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Time in circles
"Their faces are grave under their turbans, but their eyes smile"

February 25, 2005

Doris Lessing in her book Time Bites: Views and Reviews (Harper Collins, London, 2004), pours out many of her inner opinions, secrets, influences that had an impact on her life as a writer, political activist, social commentator, feminist, and above all human being who craves for something deeper.

Lessing, who was born in 22nd October 1919 in Kermanshah, is an author of critically acclaimed novels, short stories, opera, drama, autobiography, poetry and nonfiction. She is considered one of the greatest writers of the 20th century.

Time Bites is a book like no other. She talks about things that matter to her deeply in essay style. Her prose is stylish and, most importantly, intimate. It seems that she has done a full circle returning to where she started; Persia, the country of her birth as it was called then. Although she was only five when her family moved to Africa, she still recalls some vivid memories of the place in her book, Under My Skin, the first volume of her autobiographical work, she writes,

There are memories that have about them something of the wonderful, the marvelous. A man, a gardener -- Persian -- stands over stone water channels, that come under the brick wall into the garden, bringing water from the snow-mountains, and he is pretending to be angry because I am jumping in and out of the delicious water, which splashes him too. I am sent by my parents into the kitchen to tell the servants, that dinner may be served, and that is Tehran because I have my brother by the hand, and I look up, up, up at these tall dignified men and see that their faces are grave under their turbans, but their eyes smile.

In Time Bites, a number of essays are about Sufis and Sufi philosophy and poetry. Idries Shah is another character that she speaks with fondness and reverence. Idris Shah is also quoted in other sections of the book, as an authority. And there is Mullah-Nasrudin whom she writes, "Of all the literary forms used by the Sufis-parables, anecdotes, conversational exchanges, recitals, stories-the 'joke' merchant Nasrudin is the most remarkable."

Under the title "Books" she equals the popularity of Animal Farm to World Tales by Idries Shah. Dickens is someone she owes the awaking of her social conscious to. And of course Animal Farm, the most popular political novel in Africa. She remembers the time when 'political writing' was synonymous with Marxism. And she believes its heir today is political correctness.

As a political thinker she is more shrewd and awakened as ever. "You cannot legislate against terrorist groups once they come into being, but you can prevent terrorists from coming into being," she writes. "Ignorant armies like Taliban are not terrorists. Saddam Hussein is not a terrorist, he is a brutal dictator, on a model we are familiar with: Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot. Iran is not a terrorist regime, though it may be sheltering terrorists. It is another brutal regime whose human rights record, according to the United Nations, is among the worst," she states bravely.

In the section "A book that changed me," she writes, "I had been looking about for a way of thinking, of looking at life, that mirrored certain conclusions and discoveries I had made for myself. But I could not find any thing appropriate." When she finally does find the book it's The Sufis by Idries Shah. This is a remarkable assertion.

Western writers for prejudice or other reasons, shy away from divulging the influences of Eastern thinkers on their work as if it's some sort of classified information. The person that readily comes to mind is T.S. Eliot. To some critics he was the greatest poet of the 20th century, but hardly anyone knows that Omar Khayam was a major influence on his work.

Although Idris Shah is not a major influence on her work as such, but instead he fills the void of her inner most being, explaining to her the spiritual journey of the soul more profoundly than any one else that she has read. I think this is what Time Bites is about; she introduces herself to you as a person and not the writer and shows you what she values most as a human being. 

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