What does Paulo Coelho do that no other writer I’ve read seems to have done? He raises the questions that are always at the back of our mind but never spoken about, for fear of derision and embarrassment, or out of plain timidity. His books are always extremely compelling and realistic, and each book of his that I read is memorable in its own way.
I have just finished The Zahir, and what a remarkable book it is! It is the story of a writer who goes in search of his wife across continents. He doesn’t know what is wrong, if she has been kidnapped or walked out of a seemingly happy marriage, and wonders what he should do to get her back. This book, like his other works, is about courage and love, and the struggle people have to put up with to get to what they want, to figure out what they want. The Zahir, as explained in the book, is something that a person becomes obsessed with when he comes in contact with, to such an extent that he can think of nothing else.
When people have the means to make their dream come true, what comes in their way of realising it is the fear of failure, and of what life will be like in case things don’t work out. Coelho talks about it as he relates his own struggle to begin writing a book, once he knew that was what he wanted to do and had the means to do it. The love and support of his then wife, Esther, came to his rescue.
The book says it is important to forget the past to move on with the future. This is something we probably know; only, it is not easy to get rid of the baggage we carry. Maybe it is possible through conscious effort. The means used here is repeating the story of your life to another person, as many times as possible, so that it no longer belongs to you.
One of the things I identified with, and shall not be afraid to mention, now that it has been talked of by Coelho, is making weird pacts with God. I don’t know if everybody does it; I have never asked anyone. It is like asking for a sign from God that something will happen the way we want it; for example, if the phone rings in the next five minutes, we’re going to have some rain tonight. Illogical pacts. It is just a strange form of seeking assurance from God. I’d like to know if there are other people who do it as well.
The book explores unhappiness and loneliness; the need to feel wanted at all times, to know that you matter to your friends and family. The part about loneliness really touched me; it was another of those things that I’d often felt but never spoken out about. Which is why we have Coelho.
There is one thing that is often advocated by several religions and traditions- whirling and dancing, to get in touch with the energy of love. The Witch of Portobello introduced me to the idea, and reading about Sufism and Rumi, I have come to learn that this seems to be quite a popular, ancient practice, and it is perhaps our inhibitions that prohibit us from taking to such demonstrative forms of getting in touch with the energy that pervades the universe. The Zahir mentions it as well.
The courage to do what we really want to doesn’t come easily, especially when it is something that doesn’t conform with the rules that were once set down as proper for societal living. Love and courage, as I mentioned earlier, form the theme of this book. No amount of effort on my part can do justice to this magnificent book; there are parts of it that each of us will certainly identify with. Coelho sets down on paper what we always think about but never dare to ask. It helps alleviate the loneliness to know there are other people who think the way you do, and you’re never alone in the world, no matter what you feel.