By Ahmad Raza
RUMI has narrated a story of a slave girl of Samarqand. According to the narrative, once the king of an adjoining state visited the bazaar of Samarqand.
There in the shop of a goldsmith, he saw a beautiful slave girl. He instantly fell in love with her, unaware of the fact that the slave girl was in love with the goldsmith.
On return to his capital, the king ordered one of his viziers to bring that slave girl to his court at any cost. The vizier went back to the goldsmith of Samarqand, enticed him and bought the slave girl from him. The vizier presented the slave girl to the king who immediately took her as his wife. Later on, the king discovered that the slave girl was not happy with the new arrangement and remained depressed and melancholic all the time. The king also became melancholic and did not know how to make her happy.
One night the king had a dream. In his dream a spiritual guide appeared to him and inquired about his miserable state. The king told the spiritual guide the whole story about how he fell in love with the slave girl of Samarqand and how she remained unhappy despite all his best efforts to make her happy. The spiritual guide told the king that he would visit his palace the next day to solve his problem, then and there. The next day the king along with his courtiers waited outside the city walls for the spiritual guide. When the much-awaited spiritual guide arrived, the king was very happy to see him. He rushed towards the guide, kissed his hands and took him to his palace with honour and respect.
There the spiritual guide demanded a private session with the slave girl. During his discourse with the girl, he described in exotic terms the bazaars and markets of Samarqand. Suddenly the slave girl broke her silence. She confessed to the spiritual guide that she was madly in love with the goldsmith of Samarqand; that this was the precise cause of her unhappiness with her marriage to the king.
The next morning the spiritual guide told the king about the cause of the melancholic moods of the slave girl and advised him to summon the young goldsmith of Samarqand to his court in order to help her recover from her misery. Eventually the goldsmith was brought to the palace and found the beloved of his yesteryear there. The king allowed them privacy and gradually the slave girl recovered from her miserable state. Together she and her lover enjoyed music, dance, good food and had lots of fun in the palace for many days.
Gradually, the spiritual guide started poisoning the goldsmith. First he became yellowish, and then weaker by the day. One day the slave girl felt repulsed by him and finally abandoned him to his disease. The goldsmith died and the slave girl found her new lover in the person of the king. The spiritual guide left the palace the very next day.
This narrative has two contexts of symbolic meaning for us. The first context is personal and affects all of us in these days of spiritual vacuum. The slave girl is a symbol of our sick souls; the goldsmith is our unbridled ego-desire; the king is our heart seeking satisfaction; the palace is our primordial spiritual state of existence to which we want to return; and finally the spiritual guide is a person or spiritual idea to show us the path to self-satisfaction.
The uncontrolled desire chambers of our ego make our heart more and more dissatisfied. The more we desire to possess and own, the more our soul becomes melancholic, lonely and depressed. Our heart becomes more and more dissatisfied and saddened by our existential movement away from our primordial state of spiritual harmony. This can be termed the psychopathology of soul-sickness in our times.
Our slave girl is enamoured by the material objects and toys of globalisation and has become oblivious of her real destiny. We have become objectified brands, who have no purpose in living on this planet. We have lost touch with the centre of our being.
Our cognitive matrix is populated with fanciful objects and bodies. We have become ants which consume what they collect and store. We no more create culture; we only consume objects, networks, pictures, haute couture, catwalks, shares and stocks and nightclubs. This consumption makes us more sad and we feel meaningless and hollow inside.
The second context of this narrative is cultural-semiotic. It has become global in span and influence. No human society in present times, in the East or the West, can claim to have a way out of the psychopathology of civilisation’s soul-sickness. The dominant technological civilisation has humbled the slave girl of human values. China, India, Arabia and West Europe, Latin America and North America, all have surrendered to the myth of the Sisyphus of economic growth, personal success and material progress, indulgences and a mechanical way of living.
Everybody is monitored by precise gadgets of control. Our thoughts are regulated. Our networks are watched. Our freedom is mechanical and our choices are shaped by the sinister machine of our civilisation. It is driven by the ever-more complex cycles of cultural mechanisms of consumption and destruction. It is dominated by the subtle moves of electronic capitalism.
It is controlled by the shadow imperialism of digits, objects and bodies. The post-evil machine civilisation generation, if it ever survived, would term our world as a junkyard of everything decent and human.
The writer is social scientist at the School of Business & Economics, University of Management & Technology, Lahore.