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The Zahir was a book I read some 7 years ago. I chose to go back to it because, I came across my Zahir and could not quite remember all that the term encompassed and wanted to be reminded of it again. A quick search on the World Wide Web revealed that Zahir in Urdu meant something that was clear, apparent, manifest, perceivable, revealed, etc. However, in the words of Jorge Luis Borges, it is a word that arose in the 18th century in Islamic tradition and in Arabic ‘it means visible, present, incapable of going unnoticed. It is someone or something which, once we have come into contact with them or it, gradually occupies our every thought, until we can think of nothing else. This can be considered either a state of holiness or of madness.’

In my case, I could identify with the caption that Paulo Coelho gave this book, ‘It begins with a glimpse or a passing thought. It ends in obsession.’ I hoped reading the book would put the current obsession to a rest and thus ventured on to rediscover the things that the story had once revealed to me.

One of the very first ideas this book tries to deal with is freedom. I – like the protagonist – consider freedom my most prized possession, even when it comes at a price! However, I also understand that, ‘freedom is not the absence of commitments, but the ability to choose – and commit myself to – what is best for me.’ Told in the first person narrative, the author seems to be in a constant battle within, throughout the book; a battle not to give in to society’s expectations, to not live by the strict moral code of conduct that someone, somewhere in the past had said was to be followed by all men and women. After all, is it not my life? Should I not be the one to make the call on what I do for a living, where I choose to go, whom I choose to fall in love with, what I choose to wear?

So, maybe I do manage to take control of my life and exercise my freedom, but what are the commitments I choose to commit myself to? A wise man recently told me that money ‘is the least important of the important things in life’. In this rat-race where everyone seems to be consumed by the idea of consumerism, what then, should I choose to chase? Over the past few years, I have realised just how powerful the idea of death can be. I realised like the character in the book that, we are in a constant battle with death, and although we know that death will emerge as the ultimate victor in this battle, this awareness makes us capable of a limitless love; for, we have nothing really to lose! It helps us to leave the past behind, to NOT fret about the future, but to just live in the present, and enjoy the Here and the Now…

My idea of happiness is intertwined with a few other ideas I have gathered over the years; it is to have a job like the candy-seller in The Alchemist, where he was selling candies because he wanted to do it; to have just enough friends to know that you are never truly alone; to always be open to change and adventure; to always have the courage to stand up for what you believe; to try to understand the people you love, without judging them and knowing within yourself that your love for them will never translate into a licence to make them suffer; to love someone because you want to! Most importantly, however, I learnt that it was alright that you do not always have a plan and your only certainty in life is death, because as Constantine Cavafy put it, ‘Ithaca has given you the beautiful voyage./Without her you would never have set out on the road./She has nothing more to give you.

Finally, on a confessional note, I agree with the author’s view that a writer can only write about his own life and that we write because we want to be loved. For, we can only be so creative if we know what we are talking about and rarely does one make oneself the antagonist in one’s own tale!

The Zahir, by Paulo Coelho

The Zahir, by Paulo Coelho

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