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Selina is in her final year in high school. Her final exams are soon approaching. She is hoping to go to college soon. Her dad passed the previous year and things have been rocky at home since them. Her mother is grieving and Selina misses her dad very much. Her grades at school have also dipped since then. One of their family friends, who teaches at the university, offers to help Selina by giving her lessons in Economics, a subject which she finds the most challenging. The initial lessons go well, but one particular day when his wife is away, the family friend rapes her. He then threatens her, saying that if she tells anyone, he will ruin her life. Selina goes home and keeps quiet and doesn’t tell her mother or anyone else what happened. Meanwhile, for sometime, her mother has been trying to get Selina married. Her mother feels that an unmarried daughter at home is a burden. Selina refuses to agree to that till now, because she wants to go to university and study law and become a human rights lawyer. After this horrible thing happens to her, Selina tries locking away the memories of the incident in the deepest part of her heart and she hopes it stays there. But, unfortunately, it rears its head, surprisingly, a few weeks later, when Selina discovers that she is pregnant. She doesn’t know what to do, because she hasn’t told anyone what happened. She is afraid what would happen if her mother or other people discover that she is pregnant. To tide over this crisis, she tells her mother that she is ready to get married. Does Selina get married? Does her new husband discover her secret? Does she meet again the man who perpetrated this violence on her? Does she get justice? Is Selina able to survive all this and live a happy life? The answers to these questions form the rest of the book.

Stained‘ is a gripping book. It grabs the reader’s attention from the first page and refuses to let go till the last page. The story takes the reader on a roller coaster ride as we don’t know what is going to happen next, and we hope and pray that Selina survives the ordeal. Abda Khan’s prose is spare and it makes the story flow smoothly like a river. Abda Khan is a human rights lawyer herself and her writings and talks are focused on themes related to her work, especially the rights that women have and how they can take the help of the legal system to protect their rights. The parts of the story which talk about that are beautifully written. There are also beautiful descriptions of Pakistani culture in the book – the description of a Pakistani wedding is beautiful and is a pleasure to read, and it is almost like watching the Bollywood movie ‘Hum Aapke Hain Kaun‘; the description of food makes us almost smell the fragrant aroma wafting from the kitchen and makes us yearn for those delicious dishes. The book is very Pakistani / South Asian in some ways. For example, a Western reader might wonder why Selina didn’t go to the police and file a complaint, when she was raped. A South Asian reader will understand why she didn’t – going to the police would mean revealing something very private to the world and people will avoid doing it at all costs. A Western reader will believe that the police is out there to help the common person. A South Asian reader will regard the police with suspicion – in some places, entering a police station itself would be regarded as something which results in the loss of dignity for the family and the individual concerned. Hopefully readers who read the story with a Western sensibility will be able to get the subtleties of culture depicted in it.

I loved ‘Stained‘. I have wanted to read it for a while, and I am glad I finally read it. It is a moving story of the struggles faced by a young woman who suffers violence at the hands of a perpetrator and what she does to survive the ordeal. It is also a story about family, friendship and love. Abda Khan’s new novel ‘Razia‘ is coming out in July and I can’t wait to read it.

I will leave you with two of my favourite passages from the book.

“I breathed the scent of home deep into my lungs. I smelt a homey fragrance that exudes an underlying security you find nowhere else. I breathed in a calm serenity that only your home can give you. I inhaled the delicate scent of inner peace; if you search for it, you will surely find it here, I concluded. Home was not the place. I knew that now. Home was the people. My people. My family. I had missed them all so much.”

“I missed my mum’s home cooking. No amount of fine dining could ever compare to her dishes, which tasted of that unique combination of years of heritage and experience infused with the love that only a mother can impart into the food she prepares for her children.”

Have you read Abda Khan’sStained‘? What do you think about it?

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