Welcome back to another post in the Monday Inspirations series, where guest bloggers write about the books and authors that have inspired them. Today’s post is by Dr Gulara Vincent, who has also written two of the most visited posts in the series: How Agatha Christie Saved My Life And Taking up The Invitation. You can check out OTHER Monday Inspirations posts here.
In 2008, I got into reading Sufi stories. They fascinated me. I was aware that there were some hidden meanings in what read like funny anecdotes. I re-read each story many times, trying to break the code. Whilst telling some of my favourite stories to friends, I was getting a feel for the parts of the story which could contain some hidden clues. My favourite Sufi writer was Idries Shah. His stories reminded me of the childhood tales my grandma used to tell at the dinner table.
One evening, a fellow five rhythms dancer was giving me a lift to the class. I kept telling him story after story and he seemed to enjoy them.
As soon as I was back in my bedsit, I searched the central library catalogue and, to my delight, they had that book. A few days later, I picked it up and was unable to put it down. It was… magical. Tahir Shah created a vivid window into life in Morocco. His descriptions were vibrant, bringing the place alive with smell, taste and humour. The characters in his books felt utterly familiar.
This man who bridged several worlds felt close to my heart. He was brought up in England, half-Afghani and half-Irish. His wife was Indian and he had a palpable passion to explore other worlds. I laughed out loud reading his mishaps and attempts to function in a foreign culture. Whether he tried to hire builders who demolished his house, or find an assistant, somehow I could relate. Although the context was different, every time he laughed at himself, it gave me permission to lighten up around my own mistakes. Take that time when I pulled the wrong string in a disabled toilet and called the fire brigade to the university campus by accident. Needless to say, I ran away as the sirens got closer and closer and stayed clear from that building for three months in case I was filmed on the CCTV. [In my defence, that was my third day in England; I thought why pull a bland white string, if I could pull the red one instead.] Or take my first visit to the cinema in England. I went to see The Da Vinci Code. Taking AMC Broadway Plaza 12, the name of the cinema, for the number of the screen where the movie was showing, I wondered why there were so many young children in the audience. ‘This is indoctrination! They really shouldn’t expose children to this stuff at such a young age,’ I thought. The fact that I was the only adult without a child was lost on me until the movie began. It was a cartoon called Curious George.
Anyway, I digress. I can give you probably hundreds of examples when I made a fool of myself due to cultural differences. Tahir Shah’s books made me feel better about my own mishaps.
Through In Arabian Nights, and later The Caliph’s House, I fell in love with Morocco. I couldn’t wait to visit this fascinating country with its rich culture and ancient traditions. It reminded me a bit of Azerbaijan: the way business was conducted there, people’s superstitions, reverence towards elders, and last but not least, people’s love of stories.
Through Tahir Shah’s books, I discovered new worlds. I found The Sorcerer’s Apprentice intriguing and mystical. He showed me the hidden corners of India, the tricks and magic he learnt and witnessed. I started reading that book shortly after my son was born over two years ago. Savouring every word, I indulged my senses and escaped into far-away lands while being chained to an infant who fed what felt like 24/7.
Tahir Shah remains one of my favourite writers. His skill to draw me in and to make me care about the characters in his books is truly phenomenal. His books imbued in me a passion for real life stories. Up until I came across his writing I had little interest in memoirs, preferring instead imagined worlds. After reading his books, I also moved on from Sufi stories. Why bother with cryptic messages to learn about life? Tahir Shah’s books had it all: stories, wisdom, humour, mystery, adventure, a window into different cultures, you name it.
Do you know what else was interesting about discovering this author? Tahir Shah happened to be the son of Idries Shah, my favourite Sufi storyteller. I know where he gets his story-telling talent from….