Category Archives: Literature

Alchemist – A fascinating quote

And this quote, comes from the alchemist himself in The Alchemist:

No matter what he does, every person on earth plays a central role in the history of the world. And normally he doesn’t know it.

That may indeed sound to be too strong a statement, especially for those of us who are strong believers in existentialism, but there is a clear sense of optimism (of our influence) and responsibility (of our actions) in it. The quote is when a Roman centurion goes to find Jesus and felt to be in the presences of the divine. There is a slightly related story in Many Lives, Many Masters by Brian Weiss.

Having had the privilege of visiting the holy land, I can slightly picture some of the settings, and that makes these two stories so much more interesting for me.

Back Porch in Plunge

Moon lit backporch
next to the Baltic sea
where my soul lies
washed in the sea
and sometimes sleeps
in a hammock
swinging under its own weight.

 

The blemishless
reflections in the Plateliai
make it difficult to
distinguish up from down,
and God from the dead Salmonid
lying at the bottom of the lake.

 

We have very long nights
and sometimes we venture to the
inside of the house
where the TV sits and
watch movies through the long darkness.

 

My uncle tells me that if
I fell through the Earth,
I would end up right in his
backporch in Auckland.

 

Then I can stay there
for a few days
and then I can come back
very fast and create
a fishing hole in lake
when I emerge slightly drenched.

[A poem, that I wrote back in 2002, but then forgot all about it.]

Tiger on Prague Metro

I am somehow reminded of beautiful Prague, even though it has been almost a couple of years since I was last there.  But today, I am thinking not of the city beautiful, but of a tiger on its metro (or more appropriately, a tyger).

A Tyger on the Prague Metro

Prague metro was built in late 70s (1st line) and early 80s (2nd and 3rd lines).  During that time, it was still a different world even if we limit ourselves to the economic structure.  Today it is operated by Dopravní podnik hlavního města Prahy, which is a public company, and one can wonder how that affects its decision making.

The decision we are talking about is this: when you are running a metro, do you put a lucrative commercial on the most visible spot, or do you put William Blake, who refuses to pay you a single Czech Koruna (Kč) for highlighting his poem, but might give a moment of peace to the travelers?

I don’t know the answer, I can only comment upon what a beautiful moment I felt in Prague that blissful day.

Here is the poem again, since the picture did not capture it as well as it should have.

Tiger Tiger. burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye.
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies.
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat.
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain,
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp.
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears
And watered heaven with their tears:
Did he smile His work to see?
Did he who made the lamb make thee?

Tiger Tiger burning bright,
In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

The Tiger
William Blake

“Everyday was there to be lived..” – Alchemist

Another wonderful quote from the Alchemist:

Every day was there to be lived or to mark one’s departure from this world. … He had lived every one of his days intensely since he had left home so long ago.  If he died tomorrow, he would already have seen more than other shepherds, and he was proud of that.

Reminds me of Dasvidaniya, even though Dasvidaniya was more about catching up.

3 Selected Quotes from “The Alchemist”

"The Alchemist" by Paulo CoelhoAs a book that has sold alzillion copies, has been translated into so many languages, and has been read by so many people, The Alchemist needs no formal review.  Instead, here are 3 quotes from the book, that are phenomenal. While no replacement for reading the book, the quotes do convey what I as a reader took away from the book.

Quote 1: Part I, Page 39 of paperback version.

I’m going to become bitter and distrustful of people because one person betrayed me.  I’m going to hate those who have found their treasure because I never found mine.  And I’m going to hold on to what little I have, because I’m too insignificant to conquer the world.

These are Santiago’s feelings right after being robbed of all his  belongings.  The three fears that Santiago has are quite distinct: (i) fear of becoming apprehensive of strangers, (ii) fear of hatred of successful people, (iii) fear of becoming petty and miserly.

Readers identify with different aspects of the protagonist, and this fear is the aspect that I identify with the most.  I certainly hope that small or big setbacks will not set me back. Whether this is the ideal or my current self may be irrelevant.

Quote 2: Part II, Page 64.

The hills of Andalusia were only two hours away, but there was an entire desert between him and the Pyramids.  Yet the boy felt that there was another way to regard this situation: he was actually two hours closer to his treasure … the fact that the two hours had stretched into an entire year didn’t matter.

What could be more literary way of articulating the economic theory of sunk cost?  In the preface, Coelho mentions 4 major obstacles in realizing your destiny: (i) the notion of impossibility, (ii) the shackles of love, (iii) fear of defeats and (iv) the fear of success.  By the time we overcome some of these obstacles, we can think – Oh, but we have already lost too much time. Or, we can think: this is where we are, now what?

Quote 3: Part II, Page 68.

But he was able to understand one thing: making a decision was only the beginning of things.  When someone makes a decision, he is really diving into a strong current that will carry him to places he had never dreamed of when he first made the decision.

Each decision is the starting point of a new journey – a fork in the definition of a new parallel universe – a realization of our potential.  Whether we realize our potential positively or negatively is subject to interprCastle Falletation.  Similarly, decisions themselves are rarely right or wrong – mostly it is just our interpretation of the result of the decision that was taken, and our estimate of the road not taken.  How can we compare a road taken, with all its rewards and its pitfalls that we experienced concretely, with a road that we never took and of which cannot reasonably guess rewards and travails?  Yet, we do it all the time.

And how about the indecisive ones amongst us?  Not making a decision is akin to making a passive decision of maintaining status quo.  This is true in a corporate sense as well – decision making is a key distinguishing reason for companies performing average, and companies performing well.

Flava and Albius (and Neruda)

All deserts lead to RomeOnce upon a time, there was an emperor in Rome.  He was an emperor, but he was also a person, and a father of sons and daughters.  His youngest daughter Flava got sick one day and (as these stories go) only got sicker and sicker.  The young Flava was also very dear to the chief poet Albius, who would often take the child on his walks around the palace.

When it was apparent that her end was near, the emperor made a plea to all his poets to create a poem so sweet and so real that the memory of Flava would live forever.  The chief poet Albius was the one who knew her so well and was so in love with the child, that he was able to quickly write a poem in his sorrow.  He wrote about how Flava would run around the palace, how Albius would often spot the sunlight in her hair from a distance, and how she would play mischief with her mother and the important visitors and sometimes torment the birds and sometimes hide some important papers belonging to this or that person.  That afternoon when Albius first read alound his poem, the clouds appeared suddenly and transformed the sunny afternoon into the darkest cloudy rainless day.

The emperor didn’t like the poem at all and immediately instructed Albius to remove all the unfavorable mentions of Flava (playing mischief!) and focus more on the sunshine in the hair of her princess.  But Albius’ poem was written and his sorrow had seen the outlet and it wasn’t going back.  Emperors are usually just, but more so, they are just decisive, and in this particular case, he decided that Albius would hang for the transgressions against his dying child, and die before Flava.  So Albius died, and  all the poets were asked to keep the good portions and remove the bad references to Flava in Albius’ poem.  The congress of the poets worked together for four days, breaking only for small durations until they all decided that there was no way to improve on Albius’ poem since no one could agree on what part was flattering and what part was a transgression.

So, as these stories go, they buried Albius’ poem with Flava and no one remembered her after a few years.

*******

Essential NerudaIn reality though, Pablo Neruda is not Albius and there is no emperor, and he can write anything he wants.

[Original in Spanish]:
Tú estás de pie sobre la tierra, llena
de dientes y relámpagos.
Tú propagas los besos y matas las hormigas.
Tú lloras de salud, de cebolla, de abeja,
de abecedario ardiendo.
Tú eres como una espada azul y verde
y ondulas al tocarte, como un río.

[English Translation:]
You stand your ground, chock full
of teeth and lightening.
You propagate kisses and clobber the ants.
You cry from vitality, from an onion, a bee,
from your burning abecedary.

[From”Oda Con un Lamento” in “Essential Neruda“]
You can read the full poem in Spanish here, and in English here.

Book (non) Review – The Alchemist

"The Alchemist" by Paulo CoelhoThat anything remains to be said about “The Alchemist” is highly debatable.  That anything remains to be said by me is touching upon ridiculous, since I am pretty much the last person to read the book that has sold over 300 million copies.  I am sure there are people who have not read this book yet, but let us not talk about the 3 year olds, people who only communicate using whistling language, beautiful spice girls married to football stars and US vice presidential candidates right now.

Suppose all your friends went to the National Museum of Natural History, and saw this beautiful Hope Diamond and came back and told you all about it.  But for years you didn’t go there, until more of your friends went and saw it and told you about it.  And then your aunts and uncles and everyone else saw it and told you about it.  And then finally your FedEx delivery guy told you about it.  And then you went and saw the Hope Diamond.  Who would you write the review for?

"The Hope Diamond" at NMNH
“The Hope Diamond” – Click here to buy now

[Picture courtesy Ken Lund]