Book Review: Amir Khusrau – The Man in Riddles

Title: Amir Khusrau: The Man in Riddles
Author: Ankit Chadha
Pages: 96
Price: Rs. 299

amir-khusrau-the-man-in-riddles-original-imaezzrrv4jvkzygAnkit Chadha’s Amir Khusrau: The Man in Riddles came to me wrapped in a yellow envelope, sooner than I was expecting. And it was tough to let go of it, as soon as it revealed itself.

Part verse, part prose, Amir Khusrau is an absolute delight to touch, to read, to admire. Beautifully illustrated by Urmimala Nag, it is a mélange of colourful motifs, intricate patterns and evocative imagery.

In the introduction, we are informed that “Khusrau would often compose verses to describe each collection of poetry he wrote. When taken together, these introductory verses can form an ode or a poem of praise.” Therefore, Chadha selects 20 riddles (each attributed to Khusrau) to introduce Khusrau to the modern reader and acquaint us with his poetry and legacy.

We learn that poetry was only one of the many facets of his larger-than-life personality. And Chadha highlights that Khusrau’s poetry is typically layered with two meanings: One, which refers to the daily hustle-bustle of life, and the other that touches upon the spiritual aspect.

A riddle is a puzzle, wrapped up in words, which we have to decipher. “Each word is a clue, visual, a tiny part of a larger picture.” There is some amount of wordplay and one must pay close attention to the imagery that the words evoke. The answer lies close to that.

Every riddle, a few lines each, (with an accompanying English translation) is followed with insights and snippets of information that reveal Khusrau’s personality and the era he lived in. It is a little bit of history, a little bit of literature and a little bit of culture. I fondly recalled all my history classes in college!

Did I solve all the riddles? Nah! I only got a few.

But Amir Khusrau: The Man in Riddles is easy to read and follow. I flipped through it in less than an hour. But the soul wasn’t satiated. So I reread it. And once again. I read bits of it aloud, to enunciate and savour each syllable. But it got over too soon. Next, I imagined how Chadha would have recited these lines (I’ve watched him perform the Dastangoi, and it was a treat)!

The Notes at the end of the book will help clarify and dispel a few doubts that readers might have upon reading the verses.

I leave you with my favourite riddle.

Jiske wo pairon padi,
Uska jee ghabraaye
Bahur dukhon se qadam uthey
Aur raah na nibdi jaaye

Whoever’s feet she touches,
He is left to seethe
Makes it tough to take a step
Or find a way to breathe

Do take a minute to decipher it. Also note how well the translations read!

Solve the riddles on your own, take a friend’s help or simply savour the sound of each word. And you’ll soon find yourself immersed in the life and times of a fascinating poet, mystic and musician.

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2 comments

  1. Priya

    Lovely review! You conveyed the essence of the book without letting out too much. Is the answer to the riddle, fire? Curious 🙂

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