Tag Archives: pakistan

The Unsafe Asylum: Stories of Partition and Madness by Anirudh Kala

The Unsafe AsylumTitle: The Unsafe Asylum: Stories of Partition and Madness
Author: Anirudh Kala
Publisher: Speaking Tiger Publishing Private Ltd.
ISBN: 978-9387693258
Genre: Short Stories, Literary Fiction
Pages: 256
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

Stories of the Partition of India always leave you heavy. There is a knot in the chest that refuses to leave. Even though you haven’t witnessed any of it, yet the stories have passed from one generation to another. The generation that witnessed and the generations that had to keep the memory alive, even though these memories are perhaps worth not bringing to the fore.And yet there is the question of never forgetting – memory that should remain rock solid when it comes to tragedy and pain and displacement. Homes were lost. Relationships broken. I cannot imagine what it must be like to witness what our ancestors did during that time and yet they did – they survived broken, fractured and somehow still hopeful.

“The Unsafe Asylum” is a collection of stories (interlinked) of partition and literally the madness surrounding it. Yes, you will be reminded of Manto but Anirudh Kala has a distinct voice that will make you think and leave you with a lot of emotion. I think this collection also adds a lot of weight only because Anirudh is a psychiatrist and has been studying the long-lasting effects of Partition in both India and Pakistan. This collection starts when the Partition is over, blood has been spilled and people displaced. Even the patients in Mental Hospitals. India got its share of Hindu and Sikh patients and Pakistan, the Muslim ones. This book is about the stories of these patients, their lives before and after the Partition and the long-lasting impact of the catastrophe.

At the core of these interconnected stories is Prakash, an Indian psychiatry student who learns of the stories of these patients through one of them, Rulda who was discharged from Lahore’s Mental Hospital. At the same time, Prakash also learns of how he came to be born in 1947, when he visits Lahore. From there, starts another story of the lives of the patients, their stories and how Partition still lingers on, not only in their memory but in everything they do, the way they think and the way they feel.

Kala builds characters that stay. Whether it is a young man who believes that Benazir Bhutto loves him to a woman who passes on her delusions of being chased by a mob to her children, or even if it is a doomed love story – all of these are fixed in your head long after you are done with the book. If anything, also beware that the book will play with your head to a large extent. And yet, the experience of reading this book is excellent. Yes, the topic is not palatable. Yes, it will not be easy. But I strongly believe that literature only builds empathy in people. And for that read it all. Read books that make you laugh. The ones that make you cry. The ones that make you smile. The ones that make you uncomfortable and think of what is going on in the world – past, present and what may come in the future.

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Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

Home Fire Title: Home Fire
Author: Kamila Shamsie
Publisher: Bloomsbury
ISBN: 9781408886786
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 264
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

I will try doing some justice to the book with my review. I will only try. “Home Fire” is one of those books that come when you least expect them to and leave you stunned, make you feel a thousand things, and then pretend that nothing has ever happened. There is the storm and also the lull at the same time. When that happens to me, while reading a book, I know that the book will stay for a long time.

Shamsie’s prose is so evocative and tender that you can feel the characters trying very hard to balance themselves – their emotions and their motives more than anything else. “Home Fire” as most people have said and so will I, is an adaptation or inspired by “Antigone”. Antigone, a teenage girl is forced to choose between obeying the law of the land (her uncle, the king of Thebes, has forbidden the burial of a traitor who happens to be her brother Polynices who declared war on the city and in the process kills his own brother Eteocles) and religious law and sentiments toward her brother. The good brother gets the funeral and the so-called bad brother doesn’t. Antigone then must decide if she wants to give Polynices a burial or not, the punishment for which is death penalty.

I remember watching Antigone a long time ago. Ratna Pathak Shah was Antigone and I could not get images out of the play out of my mind as I read “Home Fire”. Art does cross boundaries. Anyway, back to “Home Fire”. This is the same dilemma faced by Aneeka, as of course Home Fire is loosely based on the play by Sophocles. Aneeka’s twin brother Parvaiz has left London to work for the media arm of Isis, after knowing about their father’s death. Their sister Isma tells the police where he is gone and Aneeka is most angry, almost to the point of telling her that they have no sister. Isma is the older sister to the twins who has taken care of them like a mother. She is the voice of reason, while Aneeka’s voice is that of strong emotion. Isma meets Eamonn (, while she is studying in the US and he is on a holiday. There is a connection. However, on his return to US of A, he falls in love with Aneeka, who will go to any lengths to go home and search for her brother.

Shamsie raises the issues of love, freedom, longing, exile (from a beloved and from a country), what home truly is and of course the most underlined theme of all: xenophobia and what it is to be Muslim in modern times. There is so much going on in the book that I had to stop, hold my breath or sometimes just wait till I finish gasping and then turn the pages once again. Her writing is stunning and more than anything else, she has this quality to speak with you and anyone else through her emotions. Her words are universal. She also makes Antigone accessible but after a while the story of Antigone is merely a skeletal framework while the story of Aneeka, Isma and Parvaiz is what keeps you glued.

“Home Fire” truly deserves a place not only in the long-list for the Man Booker Prize 2017 but also in the short-list and perhaps even the winner. The book makes you see your world for what it is and is most emotional of her works if you ask me. In fact, I think, this is my most favourite of her books. A read which you will not forget.

The Golden Legend by Nadeem Aslam

the-golden-legend-by-nadeem-aslam Title: The Golden Legend
Author: Nadeem Aslam
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton, Penguin Random House India
ISBN: 978-0670089116
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 376
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

With every book that he writes, Nadeem Aslam only gets better at his craft. Since his debut novel in 1993, “Season of the Rainbirds”, Aslam returns to Pakistan with his latest book “The Golden Legend”. His new book is also just the others – a statement made against wars, what was started by the West and how the country he depicts is hell-bent on completing it, and to top it the darkness of the world. What is different about “The Golden Legend” (which I personally love) is the combination of realism and fable across a terrain of terrorism, tragedy and cruelty.

“The Golden Legend” opens with the death of a middle-aged architect Massud, leaving his wife and collaborator Nargis behind. Both of them were collectively working on building a library on the outskirts of the city – to which they were transporting books and that is how Massud got shot and died. At this time, with turmoil surrounding them and a roadside shooting as well, Nargis flees with her Christian neighbour Helen. This is when there are violent relations between Christians and Muslims.

This is only one part of the story. There is also the story of Helen, who falls in love with Imran, an unknown Kashmiri. There is the story of Helen’s mother Lily. There is another tale of the US officer who wants Nargis to forgive her husband’s killer. Amidst all this, there is the story of life, love and reconstruction of faith.

Aslam’s prose cuts through to you. At least it has always to me. His narrative is wise and affecting and perhaps more timely than ever. Catharsis for his characters comes in forms and ways one cannot even imagine. Through his solid writing, Aslam reflects Pakistan’s present and past through a story of love and human spirit, which only he could have offered.

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 : Ismat : Her Life, Her Times : Edited by Sukrita Paul Kumar & Sadique

Ismat - Her Life Her Times Title: Ismat : Her Life, Her Times
Author: Sukrita Paul Kumar & Sadique
Publisher: Katha Books
ISBN: 9788185586977
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir, Biography
Pages: 300
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

When an author has had a kind of life which no one can match up to, that is when books such as these are needed. I think to a very large extent, only a few authors can rise to this rank from the plentiful in the literary sea, existing as of now. I have always felt this rare closeness to Ismat Aapa and I do not know why. I think to a very large extent (and I am only guessing here) is the marginalized context – of both of us that I am able to relate to her, the way I do. The bold texture of her life, the choices made against the grain of the norm and more than anything else, to fight for the cause of her work, is something worth admiring, perhaps a hundred thousand times over. Where else can one see this passion today? I may be getting ahead of myself here, but that is only because I love her so.

“Ismat: Her Life, Her Times” is a wonderfully constructed book. There is a lot in this book and I can recommend it to any Chughtai lover. Both, Sukrita and Sadique have managed to almost write a canvas of her work and the woman that she was. She is one woman who had so much to say and she always said it with a bite, with humour and emphasizing on the fact of breaking all barriers and boundaries. This book encapsulates her life the way she lived it – from a writer to her advent in the Indian Film Industry to her lens and the way she viewed everything with it.

What is even more enchanting is the range of contributors – who have written about her and are collated in this book – from Faiz Ahmad Faiz to Manto to Krishan Chander and Qurratulain Hyder, commenting on Ismat – the person and the writer.

“Ismat: Her Life Her Times” is a dedication to a writer beyond words. It is her life, through pictures, through letters, through her work and the personality she was. The book could be seen as a starter, as a guide to all her works (her vast body of work that is), and to encourage readers to go and read more of her books, her stories and if possible watch the movies she wrote for and acted in.

To me this book embodies the woman beautifully. Of course not as beautifully as Kaghazeen Hain Pairan, but it does bring to fore mostly everything about her. A book not to be missed out on. A book which takes the writer beyond everything else and gives her the due and credit she has always deserved.

Here is a forty seven long interview of hers, if you are interested and by the way you should be:

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