The guitarist Shabyl Ajmal, for whom I wrote this piece, told me something amazing at the beginning of our collaboration: his late father was the first person to translate the Masnavi, an epic 50,000-line poem by the Persian poet Rumi, into the Malay language. For Shabyl and me, the Masnavi became an intersection between his Malaysian heritage and my Persian heritage. The following passage provoked my imagination, bringing to mind the image of a Sufi dervish whirling rapturously in order to transcend his worldly desires.
Dance (only) where you break (mortify) yourself and (when you) tear away the cotton from the sore of lust.
(Holy) men dance and wheel on the (spiritual) battle-field: they dance in their own blood. Rumi, Masnavi (trans. R.A. Nicholson)