The novel “The Lost Fragrance of Infinity” by Moin Mir is a deeply passionate love story of a craftsman set in the 18th century.
Traversing spectacular landscapes of a fading Mughal Empire, a turbulent Central Asia and Persia, a culturally retreating Ottoman Empire and declining Spanish influence, the protagonist Qaraar Ali finds hope in the sacred geometry of the Sufis through which he attempts at rebuilding his life and rediscovering love.
The novel explores Sufism — from the dargahs of Delhi to the locales of Spain, and gives a much deserved voice to Sufism and its contributions to humanity, art, mathematics, mysticism and science.
Read an excerpt from the book below.
‘Abeerah!’ called out Shahbaz Khan. There was a gentleness to his voice when he took his daughter’s name. Having finished his military exercises, Shahbaz Khan had returned home. He stood with his hands spread out in the air. Two men were busy taking off his armour.
‘Abbajaan!’ came the daughter’s reply as she rushed forward and wrapped her hands around him from behind. ‘My Noor-eChashm, the light of my eyes,’ exclaimed Shahbaz Khan, breaking the hug and then kissing his daughter’s forehead.
‘How is the emperor’s army?’ enquired Abeerah with a slight jest in her tone.
‘Ah! We are still a reasonable fighting force,’ said Shahbaz Khan, ‘even though our emperor would much rather convert his garrisons into art galleries!’
Both father and daughter laughed as they made their way to the terrace of Basalat-Gah and settled under a crisp white shamiana, sipping on cool pink sherbets made of milk and crushed rose petals that a servant had just served.
‘Seriously, Abbajaan, will the Empire survive?’
‘Who knows my child,’ replied Shahbaz Khan looking out towards the Jama Masjid which shimmered like a mirage in the Delhi heat.
‘Ominous signs my child.’ A frown now appeared on Shahbaz Khan’s forehead and he pursed his lips.
‘What do you mean?’ pushed on Abeerah, as she saw her father tighten his grip on the sherbet cup. The conversation now had a tense tone.
‘The winds blowing down from the Afghan mountains are carrying the stench of a jackal that has gathered a powerful force,’ said Shahbaz Khan.
Abeerah looked at her father curiously as if wanting a name out of him.
In a hushed tone as if not wanting the wind to carry what he was about to utter, Shahbaz Khan whispered the name, ‘Nadir.’
‘He hides behind a veil. Waiting for his moment. He needs money to feed his bloodthirsty lot, and his eyes are scanning Persia which has nothing more to give him. Where will he turn next?’ Shahbaz Khan seemed to be talking to himself, lost in his thoughts.
‘No Abbajaan, I don’t want to think about it!’ said Abeerah, breaking her father’s thoughts.
‘O look, see who rides in, it’s Janbaz Bakht!’ exclaimed Shahbaz Khan, hearing the galloping sound of a horse entering his grounds.
The last time Janbaz Bakht had seen Abeerah, she sat mounted on Qaraar’s horse with the craftsman’s arms around her. Abeerah thought of that moment and prepared herself for any eventuality.
Walking to the edge of the parapet that overlooked the massive grounds which were part of his property, Shahbaz Khan looked below and saw Janbaz Bakht athletically jump off his horse as the general’s servants took the animal away.
He then quickly turned and looked at his daughter with soft pleading eyes. ‘No Abbajaan, I know that look in your eyes.
My answer is still no!’ said Abeerah, getting up to leave.
‘O come Abeerah, stay my child. I haven’t seen you for a week,’ said Shahbaz Khan, still secretly hoping that Janbaz Bakht would improve his performance in front of his daughter.
The first time Shahbaz Khan had introduced the two with a hope that Abeerah might be impresed, all Janbaz did was hark about his accomplishments in the wrestling den. Wanting to please her father, Abeerah took her place at a little distance.
‘Khushamdeed,’ said Shahbaz Khan welcoming the guest with an embrace.
Servants brought an assortment of brightly coloured sherbets from which Janbaz Bakht chose one and gulped it down and went for another and another.
Seeing this Abeerah couldn’t help herself.
‘Did you lose in the wrestling den?’ Her question had the sharp ring of sarcasm as it crashed into Janbaz Bakht’s ears.
‘Not quite, I pinned down my opponent, sat on his chest and pummelled away. Just then three of his compatriots held me from behind and I flung them with one arm…’
‘Alright, we get the picture,’ said Shahbaz Khan, as Abeerah smiled and shook her head.
‘Tell me, what brings you here?’
‘A frontier spy informs us that some of the Mughal caravans are being raided by Nadir’s men,’ replied Janbaz, a bit annoyed that he wasn’t able to go on with his self-gloating.
‘That’s not a good sign,’ Shahbaz Khan locked his hands behind his back and began pacing the terrace.
‘Let’s send out a force to teach Nadir’s men a lesson. Let’s kill them all!’ shouted Janbaz Bakht.
‘And then what, Janbaz? Invite Nadir to retaliate with all his might? Don’t be brash!’ These weren’t Shahbaz Khan’s words, instead they came from Abeerah.
‘With all due respect these are matters for soldiers, not for ladies – or for that matter, craftsmen!’ came Janbaz’s response, while looking at Shahbaz Khan.
‘Careful Janbaz,’ said Shahbaz Khan. ‘I know your father well. Much mutual respect between us. But there is a line. Don’t cross it.’ Janbaz had hoped for another response from the general. One that would have hopefully been about wanting to know more about the craftsman and his daughter. But the father didn’t give him that window, and all that could now come out of Janbaz’s mouth was an apology.
‘I, uh, I am sorry…’ he stammered.
‘It’s getting late and you have given me enough to think about,’ said Shahbaz Khan holding up his arm in the direction of the stairs that would take Janbaz down to his horse.
A sullen Janbaz made his way out. Abeerah came and stood by her father who had moved to the parapet overlooking the grounds. She rested her head on his shoulder and watched Janbaz gallop away. As Janbaz’s horse sped through the main gate and kicked up a dust cloud, from it emerged a limping Munna Mia. He still had a while to come, having to cover the vast grounds before he could make it to the house. Abeerah watched him approach with a smile. She knew a perfumed letter was on its way. Shahbaz Khan chose to ignore Munna Mia.
‘Abbajaan, Janbaz is a sword-wielding fool who hasn’t picked up a book in his life. I can’t live with a man like him,’ she said, with her head still resting on her father’s shoulder and her eyes trained on Munna Mia.
‘The same can be said about your father,’ Shahbaz Khan replied with a subdued laugh, walking towards a large marble basin which had ice cubes and chilled rose water mixed in it.
‘Oh Abbajaan, you know that’s not true.’ Abeerah picked up a fresh white muslin cloth for her father as he splashed his face.