Tag Archives: karachi

Karachi You’re Killing Me by Saba Imtiaz

Karachi You're Killing Me by Saba Imtiaz Title: Karachi You’re Killing Me
Author: Saba Imtiaz
Publisher: Random House India
ISBN: 9788184004601
Genre: Literary Fiction, Satire, Humour
Pages: 272
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

There are very few satirical writers left in the world, I think. Or maybe I have not heard enough of them. So when I stumble on something interesting – satirical, with a good plot and hilarious at the same time, I know that I have struck gold. For a reader, nothing is more gratifying than reading something which fulfils and satisfies at the same time. “Karachi, You’re Killing Me” is one of those books. You immediately take a liking to it and that is that.

Saba Imtiaz’s first book, “Karachi You’re Killing Me” is a romp of a read and when I say romp – I mean it in the sense of it being fast-paced, funny, tongue-in-cheek and describing the extremes of Pakistan – from the elite to the not-so elite to the middle class that hangs in the balance.

Books about Pakistan always leave me wanting to know more about the country. It is almost like the need to know how the brother country has shaped and what lies ahead of them: Is it as different? Is it that similar? As I reader, I am left clamouring for more.

At the heart of the novel is, Ayesha Khan, a single, female reporter in Karachi, who despises the elite and has no choice but to cover them for her pieces as well. Her assignments range from covering a bomb site to interviewing her boss’s niece, who is a cup-cake designer. Besides this, she has her own problems to take care of.

Imtiaz, very cleverly brings to her readers: Karachi: In all its splendour and sometimes not so. She speaks of the underbelly of Karachi and what it takes sometimes to survive in a city like this. Ayesha is almost caught between two worlds and yet is sorted in her head. She is the kind of character that takes her chances and does it without thinking twice.

The writing also is like this – almost semi-autobiographical in nature. It is most certainly not apologetic and Imtiaz says what she has to without making any bones about it. Saba Imtiaz, according to me, is one of the most promising writers to have come out of Pakistan in recent times and I for one cannot wait to read her next book.

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Book Review: The Scatter Here is Too Great by Bilal Tanweer

The Scatter Here is Too Great by Bilal Tanweer Title: The Scatter Here is Too Great
Author: Bilal Tanweer
Publisher: Vintage, Random House India
ISBN: 9788184004595
Genre: Literary Fiction, Short Stories
Pages: 214
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Bilal Tanweer’s characters are fragile, sometimes introspective, angry, filled with angst and well, at the end of it all, just human. I start this review like this, because I want you to know how the writer thinks and what better way to know that, than get a sense of how his characters are. I have always believed that it takes a lot for writers to dig stories from their lives, more so when they live incidents – one way or the other, and from which, stories are born.

Bilal Tanweer’s book, “The Scatter Here is too Great” – a collection of interrelated stories is just what the book doctor recommended for a weekend read. It is not frivolous. It is not your typical short story collection. The fact that it resonates and says it the way it is, is reason enough for any reader to pick this collection.

“The Scatter here is too Great” is about an event that strikes different perspectives, amongst different walks of life in the city of Karachi, Pakistan. The event – a bomb blast at Cantt station. The description of the blast is gripping, given what it leads to and how different views and opinions, loves and losses, anger and frustration and deeply embedded loyalty to Karachi come forth. Tanweer perhaps has no set technique and to me that was most refreshing while reading this gem of a book.

From a kid who is bullied at school, to an ex-communist and poet being harassed on a bus by youngsters, to a teenager who steals his mother’s car to meet his girlfriend and my personal favourite in the entire collection – a story of a girl who tells her kid brother stories, and hides her grief within.

I am trying very hard not to use the regular adjectives to describe Tanweer’s writing and yet I cannot avoid using the word stupendous when it comes to his writing. It does not at any point feel that Tanweer is a novice and this is just his debut. Terror is at the centre of the book, but it is not its heart. What is then is the love for the city, the characters that are constantly struggling for sense of normalcy, who in the wake of the incident, want to lead better lives and yet are hopeful about it. To me it was a fantastic read of the month and the year. If you enjoy short stories and even if you do not, the book will sure leave you spellbound.

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Book Review: Instant City: Life and Death in Karachi by Steve Inskeep

Title: Instant City: Life and Death in Karachi
Author: Steve Inskeep
Publisher: Penguin Viking
ISBN: 9780670086078
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 284
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Instant City chronicles the life of Karachi – of a city in Pakistan that seems to be the only metropolis and yet the dichotomy lies in it being so backward at times, that even its people fail to recognize it. Karachi has been transformed a lot since the India-Pakistan partition and in many ways that most people fail to see. Steve Inskeep brilliantly writes and captures the essence of the city with its fallacies and successes (whatever little it might have had) and doesn’t become judgmental at any time while doing so.

The book is divided into four parts – Jinnah Road, Landmarks, New Karachi and Renewed Karachi. What surprised me about the book was that Steve Inskeep has not left any stone unturned. Karachi is no easy city to write about. It is as good as writing about Bombay or Delhi or Calcutta for that matter – a city just as developing and constantly changing. At the same time, it is questioning itself in many aspects – from the religious standpoint to the new ideas formed by the newer generation. From the brand conscious elite that surrounds the city to the systems and functioning of the government. Steve Inskeep as managed to capture the essence of the modern and the traditional aspects of the city at the same time, which is no easy feat.

For a first book, Steve Inskeep sure did make me turn the pages. I was engrossed in the lives of everyday people set against the tumultuous city and its history, present and what the future might bring with it. The writing is structured, though there are parts that could have been dealt with differently, however they do require the detailing. Instant City is a book that also cannot be read in one sitting. It needs thought and breaks with those thoughts. I recommend the book for its writing and its clarity. I also recommend it for the capacity of the writer to go beyond the obvious.

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Book Review: The Cloud Messenger by Aamer Hussein

Title: The Cloud Messenger
Author: Aamer Hussein
Publisher: Telegram Books
Genre: Literary Fiction
ISBN: 978-9350291535
PP: 208 Pages
Price: Rs. 250
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

After reading, ‘Another Gulmohar Tree’ by Aamer Hussein, I was convinced that no one could write better about relationships than him and he yet again proved me right, as I turned the last page of ‘The Cloud Messenger’ with a lingering sadness in my heart. Aamer Hussein knows how to tug at those heart-strings and he does it with a magic so wonderfully woven that it becomes very difficult for the reader to not be under its spell.

The Cloud Messenger takes place in London – the distant rainy place that Mehran finds himself in after leaving Karachi in his teens. It is in London that most of his adult life unfolds – his loves, his work, his love for poetry and his hours spent dreaming, sending ‘cloud messages’ to other places and other lands.

Mehran does not seem to belong anywhere, no matter how hard he tries. He moves from lover to lover and from city to city, but no avail. What I loved about the book was the conflict, the deep-set insecurities that haunt us all and yet we do not admit to them – the book opened that window for me.

‘The Cloud Messenger’ is as much about the creative writing process as it is about lost love. Hussein is at his best when describing the hesitancy and doubts that assail Mehran as he tries to record certain memories from childhood. I suspect these passages may be partly autobiographical. Marvi, now Mehran’s lover, is dismissive, calling Mehran’s work ‘bourgeois indulgence that doesn’t take the reader anywhere”.

Mehran realises that he is not yet equipped to transform himself from a translator of poetry into a writer: ‘one day he would have to be a messenger to himself, carrying stories from the places of his past to his present place … to find himself a form, build a vehicle for his longing … not yet though. He isn’t ready.”

There is a lyrical quality to Hussein’s novel, and the snippets of love poetry he weaves into the narrative resonate with Mehran’s spiritual journey and his rites of passage as a writer. For me this was similar to Another Gulmohar Tree and highly entertaining without getting sentimental about love and its outcomes. There is no fixed ending to the book. It hangs without any structure – almost like love and poetry intermingling and no conclusion found. That was also one of the factors that drove me to think about the book and its characters at a deeper level. Read the book. Get transported to a different land. Of dreams and messages, and of love and its nature.

Invitation by Shehryar Fazli

So I was excited upon the book’s release and I read the book (courtesy: Tranquebar Press) and yes there were times I was taken aback and then there were times I didn’t know what to do with the emotions surging within me. Why you ask? Well the book is but like this and there is no hiding from its raw and brutal intensity at times.

The plot is fairly simple: The narrator Shahbaz, a young Pakistani returns to his home city after an exile of 19 years from Paris to settle a family dispute. The setting is: 1970 Karachi. Pakistan was in turmoil as Karachi was preparing for Democracy seething and tearing at the seams with corruption, class tension and political fixation. The power balance is at its pinnacle between West Pakistan and the Bengalis of East Pakistan (which would soon convert to Bangladesh). Property dispute eventually pits Shahbaz against his paternal aunt in the eye of the storm – Mona Phuppi, who is not only strong-willed but also conniving.

Shahbaz on the other hand wants his good life back – the days of being a part of Karachi aristocracy and he will stop at nothing to get it back. That is the parallel story that runs throughout. Shahbaz enters the world of the rich and the famous through his father’s friend who runs a popular cabaret and is now a close associate of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. The historical references are plenty throughout the book and I liked how the author stayed true to them (of course partly because he couldn’t distort history) and let the characters react to the events and be a part of the bigger picture than tell their own tales.

Shahbaz then goes through his own moral dilemma when he is asked to betray a friend to remain a part of the circle (he further gets acquainted with fundamentalists). Here what struck me was the way scenes were described – in an almost detached manner and maybe that’s why you can relate to it and read it from a third person perspective.

Invitation is a complex book on many levels – from creation of a democratic country to a country that is still stuck in ages gone by. One of the novel’s clear strengths is its evocation of the personalities he gets close to, from Ghulam Hussain, his Bengali chauffeur, to Mona Phuppi, his aunt, to Brigadier Alamgir, an old contact of his father’s who now runs the Agra Hotel, to Malika, a cabaret dancer from Cairo who performs nightly at the Agra. The character of Shahbaz himself is a curious mix: on the one hand, a self-questioning innocent who’s far from worldly-wise, and on the other, one who seeks out drugs and whores with equal avidity.

Invitation is a book full of colour and incidents. The prose is confident, unrestrained and deals with situations in a manner that is sleek – almost like a sleight of hand. The overall narrative of the book makes it a taut debut read – the one that I would recommend to almost everyone.

Invitation; Fazli, Shehryar; Tranquebar Press; Rs. 495