I wish I could meet Qarar Ali, the protagonist of Moin Mir’s historical romance, The Lost Fragrance of Infinity . Mir’s debut fiction is brilliant, honest, sunny, and filled with Marquezian details about the life and times of his lead character. Mir paints a large canvas and the thread running through it all is love — love for life, self, others and humanity at large.
The novel is grounded on three crucial historic events of the 17th century — the assassination of Dara Shikoh in 1659; the death of Shah Abbas II of Persia in 1666; and the Ottoman defeat at the gates of Vienna in 1683. With meticulous research, Mir weaves these events into the fabric of his novel.
Qarar’s story starts off on a spring day of 1739 in Delhi’s Shahjahanabad, a place he adores. His belief in selfless love burns as brightly as the glazed girih tiles creating the sacred geometry of the monuments of this beautiful city. Restless for knowledge, he sets out on a quest to discover the nature of love. Flitting between India, Persia and the Ottoman dominions, the novel is filled with a multitude of characters whom Qarar meets on his long and gruelling journey. The characters not only move the story forward but also function like a Greek chorus, leading the protagonist towards catharsis.
Mir’s craftsmanship, as evidenced in his earlier works of non-fiction, lends a magnificent realism to his descriptions of the golden cities of Central Asia — Merv, Khiva, Samarkhand, Busra — the Ottoman empire and Spain. Through all this, Mir examines the validity of Sufism — that syncretic philosophy based on knowledge, fraternity and cultural exchanges sans borders — asking whether it can be brought back to bear upon our lives again.
At a time when the planet seems to be falling apart, this poetic, heart-touching novel is an essential read.
The Lost Fragrance of Infinity; Moin Mir, Roli Books, ₹595
The writer is an author and filmmaker.