THE OTHER MAGUS
In Chapter Two of Richard Dell’s novel THE OTHER MAGUS, we learn something of the spiritual quest, and also something of what distinguishes East from West. There can be a philosophical divide between the two, and more to the point, very much a spiritual divide. This division is less pronounced now as the two worlds of East and West have become so entangled and as so much of what has motivated the west for so long has been embraced by the entire world. But the division has much to teach us, there being sense and sensibility and also idiocy on both sides. Matters of the sacred, and of environmental issues, as also matters of our spiritual purpose on this Earth can be teased out from within the divide. The marriage of the East and West, dare we say the Alchemical Marriage of the two still awaits its time of fruition. Conception there may already have been, births too, but the true nature and destiny of the marriage’s progeny must wait for its offspring’s maturity. In the meantime we have the turmoil of adolescence to suffer, experience and eventually resolve.
A Guide Called Jamila
Harold finishes his tea. He puts down his cup. ‘Why?’ he says to the old man. ‘Why me? Why were you expecting me? How were you expecting me? What am I doing here?’
‘I do not know.’
‘That’s not good enough, sir. You seemed to be saying that you were specifically expecting me!’
‘I was. But it does not follow that I thereby know why. I told my friend the bookseller that someone needed to see me. He asked me how he would recognise this person. I told him I did not know. He told me that if I did not know then how was he supposed to know. So I had to explain to him that if he did not know when the person came, then the person did not really need to see me.’
‘That is a mere surrender to fate!’
‘Is there really anything else we can do with fate, other than accept that we must surrender to it?’
‘Perhaps not. But we should only surrender to the reality of fate when we have truly discovered that there really isn’t anything we can do about it.’
The old man laughs. ‘That is very well put, my friend. And there we have one of the great dilemmas that haunts all human beings. One of the great paradoxes.’
The door behind Harold opens. Harold glances round. The bookseller is not there. But the girl is. There is no sign of sequins. No sign of the soft mound of her breasts. She has covered herself with a loose dress that is secured by a leather belt rather as a western dressing gown is secured. A hijab covers her hair. The hijab falls either side of her extraordinary face, trailing down to her feet, serving as an outer robe. Her eyes, deep as the night, stare at Harold. Her lips, that are soft like peaches to him, seem to form a question. The question is indecipherable. The answer is unimaginable.
Harold turns back to the old man. ‘What dilemma?’ he breathes. ‘What paradox?’
‘At such a time, you ask this? Even when your young guide awaits you?’
The man sighs. But his eyes sparkle with amusement. ‘Very well.’ He brings his fingers to his lips. He seems, for a moment, to be in prayer. ‘It might be said,’ he says at last, ‘that we in the east surrender and that you in the west discover. It might be said that we in the east are at peace, are at one with our world and all that it might throw at us. It might be said that we in the east are reconciled.’
Harold nods. ‘Some,’ he whispers, ‘would not use the word ‘reconciled’. Some would say you are resigned.’
‘Indeed, my friend. And I am beginning to understand now why you had to find me and what I might do for you. Indeed, why Jamila here must be your guide. But let me tell you of the west. If we in the east are at peace and are reconciled, then it might be said that you in the west are continually troubled, continually at war with the world in which you find yourself. Troubled because you do not understand it. And at the same time intrigued by it. Troubled because you cannot control it. So you have learnt to dominate it. Indeed, you have attempted to separate yourself from your own nature.’
‘And the paradox is?’
‘The paradox is that the way of the East is the better way. The paradox is that the way of the west, on the other hand, is the effective way. The paradox is that by both ways being right, both ways are thereby wrong.’
‘You accept that our restlessness has achieved many great, even extraordinary things?’
‘Extraordinary things indeed. Discoveries of wonder. Inventions of great utility.’ He smiles. ‘I consider your sanitation systems, and especially your water closets, as among the greatest of gifts given by the west to the world.’
The old man waves his hand between them. ‘I have travelled in your West. I admire your cities. I admire the fact that everything works. I cherish the greenness of your countryside. All your lands are oases. Yes, my friend; we indeed must learn from you. We must learn not to accept the fact that our children might die. Like you, we must seek to understand disease and cure disease and thereby save our children. But so you must learn from us. Your people have been restless for too long. You have made great discoveries and invented extraordinary machines. Now you are powerful. But still you are restless. You are wealthy, and yet still you are dissatisfied, and thus you fight each other for more wealth. You are all-powerful, yet still you fight each other in order to dominate. I want my people to be intrigued again by their world. I want your people to be reconciled with it.’
Harold nods. ‘You do know that most of the British soldiers you see here in Cairo are not willing soldiers? They long to return to their homes. They don’t want brothels. They want wives and firesides. They want to bring up children.’
‘Isn’t that what makes it even more of a tragedy?’
‘Yes. But, sir, you have told me what west and east needs. What about me? For it seems that I am here for a purpose.’
He laughs. ‘You are a scholar, I think?’
‘At some great English university?’
‘Ah yes, of course. I have happy memories of Oxford.’
This surprises Harold. He wants to know more. But the look in the old man’s eyes tells him to remain silent.
‘You struggled with your mind to understand your academic sources. Now I want you to be reconciled with your heart. For your heart is the only source that truly matters.’ He looks up and beckons the girl to him. ‘Come here, my child.’
The girl comes forward. She stands beside Harold.
Harold does not look at her. But her presence cannot be ignored. He knows he desires her. But he needs too to understand why he is here. Why this old man of the east has been expecting him.
‘She is your guide.’
‘Guiding me to what?’
‘Do you not know?’
Harold shakes his head.
‘Perhaps you will only know when the journey ends.’
‘And what is the journey?’
‘Ah, the journey. Now we come to it.’ The old man’s eyes narrow in thought. ‘All are on a journey, my friend. And now I understand why you have been brought to me. All are on a journey, but few know that truth. Most of the time, most do not need to know. But all, at times, do need to know. And this is one of your times. Something awaits you. And only he who knows he is on a train can recognise the stations. Only he who knows he travels can understand arrival.’
Harold is listening. But he can feel the warmth of the girl beside him. He can smell the perfume of the brothel on her. And he can feel his need for her. It is an ache and a hunger he has never known before.
‘You awaken,’ the old man says.
‘The girl awakens you to yourself. This I see. And as for me? Well, I awaken you to your destiny.’….