How do you go back to a book that shook the world underneath your feet and gave wings to your pompous dreams, and still manage to give an objective review? The answer is – You don’t! This piece is not so much a review as much as it is a reflection of where I find myself a decade since I last read it…

Once upon a time, a twelve-year-old picked up a book that was to change her life. The book would not only teach her to follow her dreams, but show her that poetry was not restricted to a world with strict rhyme schemes and iambic pentameters! She went on to live her life a little more vivaciously, she found the courage to stand up for a few things, and she gained the wisdom to choose her battles.

And about a decade later, she finds herself in a confused state of mind. She is not sure where her heart or treasure lies, her destiny seems a hazy patchwork that she needs to untangle and make sense of. Then one day, she has a conversation about how, ‘when one wants something, the entire world conspires in helping you achieve it’. She decides to pick up that book again and rediscover the wisdom that had enthralled her almost a decade ago, and hopefully find a renewed purpose in her existence.

The story in itself was neatly surmised on the cover of the book, ‘a magical fable about following your dream’. Santiago’s story is about a Spanish shepherd boy who travels to the markets of Tangier and crosses the stretch of the Saharan desert to reach the Pyramids in Egypt, with the hopes of unearthing a treasure that he dreamt about. The beauty of the book lies in the poetic writing of Paulo Coelho, the anecdotes that are interspersed in the narration and the snippets of profound wisdom that it encompasses.

One thing that really caught my attention on this second reading was the part about the candy seller. As the boy helps the candy seller assemble his shop, he looks at the smile on the candy seller’s face and realizes that he was ‘doing it because it’s what he wants to do’. It is as simple as that; you could be selling candies, but as long as you are doing it simply because you want to – and not as a means to an end – you could have a shot at being truly happy!

Then there was the crystal shop merchant who was too used to the way things were and did not want to deal with change. We all seem to have this penchant for maintaining the status quo, even though somewhere within us, we all know that the only constant on the planet is change. We fight it, we run away from it, but somewhere along the way, change always catches up with us, it overtakes us and leaves us with two options; to adapt, or to gracefully bow out of the race. As they say in Arabic; Maktub (it is written)!

But most of all, we see in the crystal merchant, a reluctance to realise his dreams, lest it all turns out to be a big disappointment. Ever had a dream that you cradled with great fondness and when the time came to realise it, you developed a cold feet and decided that the possibility of realising did not quite outweigh the likely disenchantment you would suffer? This author once was faced with a similar situation, and she is proud to report to you that she found the courage to live out her dream (even if it was short-lived) and during the time that she was living out her destiny, she was consumed by it, everything else in her life was relegated to the side-lines. If that was not enough reason for you to take that leap, Paulo Coelho assures you that, ‘the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself’ and that ‘there is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure’.

One other topic I like to dwell on would be that of love. My Human Rights professor felt the need to educate me about the need to feel a ‘sense of belonging’, and how sometimes finding a person would help in that process. He went on to explicate why exactly they call it ‘falling’ in love (apparently, you lose all rationality). His explanations disturbed me. Now, I would not exactly call myself ‘cosmopolitan’, but I fail to feel the need to geographically restrict myself in order to feel a sense of belonging. And why would I want anything to do with love when all it would do was constrain me, constrict me and slowly asphyxiate my joie de vivre?

Coelho talks about a love that loves without reason; something that helps you make even more sense of the world, something that gives you the courage to do extraordinary things, something that makes us strive to become better than we are. More importantly, it reiterates something Apostle Paul told the world a long time ago about the patience, kindness and perseverance of love. The story assures you that if what you found is pure, it would never spoil and you could always come back to it. And just like that, I find that there is still hope left for me!

The Alchemist

The Alchemist

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