A Sufi Celebration of Life, Inspired By Urdu
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Kab Woh Xahir Hoga Aur Hairan Kar Dega Mujhe
Jitni Bhi Mushkil Mein Hun Aasan Kar Dega Mujhe
— Zafar Iqbal
When will they become obvious/conspicuous and surprise me
And solve every problem I ever had
This is cheat post. Because really…’X’!
So here we are, with Zahir, spelled as Xahir. Because if Zylophone gets to be Xylophone, than my Xahir can definitely manage.
That’s my story and I am sticking to it.
Because this was a cheat post, I decided I’d write about that one idea that has fascinated me for a decade now; the one idea that walked into my life as a book and changed the way I understood a whole lot of fundamental things like passion, and love, and relationship between a man and woman; and a (wo)man and their God.
I had barely stepped into my adulthood when I was introduced to the world of Paulo Coelho. But unlike most of his other loyal fans, my gateway was not the ubiquitous Alchemist. It was The Zahir.
Literally translated, Xahir means something that is obvious, and conspicuous and present. Something that can be tangibly and obviously sensed.
Interestingly, Xahir as a verb is a rather mundane act of making or becoming conspicuous or obvious. Not that Urdu poets have let that hamper their ability to weave masterpieces around the idea.
Khoobiyan Lakh Kisi Mein Ho To Xahir Na Karein
Log Karte Hain Buri Baat Ka Charcha Kaisa
— Daag Dehlvi
Irrespective of how many qualities one might possess, nobody likes to make them conspicuous
And yet, those very people would make an issue out of every flaw and drawback
Apne Chehre Se Jo Xahir Hai Chupayein Kaise
Teri Marzi Ke Mutabiq Nazar Aayein Kaisen
— Waseem Barelvi
How do we hide what is conspicuous in our face
How do we alter our appearance to suit your will
Poetic genius aside, Xahir is a fairly simple and direct idea of making something obvious or expressing something conspicuously.
It is when that word becomes a noun that the magic happens. Because the moment Xahir becomes a noun, it becomes The Obvious — the one dominant presence that is undeniable, the one conspicuous idea that overshadows every other idea, every other thought.
Coelho’s Zahir is a tormented celebration of this presence — of that one conspicuous idea that takes over your life and alters it fundamentally in every sense — material, emotional and spiritual. Coelho’s Zahir is a fictional expression of what Xahir can be, how powerful, how dramatic and how overpowering. Coelho’s Zahir postulates the idea that all of us are born with our own Zahirs — the Xahirs that we consciously and subconsciously chase all our lives; the Xahirs that define who we are and what we want, whether we realize it or not; the Xahirs that consume our life as much as they fuel it.
It is an interesting philosophical proposition, one that I honestly am still peeling the layers of. Because Xahir, in my limited understanding, seems like an idea that is so conspicuous, so omnipresent that it cannot be ignored, and yet so elusive that even a lifetime may not be enough to attain it.
Xahir may be an expression of our innermost desire; it maybe a version of our passion or Junoon; or it maybe a beloved, human or divine whose love consumes our very essence. Xahir maybe our God (which is the best case scenario), our art/passion/dream/idea/project (the next best case scenario) or a lover (an enthralling but scary scenario).
Coelho’s Zahir is (spoiler alert!) the protagonist’s wife, who goes missing, and in her absence becomes so present in her husband’s life that she becomes his Zahir.
Or does she?
It is an interesting question the book raises, because ultimately the spiritual quest that the protagonist unwittingly sets out on while chasing his Zahir leads him to life altering realizations that are way more intense and far-reaching than any love affair, however fierce, can ever aspire to be. Coelho’s Zahir, may seem like a man’s quest for the love of his life, but is actually a means to a very different end — his protagonist’s spiritual upliftment.
And that perhaps is the best way to define and understand our own personal Xahirs. As a means, not the end. Because if your Xahir becomes the ends you aspire for, it will spell certain doom. Xahir, at its very core, is the purest form of obsession — a kind of divinely destructive force that will consume you from within. To make Xahir a productive force, instead of a destructive one, it needs to be tampered with a spiritual understanding of its potential and be utilized as a tool to achieve our higher ends.
Most of us lead such indifferent, mechanical lives that our Xahirs perhaps die a slow, painful death out of boredom. But if we do find it in ourselves to take a plunge into our spiritual reserves and pin-point our Xahir, there is always a possibility of us still ruining the whole enterprise by being literal about it.
For instance, you will be fortunate if your love for another human being is intense enough to become your Xahir. But you will have to remember that beyond the romance and convenience of fiction, most humans are not designed to bear the burden of something as potent as the idea of Xahir. It is unfair on us, and it is unfair on the object of our affection/obsession. Your love can be a powerful force if you direct it towards attaining spiritual goals focused on self improvement. Your Xahir can do wonders in making you a better, and sometimes a more successful human being, not to mention have a great, healthy relationship. The key of course is to know when to unleash your Xahir and when to keep it in check, and know that Xahir is a force, not a personification.
It is not just another human, most materialistic entities and ideas are incapable of containing the idea of Xahir. If writing is your Xahir, your love for the written word will have to be directed towards a Higher goal — like creating good art, or seeking spiritual calm, or connecting with fellow human beings. Because minus the Higher goal, your Xahir will slowly become the idea that consumes and annihilates your existence. And this is not a mere speculation.Many artists have been known to sacrifice their life, both literally and metaphorically, at the altar of their Xahir, their art. Romantic as that notion is, I think to be a great artist, you first need to stay alive, and you need to remember how to live. A balance has to be struck because the appeal in the idea of a mad artist is academic, and you owe it to yourself to lead a good life to create good art.
Of course, there is another end of the spectrum , where you may find the ones who let their Xahir consume them. To be Romeo to your Juliet (or vice versa) or Socrates to your philosophy or Kurt Cobain to your music, has a masochistic, mystical, romantic appeal that the idea of leading a dull balanced life lack.
I tend to prefer life over romance. But you can take your pick. Your Xahir will make way for your choice. Or maybe your choices will make way for your Xahir.
The question is, will you find your Xahir before it finds you?
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