There have been Shahs in Morocco. Of Iran, and of Afghanistan. We speak of the latter.
Tahir Shah (official site) In Arabian Nights: A Caravan of Moroccan Dreams (Bantam, 2008)
Tangier holds a special place in my heart. It was there that my grandfather lived, then died, knocked down outside his villa on the steep rue de la Plage by a reversing Coca-Cola truck. He was an Afghan named Ikbal Ali Shah. Much of his life was spent traveling in the Middle East and Central Asia, writing books on the worlds he encountered. When his wife died of cancer before she reached sixty, he was distraught beyond words. He set sail to Morocco with a sea-trunk full of books, because it was the one place he could think of where they had never been together.
Packed to overflowing, the Legation's conference room was filled with a very Tangier audience of bibliophiles of all ages and persuasions there to hear Tahir Shah read the above and a number of other selections from his dozen books.
A born story teller (not only was his grandfather a writer, but Tahir Shah is the son of Idries Shah, one of the great authorities on Sufism and author of numerous books, including many stories for children), our author charmed the audience during a good hour of readings and discussion. He was even able to find some tongue twisting challenges in his own prose – did I write this? We videotaped the session, and hope to make it available in a forthcoming post.
The event – organized at TALIM with the bookstore Librairie des Colonnes – was moderated by Capetown transplant Aman te Water. Aman selected a fine series of texts for the author to read, starting with his and his family's connection with Tangier, and exploring the craft of storytelling. Aman te Water:
Shah’s personae, his heritage that blends English, Afghan and Indian, and his ability to translate the traditional into the contemporary have turned him into a messenger of sorts. Through his travels and links to different civilizations he uses his books to bridge the gap and create an exchange between polarities. One can’t help feeling his books draw us closer to an elusive middle ground.
Hosting Tahir Shah and his family – his wife and two children attended, and feature in his touching and amusing books – was pure pleasure, as well as a revelation. It turns out that I had already written a review of the excellent film Journey to Mecca: in the Footsteps of Ibn Battuta, for which Shah was the principal screenwriter. After editorializing that the film needed to be shown in Tangier, Ibn Battuta's birthplace and final resting place, I see that it is to be shown starting next month in Casablanca (Casa has an IMAX theater). I'm very pleased it's coming to Morocco.
Though Shah has chosen to make his home in Casablanca, he appreciates Tangier:
Tangier is a hybrid of Europe, Africa, and the Arab world. It is a city of such charm and sophistication that the people who reside there sometimes forget their astonishing good fortune.
We were indeed fortunate to have the benefit of Tahir Shah's presence among us on Friday, and if his enthusiasm over our research library is anything to go by – "you have an 1816 Robert Adams!" and other such discoveries – we think we will see him back. Tahir Shah, man of the "East-West Bridge," probably feels a natural affinity with a place that literally bridges East and West, medina and modern – the Tangier American Legation.
Tahir Shah's impressions of his visit to the Legation, and especially its research library: "The American Legation is one of those rare fragments of history trapped in the modern world. How magical, how absolutely extraordinary… and the books, oh the books!"
We couldn't ask for a better endorsement.