Paulo Coelho’s latest is about the journey that helped him in his search for meaning.
The following lines from Gitanjali introduce Hippie to the readers: “And when old words die out on the tongue/new melodies break forth from the heart/and where the old tracks are lost/new country is revealed with its wonders”.
For Paulo Coelho, Rabindranath Tagore has been a major influence. The author, in fact, rues that people these days don’t pay enough attention to poetry and by quoting Tagore at the beginning of his book, he wants readers to focus on Tagore’s work.
Interestingly, at first, the author wanted to title this book And Where the Old Tracks are Lost (from the above poem), but then changed his mind as he realised that the meaning might get lost in translation.
Hippie has Coelho—a young and skinny Brazilian, sporting long, flowing hair and a goatee—undertaking a journey from Bolivia to Peru, Chile and Argentina, and then on to Amsterdam, where he chances upon Karla, a young girl looking for a travel companion to Nepal. The two take the Magic Bus across Europe and Asia to Kathmandu. On the way, readers get to know about their relationship and also about the other travellers on the trip. With no traditional plans for the future, Coelho embarks on a journey that enriches his life and helps him in his search for meaning.
Not surprisingly, love and spirituality are the two dominant themes in Hippie. Even though Karla, Coelho’s “new love”, has been described as an easygoing independent woman, the reader gets to know that deep inside she is unhappy and depressed. As we move forward in the book, we realise that Karla has fallen head over heels in love with Coelho even though she had initially thought that he would be just one of her phases. “I never thought I would be capable of loving someone the way I love you. I am going to love you for the rest of my life,” Karla confesses to the author.
But Coelho’s true love is spirituality and it’s only in the last chapter of the book that we get to know that while making love to Karla, he had an out-of-body experience. “I needed discipline, rigour, a place to serve God so that I could be closer to the rest of the world. Now I needed my soul to dance with me,” he says.
The book ends with Coelho staying back in Istanbul, one of the Magic Bus’ stops, to continue his love affair with spiritualism, while Karla continues on her journey to Nepal.
If you are a loyal Paulo Coelho reader, you wouldn’t find a young Paulo choosing spirituality over Karla to be shocking because all of the author’s earlier books, like The Alchemist and The Zahir, have delved into spiritualism in a big way. In Hippie, too, Coelho stirs readers’ emotions through passionate prose and evocative passages based on his life experiences.
Coelho also talks about the times he was incarcerated in Brazil, each time without any valid reason. He explains what it felt for a hippie to be living in Brazil surrounded by right-wing and left-wing guerillas—both of whom were threatened by hippies.
The author considers Hippie to be a spiritual road movie, as the lead character embarks on a journey to find personal growth and due to that undergoes various experiences.
The hippies during Coelho’s youth wanted to create a society comprising non-normative values regarding women, food, travelling and fashion. Unfortunately, they failed to challenge the status quo, but did, however, manage to see the world differently and change themselves for the better.