PAULO COELHO

THE TI­TLE OF AU­THOR PAULO COELHO’S MOST FA­MOUS BOOK SUMS UP HIS AT­TI­TUDE TO LIFE, GOD, THE GITA AND BOL­LY­WOOD

Hindustan Times - Brunch - - FRONT PAGE - By Priya Bala

on TAGORE and his po­etry the song and dance of BOL­LY­WOOD and THE BHAGVAD GITA “Out­side In­dia, Bol­ly­wood movies are in­ad­e­quately un­der­stood and ap­pre­ci­ated, [just] as the Gita is!” [ AN HTBRUNCH EX­CLU­SIVE ] #PauloCoel­hoInBrunch

I n the in­tro­duc­tion to Hip­pie, his lat­est work, Paulo Coelho writes that ev­ery­thing that fol­lows truly hap­pened to him. The pro­tag­o­nist is called Paulo and he em­barks on a jour­ney from Am­s­ter­dam to Nepal on the ram­shackle Magic Bus that tra­versed the route in the era of hip­pies, flower power and free love. He does not make it to the sub­con­ti­nent, de­cid­ing to stay back in Is­tan­bul and ex­plore the mys­tic tra­di­tions of the place. Paulo Coelho may not have been to In­dia yet, but he finds con­stant in­spi­ra­tion in In­dian lit­er­a­ture and le­gends. The fol­low­ing lines from the Gi­tan­jali pref­ace Hip­pie: “Ithought­that myvoy­age had­come­toit­send at the last limit of my­power, –that thep­ath­be­foreme was closed, that pro­vi­sion­swere ex­hausted, and­thetime­come­to­take shel­te­rina silent ob­scu­rity. ButIfind­that thy­will­knows noend­inm And­whenold­words­die­ou­ton­thetongu , newmelodies­break­forth­fromthe­heart; and­wherethe­old­track­sarelost, new­coun­try­is­re­vealed­with its won­ders.”

Rabindranath Tagore, Coelho says, s been a ma­jor in­flu­ence, not only on him b on many of his peers. “Po­etry is an­other way of see­ing the world,” he says. “These

“THE MO­MENT I READ THE BHAGVAD GITA, I FELL IN LOVE WITH IT. IT’S MY BOOK FOR ALL TIMES... IT TEACHES YOU TO AC­CEPT YOUR DES­TINY”

days peo­ple don’t pay enough at­ten­tion to po­etry. By quot­ing Tagore at the be­gin­ning of the book, I wanted to bring back at­ten­tion to his work.”

Coelho had at first wanted to ti­tle this book ‘And where the old tracks are lost’, from the above poem. “But then I thought it may not trans­late ac­cu­rately in all lan­guages and set­tled for Hip­pie,” says the au­thor whose books have been trans­lated into 80 lan­guages.

SONG AND DANCE

Be­sides Tagore, whom he counts among the ma­jor in­flu­ences on his writ­ing and life, along­side Kabir, Rumi and Hafez, Coelho also places high value on the Bhagvad Gita and its teach­ings. “The mo­ment I read it, I fell in love with “I MADE A MIS­TAKE AND SOLD THE RIGHTS TO THE AL­CHEMIST. IF IT’S MADE INTO A FILM, I’LL HAVE NO IN­VOLVE­MENT” the book. It con­tin­ues to be my book for all times. When I first dis­cov­ered it, I wrote the song ‘ Gita’. It was sung by Raul Seixas and you can lis­ten to it on YouTube,” he says.

The lessons of the Gita have pro­found sig­nif­i­cance for Coelho. “Stand­ing at the edge of the

“I THINK OF MY NAME IS KHAN AS A MAS­TER­PIECE. I WAS SO OVER­WHELMED, I HAD TO CALL SHAH RUKH KHAN… THE FILM DE­SERVED AN OS­CAR!”

mys­tery, Ar­juna asks Kr­ishna ‘Who are you?’ Kr­ishna will not be straight­for­ward and chooses to tease Ar­juna. He says ‘I am the blind­ness of those who can see, I am the eyes of those who can­not see’. The Gita teaches you to un­der­stand the mys­tery, ac­cept your des­tiny and when there is a bat­tle to face, to go forth and ful­fil your task.”

An­other as­pect of In­dia the rest of the world should ap­pre­ci­ate is Bol­ly­wood films, says Coelho, who watches them reg­u­larly. “I am sur­prised they don’t find more space out­side In­dia. I’ve seen My Name is Khan (2010) and con­sider it a mas­ter­piece. It was bril­liant. I was so over­whelmed by Shah Rukh Khan’s role and the way he plays it – pure magic – I got in touch with him. The film de­served an Os­car. An­other film I en­joyed was The Lunch­box (2013), which also pays trib­ute to the

dab­bawalas of Mum­bai. Out­side In­dia, Bol­ly­wood movies are as in­ad­e­quately un­der­stood and ap­pre­ci­ated as the Gita is,” he says.

LEARN­ING AND TEACH­ING

The ar­dent Bol­ly­wood fan doesn’t, how­ever, see any of his books be­com­ing movies. “A book is a book and a movie is a movie. Every time there has been an at­tempt to make one into the other, it has been a com­plete dis­as­ter. When you write, you cre­ate char­ac­ters, land­scapes, how peo­ple speak and how they are. A film can­not do jus­tice to that. I have for­bid­den the sell­ing of the rights of my books to movies. This is af­ter I made a mis­take and sold the rights to The Al­chemist sev­eral years ago. If it is ever made into a film, I will have no in­volve­ment with it. I will buy a ticket and see the movie, and I’m cer­tain I won’t like it. And I will ex­press my opin­ion freely. Those as­pir­ing to make the movie haven’t man­aged to con­vince me. I don’t even open the en­velopes in which the screen­plays ar­rive. The Al­chemist is not a movie, nei­ther is Hip­pie.”

This is un­der­stand­able, com­ing from an au­thor who counts his book sales in mil­lions. Paulo Coelho is not just read, he’s quoted, trusted, fol­lowed. But he main­tains he is no spir­i­tual guide. “A guru teaches, I don’t. I be­lieve life is a mys­tery and ev­ery­thing comes from an un­known place. We can merely be good in­stru­ments in this large scheme of things. I’m sim­ply some­one try­ing to be in con­tact with the uni­verse. What res­onates with my read­ers, I think, is that they be­lieve I have a lot of ex­pe­ri­ence. My books be­come jour­ney com­pan­ions to them.”

He is no medicine man with a bag of reme­dies, he ex­plains. “I think the prob­lem is that peo­ple are try­ing to ex­plain what’s good and bad. Frankly, I’m get­ting a bit tired of these ex­pla­na­tions. Every time I have an an­swer, the ques­tion has changed. So in­stead of wast­ing my time on ex­pla­na­tions, I’ve de­cided to sim­ply en­joy the magic of every sin­gle day. Whether in a for­est, in the city or in your house, you can feel this con­nec­tion that may only last a few fleet­ing mo­ments and in that time you be­come aware that God ex­ists. You re­alise you are noth­ing but an in­stru­ment of God and you must re­spect this re­al­ity,” he says, speak­ing like a pas­sage from one of his books.

QUEST FOR GOD

His faith in a higher power is un­shake­able, but he is in­creas­ingly dis­il­lu­sioned with or­gan­ised re­li­gion. “I have be­gun to ques­tion my re­li­gion,” Coelho says. “Re­li­gion, in gen­eral, is com­plex. Look around. All the con­flicts we see in the world are pro­voked by fanatics who try not to doubt any­thing. I’m a man with doubts about life. I try to think about con­tra­dic­tions. Re­li­gious peo­ple don’t have doubts. They have to prove to them­selves that they have faith. You don’t have to prove your faith. You don’t have to see the world through the eyes of a priest and you don’t have to be brain­washed. As a

Catholic I re­alised that there have been too many mis­takes made over the cen­turies and there’s a clash within the church. So I told my­self I’d for­get about the church and go back to spir­i­tu­al­ity.”

His spir­i­tual quest forms one of the key mo­ments in Hip­pie and he looks back at the time with joy and won­der­ment. To­day, it would seem un­think­able that any­one would at­tempt to travel from Am­s­ter­dam to Nepal in a bus with­out re­clin­ing seats. “In those days, it was pos­si­ble to travel through Iraq and Afghanistan, all for un­der 100 dol­lars. What good times they were, oh my god!” he says, wist­fully. WAIT­ING FOR A SIGN It is his per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ences, his jour­neys that be­come his books. Coelho who writes at great speed – The Al­chemist was writ­ten in two weeks and

Hip­pie in a month – says that writ­ing is about putting out what is within you. “The Al­chemist was a metaphor for my own ex­pe­ri­ences. In Hip­pie I was try­ing to re­mem­ber – in­ci­dents like the tor­ture at the hands of the mil­i­tary in Brazil. Right af­ter I wrote the Gita song, I was ar­rested. When I came out, I saw the song was No. 1 on the charts and every­body was singing it. I emerged from prison, un­able to truly en­joy that suc­cess, torn be­tween be­ing a per­son who was to­tally hurt and be­ing ter­ri­bly scared.”

That con­flict finds ex­pres­sion in Hip­pie. “You can­not write some­thing out of noth­ing,” says Coelho. “There are two types of writ­ers. There was Mar­cel Proust who rarely left his room and his works, such as À la Recherche du

Temps Perdu, were in­ward look­ing. Then there is Hem­ing­way, who wrote about the world as he ex­pe­ri­enced it. I am the lat­ter type of writer.”

As a writer, Coelho is unique, on ac­count of his be­lief in an­gels, for in­stance. “Yes, they ex­ist,” he says with con­vic­tion. “Not with wings, not like we pic­ture them, but as a very real phe­nom­e­non. And there are omens also. It took me a long time to un­der­stand this and to be­lieve that I could be guided by these signs and omens. My best de­ci­sions have been based on omens and signs. If life was whis­per­ing in my ear and I didn’t obey the whis­per it al­ways ended up be­ing the wrong de­ci­sion.”

He is wait­ing for such a sign to come to In­dia. “I have many friends in In­dia and they keep ask­ing me to visit. My wife has been there and she loved it, es­pe­cially the train jour­neys. I can­not just visit In­dia, I have to stay there. For In­dia I have to wait for the right time. When the time comes I will get the sign. In­dia is not a coun­try, it’s a uni­verse. I have to be in­side this uni­verse and ex­pe­ri­ence all that it has to of­fer.”

And an­other Paulo Coelho book will, no doubt, emerge from that.

The au­thor is a Ben­galuru-based se­nior writer who spe­cialises in food, travel and life­style writ­ing. She has edited sev­eral ma­jor main­stream pub­li­ca­tions in the past

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