting is in the offing, it is via a convergence of incidences through Synchronicity that nature begs for our attention. She picked up the story, “There was a strange sameness in these recent happenings of the old city. Cosmos had drawn deep impressions in the destiny of Baghdad that rose in unparallel glory and fell in fateful follies of demise. Armies from the east and the west sacked Baghdad in early spring exactly seven hundred and forty-five years apart. What was spared by the Mongol ‘pillage and plunder’ went up in the fury of flames?
“With some time difference, Mesopotamia, the land between two rivers, was destroyed by two plundering dark forces. Both invaders came in a reign of terror to kill the ruler and rob the ruled of their riches. The Mongols made pyramids of their victims’ skulls in the sooqs while the deliverers of ‘democracy’ made pyramids of their victims’ naked bodies in Abū Ghurayb. They both destroyed mosques, and libraries, and looted the treasures of this cradle of human civilization. The crown jewel of Baghdad, the grandest collection of Islamic manuscripts that survived the onslaught of the heathen Mongol invaders from the east, was the first target of the ‘civilized’ invaders from the West.”
Her voice, laden with human emotions, Being shared her archetypal reflections, “They say democracy died in decadence in the delivery room of a Baghdad hospital due to excessive bleeding and the physician’s incompetence that attempted to deliver the twins, ‘shock and awe.’
“Those bastard twins later sprang as Arab Spring—resembling neither,” said Time. “Damascus plunged into a bloodbath when foreign ideologies and domestic despotism dug their heels to fight it to the last man. People’s imaginations, cloaked in Damascus’s dark night’s harsh reality, spoke of a constantly threatened survival. Telling tales of the fear that held the streets of Damascus in the grip of horror by day, haunted the cradling heads of children as they hesitantly eased into dreamless repose of sleepless nights, hiding the uncertainty of tomorrow behind the blinks of their restless eyelashes.”
Thought seemed disturbed by human excesses, “It doesn’t stand to reason that atrocities like these repeatedly punctuate human history,” and added, “in an ongoing tragedy, Yemen is being starved into submission ‘Islamically,’ through the terror of neighborly intervention and none of the pilgrims to the house of God seemed to be bothered by it.”
Being added, “Dar-ul Islam is no longer the abode of peace as the term suggests, but the land of conflict, corruption, and conspiracies where the forces of Sejeel and Ababeel attack by land, sea, and air to rob people of their freedoms and resources.”
An expression of déjà vu spread all over Synchronicity’s face. I noticed Time was up and ready to leave. Synchronicity turned to me whispering, “You know, he can’t stay past midnight. He has to change…” adding quickly, “I mean… his identity.” I nodded in acknowledgment and thanked them for the visit as they left.
I wondered in temporality and how our being is woven through it. The presence of felt emotions filled the space around us.
Thought and Being are in love with Reality and each tries to get Reality’s attention by claiming primacy over the other. They are saved from their endless arguments of, “Cogito, ergo sum… Sum, ergo cogito” by Silence.
Reality is not impressed, she is caught up in her own love triangle. While committed to her own projection, the Truth, Reality is secretly in love with her reflection—Imagination. She knows that Imagination not only has primacy over Thought and Being, albeit by a few fractions of a second, but Imagination also has his own charm and chivalry—in a sense his own Reality. While corporeality and Imagination seem to be diametrically opposed to one another, they often reflect their love in each other. Imagination knows his own reality in Reality, but Reality is not so sure of her own existence in Imagination. Language tries to understand the meaning of all this in lingual form, but often fails to do so and is graciously rescued by Silence.
We sat around the hearth enjoying each other’s presence. The offering was on the table; we all sipped its purity as we reminisced the past into our present. I noticed Thought was as pregnant with novelty as I was with its perception, but Being remained her own self throughout the evening and simply observed things contemplatively.
The answering machine picked up a voice message from Language who wanted to drop by on her way to some party. We all sensed a disapproving annoyance. Silence’s disturbed state resonated in all of us. “We are doing fine without Language trying to reduce meaning into phonemic nonsense as she always does.”
The warmth of the hearth offered its comfort as its glow dimly reflected on Thought. I was wondering about Thought’s timeless past through the lives of great thinkers. In the immersion, my eyes were fixated on the Rubaiyat on the table and by implied extension to Khayyam. Thought read my impression and objected: “Nay, we, Thoughts, were not his, he was ours. We spoke to him and through him.”
An inquisitive notion spoke through me, “Perhaps you belonged to someone else.”
“We have been companions in wondering,” Thought replied and added, “It is your humanness that claims us. We don’t belong to you. You even claim our Atom as your Adam and our apple of reason as your apple of sin. We made Adam whom he became, but we were there before him.”
This reminded me of how Time once stunned me with a similar objection by saying, “What do you precisely mean by ‘un-Timely’? Like then, once again I was elated in waking up to a new realization.
Our non-verbal conversation had permeated my whole living being as the friendly atmosphere was returning the fire’s warmth in kind. Just then a chime at the entrance brought in Language. Silence who is not in speaking terms with Language, excused himself for a walk in the courtyard. As if by invitation Language took over, “You know,” she began, “human history is an odyssey of good thoughts being chased out by the invading armies of bad thoughts and leaving streaks of death and destruction behind. In indifference to its past, the path and pattern of violence reverse a few years later. This they call the repetitive cycle of history.”
Thought’s sideway glance was pretentious at best.
“No offense,” said Language and she went on with her monolog, “but you know that there are good thoughts and there are bad thoughts, and some thoughts are just downright evil.”
Thought smiled with disregard. I looked at Language with implied disapproval as she might have offended the other guests. Thought revealed, “Good and bad are perspectives relative in opposition to one another. The expressions could be the nuisance of vernacular inadequacy, but the essence is Thought’s.”
I was impressed by the prompt and succinct eloquence of Thought.
“The problem with these humans is,” Thought continued, “their intolerance for difference of perception. The sky-god worshippers among them ridicule the earth-god worshipers and vis-a-versa. The West is intolerant of non-Western appearance, and the East is intolerant of each other’s differences of opinion. They kill a person if thoughts emerge in his/her perception differently than theirs. It’s even worse if such thoughts dress up in clerical cloaks as beliefs and convictions.
These humans turn away from the inherent beauty of the Divine within in sameness and instead seek the difference of their perceptions in the celestial void.
“Their rulers use power as a license to kill rather than as authority to serve. They dehumanize others because they think/believe differently. That is not the fault of Thought. We Thoughts are free by inception and conception and can’t be otherwise.”
There was a long pause. A realization befell Language. “O my word,” she exclaimed nervously, “I must be going. I am late for the party.” She rose to her feet and waved good night. As I walked her out the door, the thunder chased Silence back in. The gust leaved the Rubaiyat to page 77. Seemingly lifeless letters from the page lifted themselves and danced as living words, freeing centuries-old thoughts through their resonance in Khayyam’s voice:
This trail of time, the caravan of haste
In so short a life, one must merriment taste
Seek solace O saqi in this moment’s joy
All concern of tomorrow is a time in waste.
We were uplifted by the whirling dance of these thoughts in the tent as Being looked on us as if through the wide-angle of a lens from a higher realm.
Just then a soft and hesitant jingle drew our attention to the entrance. “At this hour of the night?” We all wondered. Imagination was standing blindfolded at the entrance.
“The light was on,” said Imagination, “and I needed to take refuge in the illusion of its Reality.”
Reality blushed. Imagination stepped into the tent and sat in a swivel chair by the window enjoying his reflections in us and with us. We noticed how Reality began to show off her dazzling display of perceptions to draw the attention of Imagination. She served us more drinks in merriment. As Reality was pouring him some elixir from the canter, Imagination whispered: “Mesmerizing thoughts mirror in your eyes… keep them beautiful.”
We raised our cups with Imagination as he savored the elixir very leisurely as if he lived on it and for it.
Imagination is an intense reflection of deep Thought in meaningful revelations through which a Being realizes the creative divine within as Beauty. The mind thinks itself through its intensity and Language speaks through its eloquence. In this manner, humans become creators by extension of the thought-image that bears the imprint of the individual in whom it is realized.
Wavering shadowy reflections of Khayyam’s lyrical thoughts fell on the canvas of Imagination as footprints of a dancing paintbrush giving beauty a visible dimension. We marveled at the feat.
In a lingering moment, we were drawn in amazement to Khayyam and the way he wraps his ideas in layers of a poetic lexicon, guarding them jealously not to offend those who may find them ungraspable. For instance, when Khayyam metaphorically equates a human to an earthen jar of wine, it is because, like a human, an earthen jar is essentially made of the four basic elements: Clay shaped by divine hands, imbued with the breath of its Maker implying the resonance of a Spiritual longing to echo in its inner emptiness that hushes only when the jar is filled. The clay jar can hold the water only after it is fired with divine love, symbolizing the presence of a sublime spirit within the human heart.
As if by clairvoyance and the power of thought transference, Khayyam knocked and walked right into his tent and greeted his guests with the idea of the earthen jar in an eloquence all his own:
This pot must’ve been once a lover’s embrace
Lost in love forlorn with no signs to trace.
That arm must’ve held a beloved so close
Now a handle’s curve for this pot to grace.
As a gracious host, Khayyam offered us more of the elixir of life.
“Nature plays with our sense of identity. We don’t deserve the identities we claim to have as our nothingness is continuously regenerated through a commonality that we perceive as otherness. In search of the divine within, the resonance of that call demands a moral forging of the collective human psyche that can give birth to a new consciousness to overcome this existential alienation.” I couldn’t believe I said that and for further elaboration, Khayyam came to my rescue and addressed this human identity crisis with a longing:
By a potter’s wheel once a secret I sought
Some were hushed in silence, while others not
Then a questioning pot impatiently cried:
Who’s the potter, or buyer, and who’s the pot?
In the absence of Language, Silence echoed within my Being. In the Synchronicity of Time, a dazzling sparkle of Thought reflected in Reality’s eyes. Its beauty mirrored in Imagination as the dark of night prevailed.
 این یک دو سه روز نوبت عمر گذشت
چون آب به جویبار و چون باد به دشت
هرگز غم دو روز مرا یاد نگشت
روزی که نیامدهست و روزی که گذشت
 این قافلهٔ عمر عجب میگذرد
دریاب دمی که با طرب میگذرد
ساقی غم فردای حریفان چه خوری
پیش آر پیاله را که شب میگذرد
 این کوزه چو من عاشق زاری بوده ست
در بند سر زلف نگاری بوده ست
این دسته که بر گردن او میبینی
دستیست که بر گردن یاری بوده ست
 در کـارگـه کـوزه گـری بــودم دوش
دیـدم دو هزار کـوزه گـويا و خـموش
ناگاه یکی کوزه برآورد خروش
کو کوزه گر و کوزه خر و کوزه فروش