The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

“When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

Little did I know that one of the most impressive dialogues of Shahrukh’s block buster movie “Om Shanti Om” was inspired by the basic maxim of “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho, a book that eluded me for quite a long time.

It has been years since I first heard about Alchemist- apparently a wise man who can transform anything into gold. The promise of conjuring precious metal out of mundane things stirred my imagination and I was dying to read about it. By now, I have even forgotten how and when I came to know of the title. Probably, it was much before I learnt the sing-song name of Paulo Coelho, the famous Brazilian author.

the-alchemist-by-paulo-coelho About a year ago, I was silently ushered into Paulo’s world, with his exquisite portrayal of a prostitute in Eleven Minutes. I was impressed with his maturity and sensitivity and became more adamant than ever to read “The Alchemist”. However, as I usually depend upon my local library for most of the books, and The alchemist was perpetually listed on ‘issued books’, I ended up reading Brida and was thoroughly disappointed with the shoddy treatment of magic and pagan tradition and forgot all about my initial obsession for Coelho’s writings.

However, just a few days ago, while casually surfing the net, I chanced upon “The Alchemist” being sold for just Rs 150 on Flipkart. In a flash, all my long forgotten curiosity about the book returned and I ordered it online. And within three days, the book that was evading me for years now, was all mine!

The moment, I looked at the enticing scarlet cover page, featuring a horse rider galloping across the desert, somehow, I felt I had made the right decision, this book is definitely going to be a treasure in my bookshelf. My belief was further strengthened by the unusual prologue, that gave a totally new meaning to the mythical story of Narcissus.

And, then began the real story, with a shepherd named Santiago, trying to sleep in a ruined church in Spain with his tired sheep, before he could continue his journey. Apparently, the boy is not a shepherd by birth. In fact, he chose this profession over the coveted career of a Priest, as he loved to travel and wanted to see more of the world. However, for some days, he is feeling obstructed in his real aim, as there is a recurrent dream, forcing him to go to Egyptian Pyramids. Santiago consults a gypsy woman to understand the meaning of his dream, and is told that a treasure is waiting for him in Pyramids.

Startled with this sudden change in fate, Santiago gets confused, whether he should continue his mundane life as a shepherd or should he blindly trust his destiny and proceed towards the unknown desert. One thing leads to another, with each omen paving path for a new discovery and soon enough the boy finds himself amidst the strangers in Africa, ready to embark on a challenging journey across the sprawling desert, enticing him with a strange yet familiar language.

I must say that I found the beginning quite engaging. The author created an aura of suspense around the boy, the gypsy woman and the old King of Salem, and fired my imagination with a promise of treasure. The entire story seemed to be based on a gamble, that Santiago would have to take, if he wants to realize his dream. And, a doubt was created, whether it is wise to blindly follow your heart, or should one be more vigilant in keeping one’s emotions and desires under check? As the story progressed, the protagonist is flooded with this dilemma time and again, and every time he makes through with a little divine help.

But, towards the middle of the story, Coelho chose to indulge in his mystic meanderings a bit too often, raving about the language of the world, the universal soul and all the mumbo jumbo about obscure traditions and spiritual bantering. The continuous philosophical discourse made the book somewhat boring and obscure. And, I had a fleeting thought that probably, this book was also going down the dreaded path of Brida.

But, thankfully, the lull lasted for only a few pages. With the entry of Alchemist, the novel was back on track, throbbing once again with suspense and thrill. To add icing to the cake, the unusual climax elevated the status of the novel, transforming it into a witty and entertaining story. It redeemed the author’s reputation and I forgot all the obscure passages and boring diversions, I had to undertake in the course of this novel.

More than anything, it reaffirmed my belief that one should follow his heart as the heart really knows where your true treasure lies. And, more often than not, it lies nearer to our doorstep than we ever realize.

At the end of the day, ‘The Alchemist’ is not just about the transformation of a worthless metal into precious gold, but is also about the transformation of an immature boy into a sensible man. It is a unique blend of philosophy, spirituality and traditions hidden beneath the garb of an exciting and engaging story, much on the lines of “The Monk who sold His Ferrari”, but with more emphasis on entertainment and story telling.

All in all, despite a few flaws, I am satisfied with the long winding tale of philosophical stone, that may touch and transform your dreams and revitalize your thirsty desires with the elixir of life. It is indeed a valuable possession of in my own little library and is pegged high on my ‘read-again’ list.


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