Tag Archives: pakistan

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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The Scatter Here is Too Great

Book Review: This Side, That Side: Restorying Partition. Curated by Vishwajyoti Ghosh

This Side That Side Title: This Side, That Side: Restorying Partition: Graphic Narratives from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh
Curated by: Vishwajyoti Ghosh
Publisher: Yoda Press with Goethe Institut
ISBN: 9789382579014
Genre: Graphic Fiction
Pages: 336
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

What is home? What is its meaning? Does it lose its value when disassociated from it? When torn away and not being able to look at it and then made to rely only on memory to experience what it feels like to be home. What is home then? What was home during the Partition of India? Two countries were formed no doubt. The herald of a new beginning some would say and yet it was disastrous for so many. Perhaps, it has reached a stage that while it exists in our subconscious, we yet are afraid to acknowledge its horrors. The fact that it happened – it took place and claimed lives is something too strong for us to give it its due and then when we fail to do that, we have art to remind us. All the time.

Art makes us see what we do not want to. It makes us hear what we choose to become deaf to. It compels us to not turn our face to the other side. With this in mind and maybe more, Yoda Press in conjunction with Goethe Institut has published a brilliant graphic anthology on the partition of India and Pakistan, and also the creation of Bangladesh, called, “This Side, That Side: Restorying Partition”, which is curated by Vishwajyoti Ghosh.

The collection is unique not in the sense that it is in the graphic format, but perhaps because it aims to store memories in the form of lines and drawings and black and white. The shades of grey have no need to be documented. They are there – all-pervasive and daunting. There are twenty eight pieces in this collection – written and illustrated by over forty people. A work of greatness, in the sense of the contribution and most empathic – sometimes bordering sentimental, however don’t those times deserve that? Memory doesn’t let go.

I remember my grandmother telling me tales about partition, when she and her husband came to India. They had no choice, she would tell me and I didn’t understand then. I was but a child and now while reading this book, all I could think of was her. Displacement. It almost seems but a word till you face it. The stories in this collection look at every facet of Partition – whether it is in the most Bollywood of manner as portrayed in “An Afterlife” between two lovers who must part or in the way of the survivor as documented in “Know Directions Home?” depicting how a tribe moved from Pakistan to India and made a home for itself.

It isn’t that because of the form of expression being different (graphic + words in this case), the impact is any lesser. You end up feeling the same. At some level, only a South Asian can understand this book and at another level it speaks universally to all those people who have left home or searching for home. Vishwajyoti Ghosh has done a commendable job of getting these people together and somehow while reading this book, you know that they share a common emotion – yearning and longing. It just doesn’t let go of you as a reader. “This Side, That Side” is not just another graphic novel. It has the effect of pulling you right in and making connections that you never otherwise would have. A read to be savoured. Page by page. Illustration by Illustration. Word by Word.

Book Review: The Blind Man’s Garden by Nadeem Aslam

The Blind Man's Garden by Nadeem Aslam Title: The Blind Man’s Garden
Author: Nadeem Aslam
Publisher: Random House India
ISBN: 978-81-8400-109-9
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 416
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

When you read a Nadeem Aslam novel, you mull over it. You take in his words and breathe what he has to say. You are aware of the political undertones in his books. At times, you also may not like what you read. You might also detest some parts. You will yell in happiness when something good happens to one of his characters. You want to keep the book aside and you will not be able to, because that is the power of his books. You will ignore everything else and read on, because Aslam has a story to tell and his characters will talk to you. They will make you believe and sometimes make you cry and live as well.

“The Blind Man’s Garden” according to me is one of the best books that Aslam has written. I have read all his books and while all his books have the much needed political angle; this one to me is most emotional and heart-wrenching in a lot of places. I interviewed Nadeem Aslam at the Jaipur Literature Festival this year (which will be a different post) and he was so passionate about the book and the way he spoke with me. The book almost came alive through him. All his characters and the situations he put them through almost seemed surreal and believable. For me that is the craft of a great storyteller. “The Blind Man’s Garden” makes you feel and think about humans and what does war do to them. He gets into the heart of his characters and makes them speak for themselves. He makes them tell their stories, their lives spread across the canvas of his landscape, of time unknown and sometimes time is of great essence. This is precisely why I cannot help myself but mark almost every other line on every other page of an Aslam novel.

Jeo and his foster-brother Mikal leave their home in a small Pakistani city not to fight with the Taliban but to help care for the wounded victims. The Western Armies have invaded Afghanistan and the brothers only want to help the wounded, whether Afghani or the Americans. They only want to help and yet they get embroiled deep into the war as its unwilling soldiers. At the same time left behind is Jeo’s wife and her superstitious mother, and their father Rohan, who is slowly but surely turning blind. The war is seen through from all perspectives and that is the crux of the story.

For me everything worked in the book. The writing is sharp and hits in places that you would not expect it to. The past and the present situations merge beautifully throughout the entire narrative. In fact, what I loved the most about the book was the way the structure was built and at the same time the prose seemed very fluid, as though it was waiting to flow through the reader’s mind and heart. The heart of the book is about everything surrounding the war – lost children, grieving parents, hopeful wives and children who are left behind wondering when their fathers will return. Despite all this, what strings the book together is hope, which is unending and everlasting.

There are a lot of sub-elements and plots to the book (which I will not spoil for you) that add to the beauty of this wonderfully written novel. There is beauty and at the same time there is this sharp ache and a prayer that all should go well for the characters that you have come to known while reading the book. As a reader, I found myself hoping that all went well. Such is the power of this magnificent read. It is for sure one of the best I will read this year.

Here are some quotes from the book:

“History is a third parent.”

“The logic is that there are no innocent people in a guilty nation.”

“No,” he said, “but before they lose, they harm the good people. That is what I am afraid of.”

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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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Short Story 1: The Return by Saadat Hasan Manto

Saadat Hasan Manto stories belong to disturbing times and are but obviously set in those times. Partition of India and Pakistan is the setting for most of his stories and they aren’t pretty. I used to read Manto a long time ago and then I stopped reading his works. They made the hair on my back stand up and only to think that human beings are capable of the worst behaviour, made me sometimes lose all faith in the human race.

I come from a family that experienced partition. My grandmother still recollects stories of those times and how the entire family had to flee Pakistan and come to India. How her home wasn’t her home anymore and the neighbours and friends she knew, would never be hers again. I think somewhere deep down in her heart she still yearns to go back to Karachi and she cannot.

The Return (Khol Do) is a story of a lost daughter when a train going to Lahore from Amritsar is stopped mid-way and attacked by the rioters. The story is of shame and the descend of human character and how sometimes the very saviours can turn out to be the perperators. The father is searching for his daughter and finally finds her. His only relief comes from the fact that she is alive. Nothing else seems to matter. That was the irony of the situation then, I guess.

The Return had a deep impact on me. The questions that arose: Can one human being ever trust another? Where is the line drawn between one who saves and that same person then does not? Who decides the integrity of people? Is there any left at all?

Saadat Hasan Manto’s writing is never sugar-coated. He always wrote the way he saw and what he experienced. By now you would have realized that I would definitely recommend his writing to everyone who reads. He is the master of Urdu literature and I am only too glad that his writing has been available to all since decades.

The translations by Khalid Hasan and Aatish Taseer are worth reading.

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