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Posts Tagged ‘Contemporary Pakistani Literature’

One of the books I was eagerly looking forward to, this year, was Faiqa Mansab’sThis House of Clay and Water‘. It was launched late last month and I got a copy and finished reading it yesterday. Here is what I think.

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The Story

The first thing I want to say about the book is that I love that gorgeous cover! It is so beautiful! Now about the book itself. The story is set in Lahore and it starts with the story of Nida. Nida is married and her husband and in-laws are well off. On the surface, life seems to be comfortable and nice, but there seems to be an emptiness in Nida’s life. The story goes back and forth in time, as we find out more about Nida’s past and try to discover clues to find out why she feels the way she does. Nida goes to the Daata Sahib Dargah sometimes, to calm her spirit, and there, one day, she meets Sasha. Sasha is a free spirit and though she is married and has two young daughters, she rebels against the confines of marriage and goes out with different men who make her feel special. Nida and Sasha meet Bhanggi, in the dargah. Bhanggi is a hijra, a hermaphrodite. His life in the past has been hard, but these days he sits under the banyan tree and plays the flute. People assemble to listen to him and they also come to pray for and receive his blessings, because he is regarded as a qalandar, a Sufi saint. A beautiful friendship blossoms between Nida and Bhanggi and it looks like it would flower into something more. The rest of the story is about how the friendship between Nida and Bhanggi and Nida and Sasha evolve and what happens between them and their families. Well, I am not going to tell you more. You should read the book for yourself and find out what happens next. 

Thoughts

I loved many of the characters in the story, especially Nida, Bhanggi and Zoya, Sasha’s daughter. Sasha was also quite fascinating – flawed and imperfect and complex. The story is mostly told from the point of view of Nida, Bhanggi and Sasha, but occasionally others join in – Zoya and for a brief while, Saqib, Nida’s husband. The novel’s depiction of contemporary Pakistani families – the relationship between men and women, parents and children, women and their in-laws – is very beautifully done. I also loved the novel’s depiction of contemporary Pakistani society – the contradictory pictures of the city, the elegance and the poverty, the position of the haves and the have-nots. The life of a hijra and a hijra’s role in culture and society is also depicted very insightfully. I also loved the novel’s depiction of the city of Lahore – the sights, the smells, the noise, the dust, the traffic, the monuments, the beautiful architecture, the history, the contradictions, the poverty, the elegance, the music, the food, the celebrations – the novel takes the reader into the middle of this beautiful city and leaves them there.

Quotes

I loved Faiqa Mansab’s beautiful, gorgeous prose – there were many beautiful lines and insightful passages throughout the book. Here are some of my favourites.

“I was an utterance in absentia. I was a forgotten word, uttered and mislaid long ago. I was the word that existed because there was another word that was my opposite, and without it I was nothing. I gained meaning only by acknowledging that possible other.”

“It is not often that I have two options to choose from. It is nice to be compelled towards something, otherwise one drifts through life unimpeded.”

“I’d morphed, altered, nipped and tucked away bits of my personality for so long, I no longer recognized myself. I feared that one day, even if I wanted to, I wouldn’t be able to identify myself. I’d be forever trapped in an image of another’s making, and there would be no escape because I would have forgotten to want to escape.”

“When death becomes an escape, when it becomes attractive, the purpose of life is fulfilled. To teach one it’s futility, it’s worthlessness, that is the purpose of life. Incongruously, its value lies in having imparted that lesson.”

“In the nights though, I couldn’t help but weave the golden cloth of my dreams. Each stitch from heart to thought, and thought to heart, was painful to bear, even if it was joyous at times. Because each thread was fraught with the fears of being broken midway, lost and never found again.”

“I had never said those words because there were no words left. My beloved and I were both exiles from language. Our love couldn’t be expressed in words. Our love had been woven into the melodies rendered by his flute, and it was subsumed in the atoms of the air we breathed. It had been consecrated in this shrine. It had never been named. It was an unnamed thing that had remained unspoken, unuttered, unsaid. I did not need to name it when he could already hear it.”

Final Thoughts

I loved ‘This House of Clay and Water‘. It is a beautiful, unconventional, unique love story, a spiritual love story. It is also a story about families and human relationships.  It is a brilliant, debut novel and Faiqa Mansab is a fresh, new, exciting voice in Pakistani literary fiction. It is one of my favourite books of the year and I can’t wait to find out what she comes up with next.

Have you read ‘This House of Clay and Water‘? What do you think about it?

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