Books: A Swirling Sufi Revival
The latest book by author Moin Mir, The lost scent of infinity, is an intensely atmospheric novel that marries history and philosophy. Told through the life of a young craftsman, Qarar Ali, and the girl he is in love with, Abeerah, the book evokes tragedy, chaos and Sufism. Although he does not philosophize, Moin lets his philosophies take center stage in this novel.
Sufism is a mystical or spiritual belief and practice in Islam to seek the divine. Thus, when Moin is asked how the lines between the spiritual and the ritual are often blurred, he quotes the Sufi poet Hafiz: “From that fierce glow that love and you in my chest inspire, the sun is only a spark that flew and fixed the heavens. a fire’. These are lines with which he also begins his latest book.
“Hafiz is trying to say that when you have the beauty of love and compassion in your heart, you as a human being will elevate to such an extent that even the sun will be just a mere spark in your accomplishments. So today when you see where man has gone in terms of science, you would want to go back to that verse and it starts with a spiritual journey and not a ritual journey,” says the London-based author.
Philosophies of the heart
Fiction is the most complex literary genre and this latest work is Moin’s first fiction, after his previous book, Sura: Fall of a Port, Rise of a Prince became an acclaimed bestseller.
“My inspiration to write The lost scent of infinity came because I believe there is no time more important than now for the voice of the Sufi to be heard,” he says.
Based on historical events from the 17th century, Moin’s research shines through in his work. “Reading Greek philosophy over the past six years has been the foundation of the research that has gone on for this book,” he adds.
Like many of us who were largely guided by our family elders, Moin was mentored by his grandfather. “My grandfather was a practicing Sufi and often lectured on his connection to Greek philosophy propagated by Aristotle and Plato. It would go over my head then,” he laughs. “But I was amazed how my grandfather gave these talks and then took the same interest in my tennis lessons.”
When asked if he is a practicing Sufi, Moin gently nods “no.”
“I am deeply influenced by Sufism, but I am not a practicing Sufi. It’s a very disciplined way of life. However, I believe in the beauty of the philosophies of Sufism and the contributions it has made to the world through compassion and love, to science, mathematics and spirituality. As today the world collapses with climate change, it is the voice of the Sufi that will connect us,” Moin believes.
love knows no gender
In his initial research, after reading the works of Ibn Arabi, Hafiz and Rumi, especially on social sciences and metaphysics, it seemed to the author that this was the perfect setting for another non-fiction book .
“But, when I came to the last pillar of Sufism which is ishq, and after re-reading the works of these Sufi scholars, it brought me to a point that made me realize that I could not write about the love in a dry, boring way. All these scholars became philosophers when they experienced ishq and I wanted to convey that,” he says.
So, does that mean Moin wants to explore fiction more? Apparently not! The author is working on his next book and he says he’s returning to his favorite genre of non-fiction.
His stories are informed by research, which is an extremely important factor when writing about a time that neither he nor his readers knew. So what was the motive behind writing Surat: fall of a port, rise of a prince, when belonging to time and place seemed to be lost.
“For me, writing about a particular part of history is refreshing people’s minds, especially if it’s something that has been relatively forgotten. As a writer, it was about bringing this incredible true story to life and it was because I believe we can learn a lot about the socio-political side of life from there,” Moin explains.
Although he does not mention it, the story is also personal to him as he is a descendant of the Nawab of Surat. “Writing the story wasn’t about my connections, just a narrative that needed to be told and read. Being a descendant of the mogul doesn’t add or take away anything for me today,” he says.
One of the greatest strengths of Moin’s work is his characterization. The author gives all his characters, big or small, a life and a story to tell.
“In The Lost Fragrance of Infinity, that was vital, because when a book is based on philosophy, you have to imbue those characters with a sense of inclination towards the philosophical view of life and integrate that into the main plot. As a reader, I want it to always be an unexpected element as they progress through the story,” he says.
Intertwining plot, philosophy, and history is no small feat, but it comes naturally to Moin, who comes from a family of writers.
“Writing was the only thing I knew. My dad was a writer and so was my grandfather. I came to London to study communications in 1996 and writing was a big part of that, so that made kinda helped. It was about time I moved from writing proposals to writing novels,” he smiles.
From HT Brunch, March 6, 2022
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