Her name, he said, was Lal Peri Mastani, or the Ecstatic Red Fairy. I asked how I would find her amid the crowds.

“Don’t worry,” replied the fakir. “Everyone knows Lal Peri. And anyway she is unmistakable.” 

“In what way, “ I asked.

“She is dressed in bright red, is very fat, and she carries a huge wooden club.”

from Nine Lives by William Dalrymple

Today, before sunrise, he is on the trail, anticipated in Faro’s most recent warble, to discover if there is in fact a German word meaning “nostalgia for what never existed.” Sure enough, there is.

Sehnsucht is long on philosophy and short on melancholy,  C.S. Lewis says Sehnsucht is “the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both. We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience.” Can this “secret we cannot hide” be read by the eyes of those we love, who love us? See all the places of pilgrimage and conquest, all the caravanserai visited, the secret desires aroused in the alien alleyways and gardens?

Here’s saudade, a Portuguese word smooth as warm honey, another flavor of nostalgia for what never existed, for a love that never existed, fulfilled, eternal.  If you had a taste of it that’s worse because it’s gone now  and won’t come back no matter how much you suffer.

I have a terrible nostalgia for Lal Peri Mastani, the queen of the Sufis at Sehwan, and her disappearing world.  I made up a word for it: Mastania.

“In the corner of the courtyard, between the kettle drums and the shrine, was a huge, dark-skinned, red-cladded woman of between fifty and sixty, dancing with an enormous wooden club held aloft in her right hand. She had silver armlets covering her forearms, and a red wimple over her neck. She danced with great force and a manic energy, jumping and leaping in the air, more like the male dervishes than the possessed women who were seated relatively demurely around her.” 


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