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Artist's Statement: Fifteen Words by a 13th-Century Philosopher Saint

Talati, Jamsheer MBBS

doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e3182142945
Other Features: Cover Art

Dr. Talati is professor emeritus, Aga Khan University, Karachi, Pakistan; e-mail: jamsheer.talati@aku.edu.

Poem from Barks C, Green M. The Illustrated Rumi. Copyright © 1997, New York, NY: Broadway Books, a division of Bantam, Doubleday Dell Publishing Group Inc. Reprinted with permission.

I, you, he, she, we....

In the garden of mystic lovers,

There are no distinctions.

Jalaluddin Rumi

The composition featured on this month's cover is one of a trilogy I have written on the English translation of Rumi's poems. This particular translation is by Coleman Barks. My compositional skills have assumed newer dimensions because of an artful, encouraging, and expert mentor in Germany, Perry Mirza, who guided me to shake off conventional harmony and look for the beauty of sounds that represent the words or the emotions in poems. He also taught me to be lean and brief, drawing my attention to the fact that the world's most famous songs are only one to three pages long.

Rumi, as well, benefited from mentoring in his life. His father, a thoughtful and highly respected religious scholar, provided exceptional early childhood development. Then, in his youth, marauding Mongols caused his family to flee across a varied landscape stretching across Asia. This journey entailed many stops in towns that had culturally rich intellectual legacies shaped by the tolerant rule of pre–700 ad Iranian Monarchs, the violent interactions of Greco–Persian wars, and the flowering philosophy of the Muslim era in lands still populated by Zoroastrians, Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Later, Rumi absorbed information both from a library of books and from his mentor, Shamsh, who at an opportune moment threw Rumi's readings into a pond. As Rumi attempted in vain to retrieve them, his mentor assured him that books were redundant to his purpose—he did not need them anymore, for his own insight could now provide all answers.

In similar ways we need to find the right moment, as mentors, to set our students free to make new observations, experience new cultures, and challenge existing beliefs. Much as Rumi's travels did, elective experiences can provide medical students with fresh insights to enhance their daily work as they struggle to resolve clinical problems in our complex world filled with shifting populations from many different cultures. Hands-on electives, more so than reading assignments, demonstrate how the cultural “distinctions” we articulate can influence patients.

Figure. Fif

Figure. Fif

Rumi seems to recognize that ignoring such distinctions is impossible in our complex world; it is only “[i]n the garden of mystic lovers” that “[t]here are no distinctions.” My composition attempts to examine our distinctions as well as our commonalities. This piece is constructed around a musical cell to indicate our common genetic, structural, and functional heritage. The last line of the composition draws together the notes, which earlier flagrantly displayed our individual differences, demarcated by the variegated tones and accompaniments for the words “I, you, he, she, we.” The final bar ends on a question. It is nebulous, confused, crowded, and messy, as if to indicate our own tribulations: Are we or are we not different from one another?

Perhaps above all the writing of the composition has drawn my attention to the fact that we are not what we are, but we are the products of our environment and the helping hands that mould us. Would not the world be a better place if it were full of glowing mentors?

© 2011 Association of American Medical Colleges