'The Lost Fragrance of Infinity' book review: A Fabled Flight Across Infinity

This deeply passionate love story imbued with spirituality traverses spectacular landscapes of a fading Mughal Empire 

Published: 19th September 2021 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 18th September 2021 05:11 PM   |  A+A-

Express News Service

Moin Mir’s The Lost Fragrance of Infinity is so lovingly and exquisitely crafted, it left me weak-kneed and breathless with wonder. And that is an understatement. It is that rare book which compels the reader to savour every single word from the first page to the last; read and re-read the umpteen delightful passages that are imbued with the mystical magnificence of Sufism to imbibe the sheer beauty and profound insights contained therein. Mir’s second book marks him as a towering talent with an extraordinary voice.
In 1739, Qaraar Ali is a craftsman, who comes from a lineage that has the distinction of being valued artisans at the Mughal court. A gifted young man with an insatiable thirst for knowledge, he is intrigued by poetry, beauty, and the mysteries of Sufism. His happiness is complete when his love for the ethereal Abeerah Khan is reciprocated and he finds in Shah Rezaan, a Sufi from Isfahan, a worthy teacher to unlock his potential. 

Through his love for the former, he is able to witness a manifestation of the divine which gets his creative juices flowing and the latter starts teaching him to give himself over to quiet contemplation and introspection in order to draw ever closer to the divine attributes of truth and beauty, expand his knowledge to achieve a fuller understanding of geometry and use the inspiration to create the most stunning ‘Girih’ tiles. These tiles are of varying geometric shapes and interlocked in an intricate pattern seemingly stretching out to infinity which symbolises both the diversity and oneness of humanity and the eternal quest of the Sufis to achieve the exalted state of ‘fanaa’.

It is Rezaan who helps Ali understand that all in creation is helpless without the kindly act of restoration and gives direction and purpose to his life urging him to use his newfound prowess to fix crumbling mosques and mausoleums of Sufi saints. The guidance will prove invaluable when his world filled to the brim with love and promise is torn apart by the savagery of Nadir Shah with his infamous penchant for indiscriminate slaughter and plunder. With a single, barbarous stroke the merciless tyrant inflicts an eternity’s worth of loss on poor Ali and he has no choice but to pick up the broken pieces and journey far away from all he knows into the very heart of Sufism and it is there that he will find himself again.

Over the course of his travels, Ali provides the reader with a lens to examine the cultural splendours of a world destined to fade into the pages of history and to get up close and personal with the glories of Sufism. Against a backdrop of violent conflict and gut-wrenching loss, Ali wanders across large swathes of Central Asia, through the Ottoman empire, and journeys across the Mediterranean where he will rediscover the pieces of his heart that he had thought were gone forever.

More importantly, Mir gently guides all those who have picked up this book and are travelling with Ali through the best of Sufi thought and philosophy. There are delectable verses so pregnant with naked passion and esoteric insights, one is reluctant to move past them and left hankering with an insatiable taste for more and more of the same. The Sufis’ interpretation of the Quran, which often left them at loggerheads with the orthodox clergy, sought to edify and free minds bogged down with bias and the limitations of incomplete knowledge. By encouraging renunciation, service to others, compassion and hope they inspired their followers to journey inwards to find fulfillment. Their spirit of scientific enquiry, patronage of creative pursuits and tolerance to other faiths are a rich legacy that continues to illuminate a dark world. This is a book that gives the spirit wings and it is truly a blessing in these troubled times.

There are delectable verses so pregnant with naked passion and esoteric insights, one is reluctant to move past them and left hankering with an insatiable taste for more and more of the same

India Matters


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