top of page


Rufai, Syed Tahir: In the Name of Mashouq

Kolkata: Writers Workshop, 2020, Pages: 77, Price: Rs 150/-

Inward Gaze: Sufi Musings of Rufai

A random quiz question such as, ‘Name one Sufi poet,’ would result in a whole generation of young Instagrammers chorusing ‘Rumi.’ There’s something about his writing that seems to have captivated the restless, social media-obsessed youngster. Rumi, the 13th century Persian poet was the founder of the Mawlevi order of Whirling Dervishes. What used to be a reclusive order is today open to the world with bands of Whirling Dervishes doing tours all over the globe showing their dance form to enchanted audiences. In the midst of a revival of interest in Rumi, even if it means through social media, we have a young, 21-year-old Kashmiri poet, Syed Tahir Rufai’s collection titled, In the name of Mashouq. Rufai who draws his lineage from the Sufi turuq (order) of Rufai is an alumnus of Jamia Milia Islamia, New Delhi. This collection bound in pocketbook style with the trademark handloom cover of Writers Workshop, Kolkata, follows his novella The Flying Sparrow published in 2017.

Writing in English, Rufai makes a departure from, yet carries forward a hoary legacy from the Valley – that of Sufi writing. Influenced by poets such as Bayazid Bastami, Mirza Bedil, Fazl Haq Khairbadi, Kabir, and Moulana Rumi, the tradition of Sufi writing dates back to the fourteenth century in Kashmir with Lal Dedh (Lalleshwari) as the trailblazer. Several Sufi poets have not had formal education; and some are even unlettered. Yet one can perceive the influence of one Sufi poet on another which they attribute to divinely-bestowed mystical powers. Knowledge is separated as Elimal Yakeenwhich is knowledge gained from books and Aeinal Yakeen that is knowledge derived from day-to-day observation. 1

One of the characteristic features of Sufi poetry is the universalisation of thought, emotion and divinity. Seldom can you tell the geographical or cultural moorings of a poet from his writings. Same is the case with Rufai. Had the bionote not mentioned the fact of Rufai’s Kashmiri origins, the reader would not have known about it. His themes centre around numinous concerns such as time, death, God as guardian, longing for union with the divine, oneness of devotee and God and the search for God through the erotic – themes that are universal in scope and not necessarily pinned to a particular geographical or socio-cultural milieu.

It is not uncommon to eulogise the divine in erotic terms in mythical and liturgical traditions across geographical and religious barriers. In Bhakti tradition, the rendering of God in erotic terms is part of poetic convention. Whether it is Meerabai from Mewar or Kanhopatra in Maharashtra, devotion to God is expressed through the vocabulary of the corporeal. Faith, religiosity, prayer and devotion are embodied experiences in the Sufi tradition.

Cosmic love is attained through bodily expression in a hierarchy of love that separates desire from love, the former being a lesser but necessary step to attain the higher realm of fulfilment that comes with union with God. Thus, the relationship with God is personalised and made intimate. With the devotee as male and God too perceived as male, the erotic love in Sufi poetry for the large part can be understood in terms of homoerotic love.

Untitled and bearing only numbers, several of Rufai’s poems reflect such eroticism. For instance, the lines below from Poem No 2 could easily be identified as belonging to a love poem. The “Poet’s Note” at the beginning guides us towards the Sufi leanings of the collection. Rufai states that behind the poems “hide the learning and understanding and a long wait to form a connection with what I can call ‘the divine strings.’”

Let me fall in your arms

I need your warmth

We have been separated

For so long

The days without you