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What are the treasures that life holds for us? Is there a fixed path predetermined for everyone? Do we know what we are destined to do? What is the greater plan that we’re supposed to partake in? Do we even have a choice? The life we’re living, was it meant to be the way it is? Do we know what our heart desires? And if we do, are we brave enough to pursue it?
These are among the plethora of questions that circulate our minds in various stages of our lives. And ironically, in all of our thousands of years of history, no one has been able to answer questions of such nature, accumulated in the vast abyss of the universe over the centuries except a select few.
From an early age, we start learning about the various fields of studies ranging in sciences, arts and literature so much so that we impose them on ourselves and categorize our lives according to the learned courses of our lives. Living them by the hard and fast rules, theories and already tested laws. Questions of the aforementioned nature shake up the finely built walls of reasons and logic and make us question what we’d already learned. They demand us to unlearn what we know and then relearn them in a newer light
The need to achieve distinction and acknowledgment in today’s competitive age has become a necessity we can’t ignore for fear of failing in life, of not having what we could’ve had is a harsh aspect of life that we are not too eager to accept. It’s not our fault though, it’s human nature. We desire security, food and shelter on account of gaining some semblance to a happy and satisfied life.
Paulo Coelho’s the Alchemist is a novel based on the spiritual maturation of a person; a journey that a person has to embark on in order to fulfill a preordained destiny and claim it with enthusiasm, courage and vigor, learning to trust the signs and omens laid out in life to help us achieve our dreams.
On a personal level, I wasn’t that adamant on starting the novel as it entails a lot of hopes and expectations on the reader’s mind, inflicting him to like it because so many renowned critics and writers are raving about it. The other reason being I had never read any of the author’s work, making it a little hard for me to grasp the writer’s style without any familiarity with his prestigious work. It was of great pleasure to me to discover that it had crumbled all of my reservations regarding the novel’s merit.
The story of Santiago; the lowly shepherd from the little town near the ruined castle in Spain, his belief in dreams, the path in discovering his destiny and his hardships, both of body and mind are a great source of inspiration to me. Not just because I, as a person am bound to support a character favoring relatable conditions, but because his genuine struggle and the portrayal of his shortcomings taught me an important lesson, one that’s been observed by many a thousand yet followed by only a few.
The introduction of characters in the lead protagonist’s life, starting from his parents, the gypsy woman, the cloaked king, the thief, the candy maker, the merchant’s daughter, the crystal shop owner, the historian, the robbers, the camel walker, Fatimah and lastly the Alchemist, all of them had a poignant role in Santiago’s life. Portrayal of different religious believers like the Catholics, Muslims, Jews and Buddhists, all shows a time and culture enriched with magic, dreams and treasures.
Although the story is set in Europe and Africa, the different cultures portrayed are somewhat relatable to our customs and traditions. Especially those of Tangier and then other Muslim places that Santiago ventured to in his journey to discover his destiny. The preaching, the praying, the unavailability of wine, women observing pardah by wearing a veil are amongst a few.
Some of the characters that resonated with me were those of Fatimah, the crystal merchant and the camel walker. Fatimah because she was brave enough to let go of Santiago knowing very well that the desert would suck him up and his return was and never could be guaranteed. And still she saw the best life had to offer in that and held on to it. The crystal merchant because he’s a man who has spent the better part of his life and now he’s spending the remaining days pining after a dream that could be easily fulfilled yet he cannot take that final step. He is like many of us, he has dreamt of the pilgrimage to Makkah all his life and thought of all the scenarios that may occur and held on to it so tightly, that now he’s scared that what will he do if that dream is fulfilled? He’d have nothing left to look forward to in his life. And that is the essence of human nature stripped down to its core; we’re simply scared of what we don’t know. Thirdly, the camel walker’s life is very gripping because he has seen happiness and he has seen grief and through it all, he never lost sight of what is important. He gave the most important message in the novel; eat when it’s time to eat and walk when its time to walk. Highlighting the fragility of life and how it’s useless to worry over things that may or may not happen. Teaching the readers as well as Santiago that live life as of present and let go of the past and stop being anxious over the unforeseeable future.
The one thing that pulled the strings of my heart through Santiago’s journey was the very human nature of his aspirations and dreams and how he had to learn to cope with difficult situations by overlooking the shortcomings.
Through Santiago’s journey of discovering universal language of love and speaking to his own heart,King of Salem’s quote struck home quite a few times,
“…People learn, early in their lives, what is their reason for being, …Maybe that’s why they give up on it so early too. But that’s the way it is.”
In the end, it leaves us to ponder whether giving up on one’s dream when one is tested with hurdles is the solution or whether we should stay strong and resolute in our dreams and plunge head on into the Soul of the Universe and fulfill our destinies, gaining contentment and happiness.