The Alchemist (Paulo Coelho)

Part I


This is the story of a shepherd boy named Santiago. He moved around the area of Andalucia, Spain, rearing his sheep. On one of his stops, he met and became enamored of the raven-haired daughter of a shopkeeper, who used to buy wool from him. He was looking forward to seeing her again this year on his trip back to her area.
He used to wander the hinterland of Spain with his flock of sheep; they trusted him to take them to food and water. He would keep a jacket handy for the cold nights but did not like carrying it during the heat of the day. But one must be ready for change; be it day or night, or the larger changes of life; he would tell himself.
His family had wanted him to become a priest, but he wanted to travel and chose to become a shepherd so he could wander with his flock of sheep. 


He had had twice a particular dream while he was resting inside a church at night. In the dream, the Sacristy was broken, and a Sycamore tree had grown there. He went to the town of Tarifa to meet a mystic woman who could interpret dreams. The gypsy woman explained her interpretation of the dream to Santiago; and told him that he had to go to the Pyramids in Egypt, where and he shall find a treasure. When he found it, he was to pay the gypsy woman one-tenth of the treasure as a finder-fee.
The boy did not think much of the interpretation and went about his business in the city. He was then approached by an old man who struck up a conversation with him. Though Santiago was not very interested, the old man managed to engage his undivided attention with his wisdom. The old man introduced himself as the King of Salem; and helped Santiago focus on his destiny, which was to find the foretold treasure. He explained to the young shepherd that he usually comes along in some form or manner to help push people towards their destiny. Santiago was about to give up, so the King of Salem had to come to him and put him back on the right path. He told the boy that life always gives clues and signs to a person to help decide their direction of flow. He asked the young man to pay him with a tenth of his flock for the next lesson.


The following day Santiago arrived at the appointed time and was given two stones: one white and one black.  The old man explained it was so that he could make a decision if ever he was confused during his quest. Santiago was also advised to watch out for omens that would guide him to his destiny. Just then, a butterfly flew in front of Santiago’s face, which was a good omen.
The young man had reached Tangier, Africa, and was sitting at a bar when he was approached by another young man. He spoke to him in Spanish about what Santiago wanted to do in this new land; this was an omen. Santiago told the man that he wanted to go to the pyramids, and could pay him for being his guide. The man took his money and vanished into the busy market, leaving Santiago with nothing.


Santiago was very sad but remembered the two stones. He took them out and remembered the encouraging words of the old man, When you really want something very badly, the entire universe conspires to help you achieve it. The two stones helped him realize that the old man was still with him in spirit, and this gave him the strength to keep searching for the treasure.
Despite losing his money; Santiago survived using the instincts he had learned as a shepherd; and this increased his self-confidence.


He chanced upon a crystal seller and offered his services in exchange for food. He ended up cleaning the glassware and was taken for lunch by the shopkeeper. While he was cleaning the glassware, two customers purchased from the shop; this was a good omen for the shopkeeper, as he too believed in omens. He decided to continue to employ Santiago. But Santiago wanted money to go to the pyramids. The shopkeeper laughed at him and said it would take too much money, as the pyramids were thousands of kilometers away. This stalled Santiago, and he agreed to work for enough money to buy more sheep, so he could return to where he had been born.

PART II


The boy wanted to make a new cabinet for displaying the crystals; hoping to earn more money and return to his former life as a shepherd. The shopkeeper obliged, as he wanted Santiago to achieve his dream. The shopkeeper himself dreamt of going to Mecca; and had not been able to do so. He felt he should help Santiago fulfill his dream.
Santiago advised the shopkeeper to start selling tea in crystal glasses to attract more customers. Though the shop was doing well, and he didnt really want to add more work to expand; the shopkeeper agreed, attributing the decision to ‘destiny’. This choice changed everything; the shop became famous and a huge commercial success. After earning money for his sheep, Santiago wanted to leave; and he sought the shopkeeper’s blessings. The blessings were given, but he predicted that Santiago would not be going back to Spain. Santiago went about collecting his belongings; with them he once again put the King’s two stones in his pocket. Just as he was about to leave for Andalucia, he began thinking about the experience he had just been through. He realized that he could always go back to rearing sheep; but he would never be able to travel to the pyramids again. The two stones in his pocket had once again been instrumental in changing his mind. Santiago continued his journey towards the pyramids.  He reached a warehouse, where he met an Englishman who identified with the shepherd in many ways. He also recognised the two stones that Santiago carried. This was an omen for Santiago.  The two of them joined a caravan, commanded by a bearded man, which was to take them to Egypt. The caravan started its journey through the desert. Initially, there was a lot of commotion, but very soon everyone settled into a rhythm, and silence reigned. During the journey, Santiago bonded with his camel’s driver, and they exchanged stories about their lives. Both of them realized a philosophical truth; it seemed that everything in life was pre-ordained, because of the ease with which lifes events would lead so seamlessly to the next. 


Their journey was often aided by the appearance of Bedouins, the mysterious protector tribe of the deserts. They would relay information about bandits and wars to the caravan and then disappear.
Once, they got news of a possible tribal war. This worried them, but turning around was not an option. And when turning back is not an option, then moving forward in the more prudent way is the only concern left to be addressed.

As they moved forward in their journey, the Englishman became more interested in the desert, and Santiago became more interested in the Englishman’s books; a sort of role reversal took place. The Englishman was interested in the art of alchemy, of making any metal turn to gold. But the more Santiago read the books, the more he was confused; the language and symbols were beyond his abilities. He wanted to know how alchemy could exist, but was told by the Englishman that higher knowledge comes to only those put in the extra time studying the subject, and then, by becoming the subject. 

The caravan picked up speed, and they travelled both day and night to avoid the tribal wars. Finally, they reached an oasis, which promised them refuge from the warring tribes. The Alchemist who lived in the oasis was eagerly looking forward to meeting one of the men arriving.  He was supposed to teach him some of his secrets; as per the omen’s suggestion. The travellers were given accommodation inside the oasis once they were disarmed. The next day, the Englishman tried to find the Alchemist, with Santigo’s help.


They waited at a well to ask passer-by if they knew of the Alchemist. Upon asking women with black clothing, Santiago was told they were not to talk to married women. So they waited and finally he saw an unmarried woman approach the well. Her beauty captivated him; and it was then that he understood love, the language of the world. He knew in his heart of hearts that they were meant to be together. He asked her name and it was Fatima.
Every day they met at the well for fifteen minutes. That had become his life. Soon there was news that the war was likely to last for a long time, and until it ended they could not leave. So they would have to remain at the oasis for the length of the war, possibly years. The girl then accepted Sanitago`s advances, and Santiago told her of his life and destiny. Fatima urged him to continue his search for the treasure.
He headed towards the desert, trying to decide between staying at the oasis or starting out towards the treasure. It was dusk. Then he saw another omen. Two hawks were flying around him when one of them suddenly attacked the other. He himself seemed to have dipped into the Soul of the World at that time; and through the omen he understood that the oasis would be attacked.


He shared this information with his camel driver; who suggested he tell the chief of the oasis. The chief consulted among his council, and decided to test the information. Santiago was told that the next day, everyone would be ready for war. If they were attacked, Santiago would be rewarded; if not, Santiago would be executed.  Santiago accepted this as his ‘Maktub’ (destiny).
As Santiago was making his way back, he was confronted by a horseman; who was awe inspiring. The horseman asked Santiago about the omen, and Santiago bravely told him that he did not know the outcome of the prediction. This satisfied the horseman and he left Santiago by telling him that Santiago’s courage was the key to understanding the language of the world. Such deep words reminded him of the old king. This small gesture from the horseman made him believe that he was the Alchemist. Santiago was supposed to meet him if he survived the attack.

The next day the attack happened; with five hundred horsemen converging on the oasis. But the oasis residents were prepared, and within half an hour the invaders were killed, all except for their leader. The leader was questioned by the Chief and then hanged without honour. Santiago received fifty gold coins as a reward, and was asked to become a counsellor of the tribe.
After the fight was over, Santiago went to meet the Alchemist who invited him into his tent for dinner. Santiago was told to search for the treasure in the pyramids. When he disagreed, saying that he had found his treasure in Fatima; the idea was dismissed by the Alchemist by saying that, Fatima has not been found AT the pyramids by Santiago. He was then advised by the Alchemist to sell his camel and buy a horse as they are more dependable.


The next night they left together, with the Alchemist asking Santiago to lead him to life in the desert. He was confused in the beginning, but learned to let go; and then the horse took them to a spot where life, in the form of a snake, was found by the Alchemist. This was the omen he wanted to see. He then committed to guiding Santiago to the treasure. But Santiago wanted to stay at the oasis with Fatima and live his life peacefully; to which the Alchemist explained he would only be happy temporarily, unless he went for the treasure and fulfilled his destiny. They came back to the oasis for the night. Santiago decided to follow his destiny. They would leave before sunrise.

They rode through the desert. Santiago already missed Fatima. The Alchemist told him to not think of what was left behind; if it was meant for him, it would be there upon his return. They kept moving forward; kept learning from the desert. They avoided the war zones carefully; at times the smell of blood was carried through the air; suggesting that a
A battle was going on nearby. They carefully managed to reach the end of their journey; along a stretch of the desert where the heaviest battle was happening.


During the journey, Santiago had many conflicting moments: both overjoyed and distraught. He discussed this with the Alchemist. The Alchemist talked him through it; and Santiago was able to feel as though he was making the right choice, as he was moving towards his destiny. All of his experiences in the past year had moulded him into who he was, and brought him to his destiny. It was all part of the larger scheme of life;  that was written by the invisible hand of life. The heart was made to understand that the fear of suffering, the fear of failure, is worse than the actual suffering, or failure. Santiago was at peace.
Upon sharing this with the Alchemist, he was told he was prepared for his destiny. The Alchemist had only one last lesson to teach Santiago. The lesson was, ‘to be prepared to be tested about all he has learned’. This is because every search begins with beginner’s luck, and ends with a test. This test ensures that the lessons we have learned along the way are deeply ingrained in us for the rest of our existence.
Soon the final test arrived. They were surrounded by a tribe; and were taken to the chief, who interrogated them. The Alchemist gave all the gold Santiago was carrying to prevent their executions.  The Alchemist promised to show the tribe the power that Santiago had;  of being able to become the wind, in three days; or they would be killed. This was too stressful for Santiago and he was afraid.


At the end of the first day, Santiago told the Alchemist that he still did not know how to turn into wind, to which, the Alchemist said that it was the Santiago`s problem, because the Alchemist already knew how. The second day, Santiago spent time atop a mountain talking to the desert. On the third day, when the time came to demonstrate his power; Santiago asked for help from the desert and the desert asked him a few questions. Santiago replied with courage, and the desert agreed to give sand, and told him to ask the wind for help. When he asked the wind for help, the wind also questioned him. He courageously replied to the wind and convinced it to blow hard; so he could talk to the heavens for help.


 The wind agreed and started to blow fiercely. Santiago then started to speak to the Sun and convinced it to shine brighter. The Sun also suggested that he speak with the hand that wrote all. Then Santiago started to pray. His prayer did not have words, and only had his heart connect to the highest heart, the Soul of God,  and he realised that the Soul of God was inside him too. He understood that individually, no one knows what they have to do, and that the big plan is always with the hand that writes all, and that there is always a plan for everyone. Some are able to realise it, some are not, and thus just fade away. His contemplation was thus complete, and because of his communion with the hand that writes all, he was able to become the wind. 

They were given guards to accompany them as far as they wanted. They reached a monastery and bade the guards goodbye. There, the Alchemist showed him that lead can indeed be turned into gold. After that, they parted ways. The Alchemist returned to his oasis and Santiago continued forward towards the treasure. 
He followed his heart and eventually reached the pyramids. The sight of them made him cry; and where his tears fell, he saw a beetle which is a sign of God in those regions. Santiago saw it as an omen and began to dig there. He dug and dug, but did not find anything. Just then, he was approached by some tribesmen who had escaped from the war. 


They took the gold he had gotten from the Alchemist and beat him badly. When Santiago finally told them that he had seen treasure buried here in his dreams; they realised that there was nothing there, as dreams are not real. The leader of those tribesmen told him before leaving that he too had had a dream that there was treasure buried in Spain inside a church, where the Sacristy was broken and at the roots of the sycamore growing there, lies the treasure. He and the tribesman they left. 
Santiago laughed with joy; as this was the exact place where he had dreamed of the treasure in Egypt. So there was indeed a treasure to be found, but the only way to find it had been for him to go all the way to the pyramids and learn of its location from someone else. Had he not followed his destiny, he would never have learned of the buried treasure back home.

Epilogue
Santiago returned to Spain, and in the church dug up the treasure. He then made his way to the gypsy, whom he had to give one tenth of the treasure, as promised. Then the wind brought about a smell he remembered so well; a smell which the wind had carried from far away and was resting on his lips as a reminder. 
He called out to his love, I’m coming Fatima.

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