فصل 11

کتاب: برف / درس 11

فصل 11

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CHAPTER ELEVEN

Do They Have a Different God in Europe?

ka with sheikh efendi

Ka left the hotel at a gallop; a number of people told me later that they remember seeing him race through the snow under the long line of propaganda banners in the direction of Baytarhane Street. He was so happy that, just as in his most joyful moments of childhood, two films were running simultaneously in the cinema of his imagination. In the first, he was somewhere in Germany—though not his Frankfurt house—making love to Ipek. This film ran in a loop, and sometimes the ˙ place where they were making love was his hotel room. On the second imaginary screen, he could see words and visions relating to the last two lines of his poem “Snow.”

He stopped first at the Green Pastures Café to ask for directions.

There, inspired by the row of bottles on the shelf beside the picture of Atatürk and the Swiss vistas, he took a table and—with the decisiveness of a man in a great hurry—ordered a double raki and a plate of white cheese and roasted chickpeas. According to the announcer on television, preparations for Kars’s first ever live broadcast were almost complete despite the heavy snowfall; there followed a summary of local and national news. It seemed that in the interests of peace and avoiding any further trouble for the deputy governor, the authorities had phoned the station to bar them from mentioning the shooting of the director of the Institute of Education. While he was taking all this in, Ka downed his double raki like a glass of water.

After polishing off a third raki, he set off for the sheikh’s lodge; four minutes later, they were buzzing him in from upstairs. As he climbed the steep steps, he remembered that he was still carrying Muhtar’s poem,

“Staircase,” in his jacket pocket. He was sure everything would go well here, but he still felt that spine-tingling chill that a child feels on his way to the doctor’s office, even when he’s sure he won’t be getting a shot.

Having reached the top of the stairs, he was sorry he had come.

Ka could tell that the sheikh felt the fear in his heart the moment he appeared. But there was something about the sheikh that kept Ka from feeling ashamed. On the wall of the landing there was a mirror with a carved walnut frame. His first glimpse of Sheikh Efendi was in this mirror. The house itself was so crowded that the room was warm with breath and body heat. Scarcely a moment later, Ka found himself kissing the sheikh’s hand, before he’d had even time to take in his surroundings or look to see who else was in the room.

There were about twenty others, come to attend the simple ceremony held every Tuesday, to listen to the sheikh in conversation and to unburden their hearts. Five or six were tradesmen or teahouse or dairy owners who took every opportunity to spend time with the sheikh for the happiness it gave them; there was also a young paraplegic, a cross-eyed bus company manager, an elderly man who was the bus manager’s friend, a night watchman from the electricity board, a man who had been the janitor of the Kars hospital for forty years, and a few others.

Reading the confusion in Ka’s face, the sheikh bowed down to kiss Ka’s hand. There was something almost childish in the gesture; it was as if he were paying his respects. And although it was exactly what Ka had expected the sheikh to do, he was still astonished. Fully aware that everyone else in the room was watching them, the two men began to converse.

“May God bless you for accepting my invitation,” said the sheikh. “I saw you in my dream. It was snowing.”

“I saw you in my dream, Your Excellency,” said Ka. “I came here to find happiness.”

“It makes us happy to know that it was here in Kars that your happiness was born,” said the sheikh.

“This place, this city, this house . . . they make me afraid,” said Ka, “because you all seem so strange to me. Because I’ve always shied away from these things. I have never wanted to kiss anyone’s hand—or let anyone kiss mine.” “It seems that you spoke most openly of the beauty within you to our brother Muhtar,” said the sheikh. “So tell us, what does this blessed snowfall remind you of ?”

At the far end of the divan on which the sheikh sat, right next to the window’s edge, Ka now noticed Muhtar. There were a few bandages on his forehead and his nose. To hide the purple bruises around his eyes, he wore big dark glasses like those of old people who have been blinded by smallpox. He was smiling at Ka, but his expression was far from friendly.

“The snow reminded me of God,” said Ka. “The snow reminded me of the beauty and mystery of creation, of the essential joy that is life.” He fell silent for a moment; all eyes in the crowded room were still on him. Seeing the sheikh looking as serene as ever, Ka was annoyed.

“Why did you summon me here?” he asked.

“Please don’t say such a thing!” cried the sheikh. “After Muhtar Bey told us what you had said to him, it seemed you might want to open your heart to us, talk to us, find a friend.”

“All right, let’s talk then,” said Ka. “Before I came here, I had three glasses of raki.”

“But why are you so afraid of us?” asked the sheikh, his eyes opening up very wide, as if he were surprised; he was just a sweet fat man. Everyone around him was wearing the same sincere smile. “Aren’t you going to tell us why you’re so afraid of us?”

“I’ll tell you, but I don’t want you to take offense.” “We won’t take offense,” said the sheikh. “Please, come over here, sit next to me. It’s very important to understand why you’re afraid of us.” The sheikh’s expression was half serious and half joking, ready to make his disciples laugh at a moment’s notice. Ka liked his demeanor, and as soon as he had taken his place next to the sheikh he was tempted to imitate it.

“I’ve always wanted this country to prosper, to modernize. . . . I’ve wanted freedom for its people,” Ka said. “But it seemed to me that our religion was always against all this. Maybe I’m mistaken. I beg your pardon. Maybe I’m just admitting this because I’ve had too much to drink.” “Please don’t say such a thing!”

“I grew up in Istanbul, in Ni¸ santa¸ s, among society people. I wanted to be like the Europeans. I couldn’t see how I could reconcile my becoming a European with a God who required women to wrap themselves in scarves, so I kept religion out of my life. But when I went to Europe, I realized there could be an Allah who was different from the Allah of the bearded provincial reactionaries.”

“Do they have a different God in Europe?” asked the sheikh jokingly.

He patted Ka’s back.

“I want a God who doesn’t ask me to take off my shoes in his presence and who doesn’t make me fall to my knees to kiss people’s hands. I want a God who understands my need for solitude.”

“There is only one God,” said the sheikh. “He sees everything and understands everyone—even your need for solitude. If you believed in him, if you knew he understood your need for solitude, you wouldn’t feel so alone.”

“That’s very true, Your Excellency,” said Ka, feeling as if he were really speaking to everyone in the room. “It’s because I’m solitary that I can’t believe in God. And because I can’t believe in God, I can’t escape from solitude. What should I do?”

Although he was drunk and unexpectedly pleased to be speaking

with such courage to a real sheikh, a part of him still knew that he was entering dangerous territory, so when the sheikh fell silent he was afraid.

“Do you really want guidance from me?” asked the sheikh. “We’re those people you just mentioned: bearded provincial reactionaries. Even if we shaved off our beards, there is no cure for provincialism.” “I’m provincial too, and I want to become even more provincial. I want to be forgotten in the most unknown corner of the world under a blanket of snow,” said Ka.

He kissed the sheikh’s hand again. When he saw how easily he could do this, he felt pleased with himself. But one part of his mind still operated differently, in a Western manner, so he also despised himself.

“I hope you will forgive me, but before I came here I had something to drink,” he said again. “I felt guilty about having refused all my life to believe in the same God as the uneducated—the aunties with their heads wrapped in scarves, the uncles with the prayer beads in their hands.

There’s a lot of pride involved in my refusal to believe in God. But now I want to believe in that God who is making this beautiful snow fall from the sky. There’s a God who pays careful attention to the world’s hidden symmetry, a God who will make us all more civilized and refined.” “Of course there is, my son,” said the sheikh.

“But that God is not among you. He’s outside, in the empty night, in the darkness, in the snow that falls inside the hearts of outcasts.” “If you want to find God by yourself, go ahead—walk out into the darkness, revel in the snow, use it to fill yourself with God’s love. We have no desire to turn you from this path. But don’t forget that arrogant men who think too much of themselves always end up alone. God doesn’t have any time for pride. Pride was what got Satan expelled from heaven.” Once again, Ka found himself overcome with the fear that he would find so shaming afterward. He also dreaded the things he knew they would say about him if he left. “So what shall I do, Your Excellency?” he asked. He was just about to kiss the sheikh’s hand again when he changed his mind. He could tell that everyone around him knew how confused he was, and how drunk, and looked down on him for this. “I want to believe in the God you believe in and be like you, but because there’s a Westerner inside me, my mind is confused.”

“If your intentions are this sincere, this is a good beginning,” said the sheikh. “The first thing you need to learn is humility.”

“How can I do that?” Ka asked. Once again, he could feel the mocking devil inside him.

“After the evening meal, anyone who wants to talk comes to join me in this corner, on the divan where you’re sitting right now,” said the sheikh. “Everyone here is a brother.”

It now dawned on Ka that the great crowd of men sitting on the chairs and the cushions around him were in fact queuing up to sit on the corner of this divan. He guessed that what the sheikh wanted most from him now was his respect for this imagined queue, so the best course was to make his way to the end of it and wait patiently like a European; with this in mind, he rose to his feet. He kissed the sheikh’s hand one more time and went to sit on a cushion in the far corner.

Sitting next to him was a short, kindly man with gold-capped molars who worked at one of the teahouses on Inönü Avenue. The man was so ˙ small, and Ka so addled, that Ka found himself wondering whether the man had come to see the sheikh about a remedy for dwarfism. When he was a child in Ni¸ santa¸ s, there had been a very elegant dwarf who would go to the Gypsies in the square every evening to buy a bouquet of violets and a single carnation. The little man told Ka he had seen him passing in front of his teahouse earlier that day; he was sorry Ka hadn’t come in, and he would be very happy if Ka dropped by tomorrow. At this point the cross-eyed bus company manager with the elderly friend chimed in; in a whisper, he told Ka of having gone through a very bad spell on account of a girl—he had given himself to drink and become rebellious to the point of losing all sight of God—but in the end he had been able to put everything behind him. Before Ka could ask, Did you marry the girl? the bus company manager added, “We came to see that this girl was not right for us.”

The sheikh then said a few words against suicide. The men nearby listened in silence, some nodding at the wisdom of his words, while the three in the corner continued their whispering.

“There have been a few more suicides,” the short man said, “but the state has decided not to tell us, for the same reason as when it decides not to tell us that the temperature is dropping—they don’t want to upset us.

But here’s the real reason for this epidemic: It’s because they’re selling these girls to elderly clerks, men they don’t love.”

The bus company manager objected. “When my wife first met me,” he said, “she didn’t love me either.” He went on to declare that the epidemic had many causes: for example, unemployment, high prices, immorality, and lack of faith. Because he agreed with everything both men said, Ka began to feel rather two-faced. When the elderly companion began to nod off, the cross-eyed manager woke him up.

There was a long silence. A feeling of peace rose up inside Ka. They were so far from the center of the world, one couldn’t even imagine going there, and as he fell under the spell of the snowflakes that seemed to hang in the sky outside, he began to wonder if he had entered a world without gravity.

When everyone had ceased to pay any attention to him, another

poem came to Ka. He had his notebook with him, and, as with his first poem, he gave himself fully to the voice now rising up inside him, but this time he wrote down all thirty-six lines of the poem in one fell swoop.

Because his mind was still foggy with drink, he was not sure the poem was any good. But when a new rush of inspiration overtook him, he rose to his feet and, begging the sheikh’s pardon, rushed out of the room; when he sat himself down on the stairs to read what he had written, he could see that this poem, like the first, was flawless.

The poem draws upon the events Ka had just lived and witnessed.

Four lines allude to a conversation with a sheikh about the existence of God; there are also references to Ka’s shameful look following his mention of the uneducated man’s God, some proposals concerning solitude, the world’s secret symmetry and the creation of life; there is a man with gold teeth and one who is cross-eyed and a gentle dwarf holding a carnation, all standing with him, telling their life stories.

Shocked at the beauty of his own words, Ka could not help but ask himself, What does it all mean? It seemed to be a poem someone else had written—this, he thought, was why he was able to see its beauty. But also, finding it beautiful was a shock considering its contents, considering his own life. How to understand the beauty in this poem?

The light timer in the stairwell clicked off and he was plunged into darkness. When he had found the button and turned the light back on, he took one last look at the notebook and the title came to him: “Hidden Symmetry.” Later he would point to the speed with which this happened as proof that this and all the poems that followed it were—like the world itself—not of his own creation. With this in mind, he would move it to the position of the first poem on the Reason axis.

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