“I’ve always loved you, and when you love someone, you love the whole person, just as he or she is, and not as you would like them to be.”
― Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
We all have different reasons to fall in love but no matter what that reason is what keeps us in love is something entirely different. My question to you today is, what do you think happens when we fall in love?
I’ve written before here that in Maraşlı I think that Turkish folk music represents the essence of Celal and Turkish classical music represents Mahur. Today, I would like to take you to the stories of two folk songs used in Maraşlı, while we also explore what falling in love is according to the spirit of the show. We will only be looking at episodes 4–5–6 in this piece so if you didn’t yet catch up with the last episodes, no worries.
Those Who Were Betrayed By the Ones They Loved
The first famous folk song (türkü in Turkish) is in episode 4 and Celal plays it in his car when he’s with Mahur. This türkü belongs to a poet (actually more than a poet and more like a bard, because he composed and recited his poems) called Aşık Mahzuni Şerif. The word ashik is also used in English translations (written as “aşık” in Turkish having a second meaning also as “in love”) which means a musician as well. This three worded title he uses is not his real name but a stage name. His real name is Şerif Cırık. Aşık is of course his job, mahzun means sad, so it’s fitting the name he made up for himself. A sad Şerif who is an aşık, a poet and a musician.
A Man Tortured For His Faith
Aşık Mahzuni Şerif’s life story is quite tragic. I find it interesting that some of the poets, writers their life stories and the work Maraşlı show uses is as tragic as the storyline is. Do you remember I said the general story resembled a Greek tragedy here? Aşık Mahzuni Şerif was born in 1939 in Kahramanmaraş and died in 2002 in Germany. He was a proud believer of Alevi faith but unfortunately although he was respected as one of the 3 most influential aşıks in Turkey, he was also arrested many times, even tortured, had many lawsuits, he served in prison for 5 years and he received a lot of hate and criticism for his statements about his Alevism. For those who may not know, I would like to explain Alevism briefly because many respectable folk musicians are from the Alevism tradition. When Islamic prophet Muhammad died the Islamic community divided into two. Some decided Abu Bakr should be Muhammad’s successor and others believed it should be Ali (Muhammad’s cousin and son in law).
So the ones who sided with Abu Bakr have been called Sunnis and those who sided with Ali were called Shia. All those who are of the Shia sect should not be confused with another branch which is called Twelver Shiism. General Alevism is more than just a religion, it’s a whole culture that feeds from Sufism, Shia and Sunni and it’s the second largest Muslim community in Turkey.
Alevis don’t worship in Sunni mosques but they have assembly houses same as mosques called Cemevi where they meet and pray and sing. During these Cem ceremonies Aşık plays the bağlama or saz (a string instrument) and sing. The reason I’m telling all this is to make you understand that this is the culture Şerif was raised up with. Unfortunately because I’m not from the Alevi tradition my knowledge is very limited so please check the article I included in further reading in the end or feel free to research more on the internet.
Meaning Behind His Words
First of all, I would like to say, the translation above is hardly the best translation one can come up with, but it’s the best that I could do. Obviously here, the poet is leaving his home town in a very sad manner. He compliments his loved ones’ eyes for being very black. It’s important to note, he somehow compares her eyes’ blackness with his fate and the graveness of his situation. He is leaving because he’s not wanted anymore, or so he feels. He feels he has to leave.
The line “My capital is my trouble…” is of course not a mention at material wealth, it refers to a cultural and sentimental wealth which he’s leaving behind. It probably refers to his land, his country.
“I want to crow in the ruined vineyards…” With this line Şerif tells us he’d very much prefer to exchange heaven to singing like a bird in ruined vineyards. Who would want that right? Sounds so dismal. But still this is a tortured man who is willing to give up material things and he’s also leaving behind all that he loved.
“I tied my soul Haydar to the strand of a curl.” Again he’s telling us how much he adores her, how important she is to him that even for a strand of her hair he would bargain his soul. Unfortunately she left her, she was cruel to him and this is why he’s leaving her. Haydar refers to Pir Sultan Abdal who is the greatest Alevi poet to have lived. Haydar was his real name. He lived in the 16th century. “Being tortured by the hand of Marwan”, with this he’s referring to the 7th century Caliph of Damascus who was called Marwan 1st who had an hostility towards Ali. Here Şerif compares the indifference of his lover to this hostility of the caliph.
All in all, a beautiful and sad description of the story of a man, who feels betrayed by his lover and feels that all he can do is leave everything behind. Aşık Mahzuni Şerif, was a man of his word, who lived for his beliefs even at his lowest he didn’t give up on his principles and beliefs. May his soul rest in peace now, knowing that he continues to inspire generations with his beautiful words and music. No wonder a man like Celal would respect a man of this kind.
As for the relationship between the song and MahCel we all know who is betraying who in this relationship. I don’t want to give spoilers for those who haven’t watched all the episodes but I’m curious to see what will happen next in their relationship. Their love is definitely a slow burn but I like it because it’s more realistic this way.
Those Who Risked It All For Love
In episode 4, Necati gives Behiye Tolstoy’s famous novel Anna Karenina to read. I suppose everyone and their mother know about it but if there’s anyone out there who hasn’t heard, Anna Karenina is a Russian classic novel that has been published for the first time in 1878 and has perfectly earned its place on the classics list. While handing it to Behiye he says, “Read this and then we’ll talk about love.” Later in the episode we see Behiye flipping the book open and reading the first sentence which has one of the most famous openings in literature, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
Why would Necati, hand in Anna Karenina to Behiye as an introduction on understanding love? At first, this seems illogical because in the novel the protagonist loses everything for love and it’s generally a grim story. However in the same novel Tolstoy also shows us that like Kitty and Levin, those who are patient will get to have the fruits of love. The protagonist Anna Karenina’s affair with Vronsky (who is a bachelor younger than her) doesn’t end well (saying the least!). I’m trying to avoid spoilers here, dear reader, for those of you who still haven’t read it, but you really should.
The First Step To Love
The early stages of love is probably why everyone misses being in love deeply when they’re not in love anymore. We grow an interest in everything that person likes. Suddenly pottery or soccer becomes fascinating and we find ourselves trying to learn more about it. This is one of the first signs of love, a genuine curiosity. On top of this we feel an urge to share our own interests with that person. We wish that they like that thing too. It could be a song, a movie, a book but we desperately hope they like it. We feel as though that thing will bring us closer and we will become more special for one another.
When Necati gives the book to Behiye, we know he doesn’t have the purest intention. However he’s also a man that deeply needs to be understood, so is Celal with his stern look that he always has. In episode 4, during the car conversation he has with Mahur, when she desperately needs someone to talk to and she’s stressed, he finds it hard to comfort her. People who have learned to hide their weaknesses have a hard time dealing with other people when they’re at their lowest. It takes a person who fought his own demons to help another who is fighting their own.
Maraşlı is not there yet so he feels uncomfortable in front of Mahur’s breakdown. He has difficulty showing her empathy, probably because he himself hasn’t been shown empathy. When he is asked about his weakness in the grey room, he never accepts having one.
It’s good that Mahur is always one step ahead, eager to learn, to understand, to peel this dried onion(!) The next time they listen to a song in the car, she is respectful of this made up rule. This türkü is another one by Aşık Mahzuni Şerif.
Should I cry? - Ağlasam mı? - Aşık Mahzuni ŞerifMy God gave me two eyes by saying, smile
I don't know, should I cry? Shouldn't I cry
By waiting I became a flood, saints
I do not know, should I gurgle or should I not
Many feeds by exploiting the poor
Seeing this, how can the heart hold on?
Valiant needy of dried onion
I do not know if I should tell you or not
Mahzuni Serif ease your pain
Get your medicine from some of the pain
I don't know if I should be taken to the gallows like Pir Sultans
Or if I should not
This is not a love song. As you can see, it’s more of a cry out against the injustice of the world where the rich get richer by taking advantage of the poor. At the end of the poem he asks if he should be executed like Pir Sultan Abdal. Because Pir Sultan Abdal was executed by Hızır Pasha, the Governor of Sivas.
We focus more on the moment that is shared between Mahur and Celal here but without forgetting what the song is telling us. According to the poet those who are rich surely have exploited the poor. There is a lot of injustice in the world. The brave and honest ones are desperate and have a hard time making a living. Those who speak the truth like Pir Sultan Abdal are killed by the corrupt.
They listen to this after their heart to heart talk on the bench at the sea side. When Celal says, if a man reads poems to a woman he must be in love and of course Mahur says well you did that to me too. Celal in full denial says, it’s different. After this they get in the car and listen to this song.
Mahur is curious and she asks many questions to Celal but he’s reluctant to answer them. He even admits he’s replying only because he doesn’t want to seem rude. As they listen to the song in the car, waiting for it to end so that they can enter the gallery, they both think of the night at the mountain house. Especially the poem Celal read to Mahur that night which I talked about here.
It’s interesting that Celal and Mahur share a lot of time in the car in episode 4 but especially 5. I know he’s her bodyguard and it makes sense but this also is a choice as it’s not easy to shoot car scenes especially when they’re moving. I think episodes 4 and 5 have important scenes showing us road blocks of their possible love. Two very different people but still fate will weave their destinies together and even though they’re opposites they will learn to love each other despite these differences.
When Love Is Worldly
In episode 6 Mahur is interviewed by a reporter for being chosen Photographer of The Year. In this interview she is asked of her opinion on love. She says her mom used to say love is like a fairy tale. It’s a fairy tale that births us, feeds us, raises us. Love is everywhere, in our whole being. We don’t need to meet someone and be imprisoned in that moment. Then to finish she quotes Celal and says, “There is no such thing as the right person, only beautiful memories.”
Celal hears it word by word and we can feel he is affected but afterwards Ecem asks about it to Mahur and she gets uncomfortable and not knowing that Celal is eavesdropping she denies her feelings saying, “take a look at him and then me”. Later she tries to fix this but it’s what the truth is. We as the viewers know that everyone around them will use this against them.
If Mahur wasn’t part of his mission, a man like Celal would probably still be hesitant to start a relationship with a woman like Mahur. Same goes for Necati and Behiye. This is not a question of class difference but of temperament. They say opposites attract but as far as habits and nature go, when two people are exact opposites they can’t coexist because they will be like oil and water. The only way is to bend and stretch their boundaries to compromise.
How Does Love Feel?
Come episode 6 and we’re in the kitchen and Necati is discussing love with the household staff or proletariat as he jokingly calls them.
He says there’s no such thing as love, there’s only physical needs and that’s what we call libido. In literature they talk about love but poems, movies, novels they all lie. Love is not a pure emotion as everyone thinks. It’s commercial. Those who fell in love know it’s deceiving. Rather than saving you it destroys you.
At this point Necati could sense Behiye’s feelings or fondness of him. So when I watched for the first time I thought he was trying to warn Behiye. Now I think he was reminding himself of this as well. He needed to keep these in mind for the things he will do to take his revenge.
This is an important foreshadowing for MahCel as well. At this point in episode 6 it’s certain they will fall in love but will it be real love? Can it be just love or curiosity? With our knowledge of episodes that will follow, we worry that their love may be the disastrous type that will hurt more than it heals.
Is true love only divine as Celal says? Can 2 humans really love without an agenda? Without even needing to be loved back? This brings me to my question, maybe it’s not so hard to fall in love but how do we keep loving someone when there are so many things between us and we clearly are not fit for each other? How do two people form a strong bond that won’t break with every strike that will come from the outside world? After all this is not a fairy tale as Mahur’s mother has told her.
I’m excited to see what’s in store for both MahCel, Necati and Behiye. My understanding of love is broader. It doesn’t have to be this and that. It doesn’t have to be confined with the limited human thinking. I’d like to think it’s more like a lightning bolt that runs through you and leaves you forever changed. It changes your chemistry and gets ingrained in your DNA. Although that person may leave, the feeling of the strike stays with you. It may hurt but that’s the beauty of it.
Dear reader, what are your thoughts about love? Are you team Necati, Mahur or Celal on love? Or maybe you want to be on my team, who knows? Did you enjoy learning a bit today about one of the greatest Turkish folk musicians of all time? In the future I want to cover more songs. Maraşlı has great music. Let me know your thoughts on Twitter, I’m @edsavaseri there. It brings me a lot of joy to be able to share and discuss and learn from you. Next up, I have one essay about poetry and another that focuses on Zeliş’s silence. Let me know which one you’d like to see first.
Until the next one, have a great day wherever you are in the world right now. I’m sending you peace and love from a rainy Istanbul morning.
*A good article on Alevism here.
*Listen to folk songs across different geographic regions in Turkey. Visit here.
*A great essay on Alevi Aşık Poetry here that focuses on another poet, but read at least the introduction to learn more about poetry in Alevi society.
*Interesting article on Turkish folk and classical music. Read here.