Monday, April 26, 2010

The Alchemist

Title: The Alchemist
Author: Paulo Coelho
ISBN: 978-81-7223-498-0
Publ: Harper Collins

This book has been there on my TBR shelf for over a year now, and I felt it too cruel to make it wait any longer.  Almost everyone has read this book and it has been talked about so much to the point that people seem to have stopped discussing it anymore. It was high time. And as soon as I took my plunge, sudden realization occurred that I had returned once again to something that I have always treasured so much and yet remained forgotten or abandoned due to negligence.

In the prologue, the author presents an entirely different angle to the story of Narcissus, whose tale is known by everyone and has been told and retold so many times over. Just see this:
'.. when Narcissus died, the goddesses of the forest appeared and found the lake, which had been fresh water, transformed into a lake of salty tears.
“Why do you weep?” the goddesses asked.
“I weep for Narcissus,” the lake replied.
“Ah, it is no surprise that you weep for Narcissus,” they said, “for though we always pursued him in the forest, you alone could contemplate his beauty close at hand.”
“But… was Narcissus beautiful?” the lake asked.
“Who better than you to know that?” the goddesses said in wonder. “After all, it was by your banks that he knelt each day to contemplate himself!”
The lake was silent for some time. Finally, it said:
“I weep for Narcissus, but I never noticed that Narcissus was beautiful. I weep because, each time he knelt beside my banks, I could see, in the depths of his eyes, my own beauty reflected...”  '
Paulo Coelho is a beautiful writer.

Page 9 reminded me about my father:
' “Well, I’d like to see their land, and see how they live,” said his son.
“The people who come here have a lot of money to spend, so they can afford to travel,” his father said. “Amongst us, the only ones who travel are the shepherds.”
“Well, then I’ll be a shepherd!”
His father said no more. The next day, he gave his son a pouch that held three ancient Spanish gold coins.
“I found these one day in the fields. I wanted them to be a part of your inheritance. But use them to buy your flock. Take to the fields, and someday you’ll learn that our countryside is the best, and our women the most beautiful.”
And he gave the boy his blessing. The boy could see in his father’s gaze a desire to be able, himself, to travel the world – a desire that was still alive, despite his father’s having had to bury it, over dozens of years, under the burden of struggling for water to drink, food to eat, and the same place to sleep every night of his life.'
Paulo Coelho must have had a father same as mine. Or.. is it the same story with all fathers and sons around the world?.. I don't know.

There have been numerous authors and numerous books so far in the world. And all sorts of stories have been told. All possibilities have been explored to such an extent that there seems hardly anything that is to be told in the space between a book and another, between an author and the next. Yet to our surprise, ideas sprout, stories never before told spring up from obscure spaces we thought not to be, though extremely rarely, and when someone makes it happen, we call him/her a genius. Coelho is one. He could see things that others fail to:
' “I have had the same dream twice,” he said. “I dreamed that I was in a field with my sheep, when a child appeared and began to play with the animals. I don’t like people to do that, because the sheep are afraid of strangers. But children always seem to be able to play with them without frightening them. I don’t know why. I don’t know how animals know the age of human beings.'

By the time I reached page 43, I was thinking of Kuruvi Gopi.. The boys travels in The Alchemist is similar to the ones of Kuruvi Gopi in the book which has his name for the title. It is perhaps the first novel I have ever read. I read it as a child. It's a novel for children, and I had loved it so intensely. I need a copy of it again. I miss it so much! But DC Books says it's out of stock..

At page 45, my thoughts were revolving around the question as to what kind of writer Paulo Coelho was. We call them by different names- writers, authors, men of letters, literateurs.. but more suitable for him is the word 'storyteller'. Like  Rushdie, he is a teller of amazing tales, transcending fables. As Shashi Tharoor has told, Rushdie is perhaps the greatest prose-stylist of our times. He plays with words and ideas to create vivid and colourful pictures in our minds. And Coelho's solemn style touches your soul.

Pages 88-89 triggered a string of thoughts:
1. The word 'language' has been appearing throughout the book in many places, and finally when the book says that the one common language of the entire world was nothing but Love, we see what kind of literary magic the writer is capable of conjuring up, because in one of the earlier pages when The Englishman talks about the Bible and says that:
"There is a universal language, understood by everybody, but already forgotten. I am in search of that universal language, among other things. That's why I'm here. I have to find a man who knows that universal language."
we can't help but only think of the Tower of Babel and the one common tongue of the people which was split into uncountably many and perplexingly varied by it.
'At that moment, it seemed to him that time stood still, and the Soul of the World surged within him. When he looked into her dark eyes, and saw that her lips were poised between a laugh and silence, he learned the most important part of the language that all the world spoke— the language that everyone on earth was capable of understanding in their heart. It was love. Something older than humanity, more ancient than the desert. Something that exerted the same force whenever two pairs of eyes met, as had theirs here at the well. She smiled, and that was certainly an omen— the omen he had been awaiting, without even knowing he was, for all his life. The omen he had sought to find with his sheep and in his books, in the crystals and in the silence of the desert. It was the pure Language of the World. It required no explanation, just as the universe needs none as it travels through endless time. What the boy felt at that moment was that he was in the presence of the only woman in his life, and that, with no need for words, she recognized the same thing. He was more certain of it than of anything in the world.'
2. If Paulo Coelho's stories can be said to be of a similar quality of any earlier writer, it must be Kahlil Gibran's.

3. The book reminded me of the importance of believing in love at frst sight. I'm a very late believer of it. Until not very long back I used to believe that only after knowing enough of each other must two people be in love. But the world taught me otherwise through years. And I started believing in love at first sight. And it was only recently in a beautiful email with amazing pictures and inspiring words that the idea occurred in words as a theory to me for the first time after it. And the following quote from the book is my second reminder:
'He had been told by his parents and grandparents that he must fall in love and really know a person before becoming committed. But maybe people who felt that way had never learned the universal language. Because, when you know that language, it's easy to understand that someone in the world awaits you, whether it's in the middle of the desert or in some great city. And when two such people encounter each other, and their eyes meet, the past and the future become unimportant. There is only that moment..'

Anyway, after three quarters of the book, I felt the entire plot was turning less deeper and I feared if the ending was not taken good care of, the book was going to lose the impact it had been making so far at the time I close it. And unfortunately it turned out to be slightly true, if not entirely. Nevertheless, it fulfills in a wonderful way what is written on the back cover. That it's a book about following your dream. It has managed far better than most of the so-called spiritual self-help books that make similar claims and turn out to be totally useless, like The Monk who Sold his Ferrari . It says that it's about fulfilling your dreams. Duh! But then, perhaps there are people who like it that way.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Mercy 'n' wrath..

Narrated Abu Qilaba:
Anas said, "Some people of `Ukl or `Uraina tribe came to Medina and its climate did not suit them. So the Prophet ordered them to go to the herd of (Milch) camels and to drink their milk and urine (as a medicine). So they went as directed and after they became healthy, they killed the shepherd of the Prophet and drove away all the camels. The news reached the Prophet early in the morning and he sent (men) in their pursuit and they were captured and brought at noon. He then ordered to cut their hands and feet (and it was done), and their eyes were branded with heated pieces of iron, They were put in 'Al−Harra' and when they asked for water, no water was given to them." Abu Qilaba said, "Those people committed theft and murder, became infidels after embracing Islam and fought against Allah and His Apostle ."

- (Sahih Bukhari: vol 1, book 4, hadith 234)

Narrated Abu Ma`bad (the slave of Ibn `Abbas):
Allah's Apostle said to Mu`adh, "be afraid of the curse of an oppressed person because there is no screen between his invocation and Allah."

- (Sahih Bukhari: vol 2, book 24, hadith 573)

[Snow pic courtesy: Tony the Misfit
Green pic courtesy: ƥɾαɳαʋ]

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Enchantress of Florence

Title: The Enchantress of Florence
Author: Salman Rushdie
Publ: Jonathan Cape
ISBN: 978-0-224-06163-6

When I read Fury I felt it very un-Rushdie-like. More so, when you compare it with his books like Midnight's Children and The Satanic Verses which contain essentially nothing but an interesting and colourful jumble of words and ideas and don't seem to bother much about a proper structure or form for the plot itself. This book, The Enchantress of Florence is an amazing blend of the two styles of Rushdie. The story has a proper beginning and ending and has a very easy flow. It takes place between two geographies of the sixteenth century, namely the Mughal empire under Akbar and the Renaissance Florence. It is, as the author himself says and is also obvious from the book itself, Rushdie's book in the making of which he has done the most amount of research.

One fine morning, a yellow-haired Italian from Florence appears from the blue before Akbar's court and claims that he is a long-lost relative of the Mughal family, having descended from Qara Koz (the Enchantress). The story unfolds as you read on, and the suspense as to how could the two different people from two different corners of the globe, who are otherwise, i.e., in real history, far from being connected in any way, be possibly  related (blood realtion at that! (sort of)) is tightly held until last unlike many of Rushdie's novels, which makes it all the more a gorgeous read. One thing I found very different from other works of Rushdie, apart from other factors, is that it's not just the playful Rushdie all the way; one can spot Rushdie the philosopher in at least a few passages in this book, if not spread all over the place, requesting your company in his serious thoughts about love, ego and issues such as incest and troubles with relationships.

I was expecting that the story would be almost equally divided between Florence and Fatehpur Sikri, but the Florence part was found to take up more pages than the fabulous Sikri of Akbar. But I enjoyed the Indian part more than the Western narrative, probably because I could relate more to the Eastern history being from India myself than the tales of Florence of which I hardly know anything. But nevertheless no doubt this is a book of substance, and perhaps the most matured and most polished work of Rushdie so far, scrupulously chiselled to perfection. 

Valuable literature, indeed!

[Note: For a better understanding of the book, or the making of it, to be more precise, please read Rushdie's interview with James Mustich: Salman Rushdie Spins a Yarn in Barnes & Noble Review.]

Friday, April 9, 2010

glory and stones..

Narrated Kharija bin Zaid bin Thabit:
"Um Al-'Ala', an Ansari woman who gave the pledge of allegiance to the Prophet said to me, "The emigrants were distributed amongst us by drawing lots and we got in our share 'Uthman bin Maz'un. We made him stay with us in our house. Then he suffered from a disease which proved fatal. When he died and was given a bath and was shrouded in his clothes, Allah's Apostle came. I said, 'May Allah be merciful to you, O Abu As-Sa'ib! I testify that Allah has honored you'. The Prophet said, 'How do you know that Allah has honored him?' I replied, 'O Allah's Apostle! Let my father be sacrificed for you! On whom else shall Allah bestow His honor?' The Prophet said, 'No doubt, death came to him. By Allah, I too wish him good, but by Allah, I do not know what Allah will do with me though I am Allah's Apostle.' "
- (Sahih Bukhari: Book 23, hadith 334)

Narrated `Abdullah bin `Umar :
"The Jew brought to the Prophet a man and a woman from amongst them who have committed (adultery) illegal sexual intercourse. He ordered both of them to be stoned (to death), near the place of offering the funeral prayers beside the mosque."
- (Sahih Bukhari: Book 23, hadith 413)

[stones pic courtesy: faith goble]

Monday, April 5, 2010


'Narrated Abu Huraira: The Prophet (p.b.u.h) said, "It is not permissible for a woman who believes in Allah and the Last Day to travel for one day and night except with a Mahram." '

- (Sahih Bukhari: book-20, hadith-194)

'Narrated `Aisha: "A woman from the tribe of Bani Asad was sitting with me and Allah's Apostle (p.b.u.h) came to my house and said, "Who is this?" I said, "(She is) So and so. She does not sleep at night because she is engaged in prayer." The Prophet said disapprovingly: "Do (good) deeds which is within your capacity as Allah never gets tired of giving rewards till you get tired of doing good deeds." " '

- (Sahih Bukhari: book-21, hadith-251n)

(Image courtesy: siavash laghai)

Sunday, April 4, 2010

dua, baddua... again...

Narrated Anas bin Malik: 'Once the Prophet (p.b.u.h) entered the Mosque and saw a rope hanging in between its two pillars. He said, "What is this rope?" The people said, "This rope is for Zainab who, when she feels tired, holds it (to keep standing for the prayer.)" The Prophet said, "Don't use it. Remove the rope. You should pray as long as you feel active, and when you get tired, sit down." '

- (Sahih Bukhari: book-21, hadith-251r)

* * *

Narrated Masruq: 'We were with `Abdullah and he said, "When the Prophet saw the refusal of the people to accept Islam he said, "O Allah! Send (famine) years on them for (seven years) like the seven years (of famine during the time) of (Prophet) Joseph." So famine overtook them for one year and destroyed every kind of life to such an extent that the people started eating hides, carcasses and rotten dead animals. Whenever one of them looked towards the sky, he would (imagine himself to) see smoke because of hunger." '

- (Sahih Bukhari: book-17, hadith-121)

Thursday, April 1, 2010


Narrated `Abdullah: The Prophet prayed, and when he had finished the prayers he was asked, "O Allah's Apostle! Has there been any change in the prayers?" He said, "What is it?" The people said, "You have prayed so much and so much." So the Prophet bent his legs, faced the Qibla and performed two prostrations (of Sahu) and finished his prayers with Taslim. When he turned his face to us he said, "If there had been anything changed in the prayer, surely I would have informed you but I am a human being like you and liable to forget like you. So if I forget remind me."

- (Sahih Bukhari - book:8, hadith:394)

* * *

Narrated `Aisha and `Abdullah bin `Abbas: When the last moment of the life of Allah's Apostle came he started putting his 'Khamisa' on his face and when he felt hot and short of breath he took it off his face and said, "May Allah curse the Jews and Christians for they built the places of worship at the graves of their Prophets."

- (Sahih Bukhari - book:8, hadith:427)