The Zahir


The first time I read this book was in 2006. I was 25 and was just married , the entire world looked rosy to me. I was discovering books, the spiritual side in me , and trying to get to my own set of definitions on many things in my life and in life in general. Above all, I had decided to love everything Paulo Coelho would write.

Yesterday when rummaging through my old blog, I came across my review of the book ‘The Zahir’ when I read it the first time. What I wrote there piqued my interest. Though I do not feel the same way about Paulo Coelho anymore (from being someone who used to worship him , I’ve grown to be someone who accepts that he can write bad books too, and hence like him for just the two good books he has written, at least in my opinion and not buy his books anymore), I realized that the review I wrote had many points in it which still made sense to me.

For years, I’ve recommended this book to many newly-weds, many friends who had some interest in spirituality or thought Alchemist was the greatest thing to get out of Coelho’s pen or had radical thoughts about love, belonging and attachment.
A voracious reader himself, this is one of the few books I and the husband liked together back then.
But after reading the old review, I had to verify if the book meant same to me after all these years.

I am 30 now. I have read many more books, both on spirituality and by Paulo Coelho, and have started my first step towards improving my understanding of the existence of humans, the soul and everything. I’ve come to terms with the fact that I am not even tad bit religious but heavily spiritual, and have begun to understand that I do not do anything because it has to be done , unless someone explained the logic behind that act to me.
Above all, I have been married for almost 6 years, hence have had my share of ups and downs in the marriage, my questions about being married and togetherness, my own set of arguments, my feeling of where-am-I-going-in-this-life, my fights with the demons society has been throwing at me and my resistance to not adhere to the norm just because I had to.
I wanted to see if Zahir would still make sense to me and if I would still continue to recommend this to people as one of the best books by Coelho and for married couples.

Well, the short answer is yes. I will continue to recommend this as a must-read for couples. The slight difference is that, I would recommend this book to all couples who have been married for a little longer while. Especially if you do not have kids. Newly-weds might not appreciate this book because of the rose-tinted glasses they see the world with. It does make a lot of difference to the way we think about marriage, the norms of the society, the rules of love and above all about ourselves.

For the long answer, read on…

To start with, Zahir is a Arabic word, meaning clear. There is a similar derivation of this word in Hindi also, meaning the same. In the context of this book, Zahir is something one sees so clearly that it consumes a person’s every single thought to the point of becoming his obsession. That is what happens to the narrator in the book when he suddenly realizes that his wife has left him. Probably for another man. Without as much as a goodbye. After 10 years of being in a what he thinks happy marriage. And he cannot place why. And this thought consumes his every action, thought and word for a period of two years. He finds other things to do with his life, but the need to understand why Esther left him continues to eat  him till one day he is given an opportunity to find out why. In that process, he answers many questions he asked himself, remembers many conversations he and Esther had when they were married and rediscovers himself and almost gives himself a new birth with a fresh outlook. How he does that and if he makes himself worthy of being loved by her again or not is the story. A very well written one. Ruffling many thoughts in your head.

Like every book I read, I have a couple of takeaways myself from this book. Some very important topics that I have been mulling about and have been having internal conversations about have been touched upon in this book, and I have to start exploring them again, this time with my partner, in this case the husband. And the best part in this case is that my thought process had begun in this direction for a while now, its about rethinking it with the thoughts from this book as reference points.

One theme I have noticed so far in my life and something that is underlined in the book is the need for a closure - How important it is for a person to have a closure on anything he is emotionally connected to, without which he cannot continue living normally. Every relationship between two people, when it ends needs to have a proper closure for either of them to continue with their respective lives. For a long time I denied the need for a closure in my life, but only when I achieved it did I realize what it meant to me. A closure gives you a chance to take a look at the relationship, summarize on what it meant to you, how it has changed you and respect the other person for giving you a chance to be in his/her life. You may regret the relationship or cherish it, but giving it a closure after it ends will make you ready to move on, and to accept other relationships into your life.

On the same note comes the point of letting go. Of the past. Of things that have hurt us. And the things that have brought us great joy. Of things that we regret doing. Or people we hold on to with fear of living without them. The minute we let go, we realize the enormous space it creates in our heart, giving us an opportunity to love and feel again, a way to channelize our energies, or to live with peace with the past.

The society we live in dictates some rules. If you are married you should be with your spouse forever. You should not ever think about the other side of your spouse even if it is glaring. If you are a woman, then you should be a mother. Otherwise you are not a complete woman and have not lived life. If you have been for x no. of years, you should be making y money and should have z material possessions. You should always make your parents happy no matter how it makes you feel. Otherwise you might be a failure. So on and so forth.

We have grown up around these rules, and have been taught to live per them, otherwise we would anger the society. In living according to the rules we tend to forget how to live life. We just live it mechanically, doing things the way they are supposed to be done because that’s how they were dictated to be. We do not give ourselves a chance to think of other ways to do any of these things, and any question on that would ruffle our minds so much that we lose peace, and get scared of the possibilities life might offer if we were to not follow the rules. This fear determines the way we live, we interact and we think. The minute we dare enough to think of other options , we know there is a world of opportunity sitting there.

Like for example the story about why the two tracks in the train are 143.5 centimetres apart. The reason for this dates back to the ancient Romans, and the narrator talks about all the missed opportunities because of no one having ever questioned this rule. The same applies to marriage also. Two people who are destined to be together but with a certain distance between them. Its up to the couple to determine if they want to live like that or not. And if they do, its because they want to live and not because of external reasons.

The society says that if you have been married, then it means that you have to love your spouse is forever. The minute that thought enters your head, you take the spouse for granted. If you are busy to do an activity with your spouse today, you tell yourself that the spouse is not running away and you can do the same activity tomorrow . Most likely, this tomorrow never comes. Either you or the spouse ends up being disappointed, and like all other activities you postpone talking about your feelings also.

Because you are too busy living today. Making money. Taking that one phone call or checking that one email that requires your attention. Or simply because you are too tired to do that today. You do not realize that you have grown apart from  your spouse. A little. But like every drop makes an ocean, every such missed opportunity to talk makes you grow apart , little by little , to such an extent that you do not recognize the person you married. One fine day you wake up and wonder where the chirpy little girl you married is or where the brooding, wanting to change the world guy you fell in love was. Gone, the magic in your marriage, out of the door you shut behind yourself when you were busy living.

If you dare enough then you will face the situation and make amends. If you chose to ignore this , you will continue living, not your life, the life someone else has dictated for you. Add kids to this equation and it changes totally. Even if you realize that you do not know each other anymore, you will sweep this thought under the carpet called Family Life in your mind and stay together for the sake of kids. You live a life your family wanted you to live, and not what you wanted to live. You are not happy. You are just living. And giving unhappy or not-in-love parents to your kids.

The key to all this might be in not taking the person in your life for granted. Respecting the person’s presence, valuing the fact that he/she has thought you good enough that they are staying in your life, caring for you , appreciating you and loving you. Living life every day like it were your last. Now, the last one takes some effort to live up to, but one can always try to be there.

In short, you do not have to do things just because that’s the way they are supposed to be done. You should do things because YOU want to. You should stay with a person because YOU love the person and not because you are married to him/her. You should have kids because YOU want to have kids and not because you are feeling lonely or that your marriage seems to be going nowhere or that’s what your spouse wants to do or since that’s what all married couples do. You should continue working not because that’s what all grown-ups do, but because YOU love what you are doing.

These kind of thoughts are branded as being selfish in the world we live in, but aren’t we all our own islands? We have come to this world alone and will go alone. We will just be gifted by the presence of other people in our lives, they are not here permanently. So why plan your life’s decisions around what other people want you to do. Yes, you can give some concessions to the people in your life, but letting people decide your life’s course would mean you are living their life, their dreams and their plans. Not yours.

As people, we grow everyday. The experiences we face everyday, the learning we encounter with each experience, and the exposure certain things give us, all of these change us , in most cases make us better people. Similarly the people in our life also grow everyday. That is the reason why most of us do not connect with our schoolmates or college friends anymore. We are not 20 anymore when life was just a big party. One way to tackle this is by talking. With at least those who mean the most to us. Regularly, and with an open mind that the other person is growing too. His thoughts need not align with every thought of yours like how they used to be. Respecting the person’s judgement when we talk lets us accept the changes they are going through. Since man is not an solitary being and has contact with various people throughout his life , its up to the people in his life to make themselves worthy of his love. If everyone thinks this way, they all would strive to be better people , so that the ones they love would love them back for what they are, and not because they have to.

The other thought is to accept that nothing is permanent. Not a single thing in this life. This feeling you get when you see your spouse at this instant, well that’s not permanent. It will change a bit the next instant. The pain you feel when someone hurts you, that’s not permanent either. The car that you love so much that you spend hours on cleaning it, well , it will get spoilt any day. Similarly, the life you build with a lot of planning , love and care, that could collapse too. Knowing this, accepting this and still continuing to live will bring a lot of peace and happiness.

It might look like I have launched on a tirade here under the pretext of Zahir, but trust me, when you read the book you will encounter such thoughts yourself. The books makes you think and question many things in your life. Your love for your spouse. Your definition of success. Your need for people. Many of the decisions you’ve taken so far in your life. Your possessiveness towards things you own. All of these. Thinking about them all after you are done reading this book will make you a much peaceful person. And bring more love into your life.

Again, trust me on this.


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