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Tag: Borges


Q&A with Tahir Shah

Tahir_bio_pic 2013bI just did a Q&A with myself, based on some of the questions I’m asked on a regular basis.


There are both huge differences and huge similarities. For me, book writing (any writing for that matter) is about storytelling. Tell the story in the right way and the reader will do a kind of dance through your work. The most important thing for me is that my reader has the right experience, and that’s achieved by giving a great deal of thought to the way a passage will be read. I devote time to thinking about the reader whether I’m writing fiction or non-fiction.

Naturally, though, with fiction you can let yourself loose a whole lot more. But, having said that, I think there’s enormous scope for non-fiction writers (especially travel writers) in observing what they think they know and understand, in new ways. It’s a great challenge, but one that pays great dividends when you get it right.




Western society tends to believe that the scientific and cultural bedrock upon which it sits was a product of the Classical world, most notably of the Romans and the Greeks. At our schools, teachers rant on about Latin etymology, and about Euclid, Pythagoras, Plato and Aristotle. But in our obsession for those empires, we blinker ourselves to the full picture, of how the two Classical civilizations arrived at our doors. The knowledge of the Romans and the Greeks passed through a matrix, a system that honed them and gave them shape, like a swordsmith giving edge to a blade.

The general idea that’s been commonly believed is that the fall of the Roman Empire (in 476 AD), was followed by centuries of darkness, until the blinding light of the European Renaissance. And during that era of darkness, there was no important scholarship, no learning, no breakthroughs in their desert of darkness.

It was almost a thousand years when nothing really happened at all.

But then the Renaissance, the rebirth of learning, was constructed solely on the classical cultures.

Nothing could be farther from the truth…


June 14, 2008 Posted by tahir in Travel

Canned pie on Saturday

There are few things that instill such fear in me than the thought of canned pie. As a child of the seventies it was a fare I knew well… a stout round tin with a blue lid welded on tight, filled with a gooey mess of steak and kidney, and an abundance of feathery pastry ready to rise as soon as it tasted heat.

I have spent my adult life thinking of those nylon-shirted days, with ABBA and tie-dye as an omnipresent backdrop, when Fray Bentos pies would be dished up with a regularity that was displeasing to all… to all but the family labrador who circled beneath the dining table like a shark that had smelled fresh blood.
The years passed. On came the highs and lows of Thatcherism, then Blairism. The big hair of youth may have thinned, but my mind still thinks about those pies. There was something so complete about them, a world in themselves, meat trapped in metal, like a dinosaur iced into the Steppes. And, like the pemmican of the first Arctic explorers, they were something quite under-appreciated, a cuisine ready to nourish the brave and the good.
The more I think of them, the more I feel warm inside, touched with a vein of nostalgia, as if they were a symbol of lost hope. My mother used to say, as she dished them up, that the man who invented the process of canning a pie was very brilliant… very brilliant indeed. He’d become a millionaire, she said, adding in a whisper that he had once owned the house in which we lived. 
My mind ground away. Canned pie — what a revolution of simplicity, an obvious and genius design. A fare that’s protected so securely that it would withstand even the nuclear threat of the A-bomb that hung over all our seventies’ homes. And the more I thought of it, the more I realised the genius… taking something that’s known and loved — good old English pie — and transforming it into something else.
I hear that the ‘Liebig Extract of Meat Company’ in Fray Bentos, Uruguay, is now a museum… a point of focus perhaps for nostalgic hippies and children who’d been weaned on nuclear shelter food.
So I’ve decided to make my own journey there, a humble pilgrimage. I leave for Uruguay in three weeks. My heart is going pitter-patter at the thought of it. An excitement hardly known since the long gone days when I’d managed to slide an entire canned pie under the table, to the waiting jaws of our labrador.