Unfettered Wings – Book Review

Honest, sublime and unputdownable, Sana Munir’s ‘Unfettered Wings’ speaks of many worlds and paints many hues with its own distinct colors in the mind’s firmament.

A girl caught in the midst of the Partition mayhem who after losing everyone dear to her finally marries a man twice her age for the sake of refuge, a woman who has legally battled her way out of a nefarious relationship and is now resurrecting her life from scratch, a girl who took bullets for her kindness towards a stranger, a woman who battled the trauma of childhood molestation all her life, a mother of 3 sons who realized the true significance of ‘motherhood’ only after giving birth to a girl child with Down Syndrome. These are some of the characters that pulls you like a magnet and leaves you overwhelmed with their incredible tales. These are the women residing the pages of ‘Unfettered Wings’ written by Sana Munir.

The book is a collection of 10 shorts that speaks about the ‘extra ordinary stories of ordinary women’ with each story having its own flavor and taking the reader on a literal journey through the various contours of Pakistan. It is most fascinating how the author has covered different parts of the country in her stories.

Author Sana Munir

While reading the story ‘Maria’, I was literally transported to the quaintly beautiful Baluchistan, the land of the deserts, from where comes a merchant to the city of Lahore to sell his carpets. In his land, poetry is sung to the rhythm of ‘dutar’ that may not be a ‘’grand orchestra of sorts, but is so titillating that the vibrations reach from the eardrum to a place deep inside.” Simplistic Baseer lands in the city and falls in love with the beautiful Maria. Soon he loses his sleep over her and stands outside her mansion daily to get a glimpse of her. After days of waiting to see her in person, he finally makes it to her mansion one day, his naïve self gets exposed to the riches of her world. But he soon realised that for Maria ‘love’ has no meaning, its isn’t something she is seeking. Through her words, he understood where her ‘interest’ lies and could rationalize why so many men came in and went out of her huge mansion at different times of the day. With a broken heart, this rural lad left her mansion that day. He ‘stopped standing in front of Maria’s house, but she kept house in his heart….she stayed in his subconscious mind, when he made love to his wife, who bore him 4 children’.

Each story in this fantastic collection will tug a string in the reader’s heart, with its wonderful narration and immense impact.

In the story ‘Habiba’, the author takes us to the rugged terrains in the district of Nushki that’s surrounded by hills and rocks. Habiba’s father is a contract killer who takes ‘assignments’ of kidnapping high profile people. Habiba, the rebellious of the two sisters, with a heart of gold, falls for this ‘prisoner’ who was stationed at their place and eventually meets a fatal end for an act of kindness towards him, which was misunderstood for adultery. Girls like Habiba are the ones who follow strict purdah and hence are totally cut off from the outside world. The author describes, “at fifteen years of age, Habiba’s beauty has not been admired by a man’s eye. She always had every bit of her skin covered, except her eyes – they were like a poetic mix of blue and green, with specks of gold and black in them.’

The harsh reality of the patriarchal society in the rural parts of Pakistan and the vulnerability of the human heart is effectively brought through this touching tale. The effect of the last few lines of this story are tremendous and I for one, couldn’t move on to the next story before taking a few moments to let the heaviness subside.

In the story ‘Eeman’, the author takes us to a strange world, that of motherhood that emerges and evolves with the birth of a girl child. With three sons already borne out of her, it is only when Zainab gave birth to Eeman that she realized the true strength of a woman, a girl. The author writes, “every time a woman gives birth to another, she is possibly channeling another mother into the world, another source of God’s system to keep the world running. A female foetus develops ovaries and eggs in her body, even before she comes into the world. She is prepared to be a mother even before her own birth. That, and that alone is reason enough to welcome a girl child’. Powerful lines, it really moved the woman in me to the core.

The story ‘Meera’ again takes us to this urban world of Pakistan where the protagonist Meera is this college professor who at later stage of her life, ventures into a new world – that of writing and publishing her own works. Here, through Meera’s journey, we get a slight glimpse of the real challenges that an author writing in English language faces in Pakistan. Facing printing difficulties and other hurdles, Meera explores the internet and gets in touch with literary agents in Delhi, and subsequently gets published through an Indian publisher. Due to the political tensions between the two countries, vehement protests and abuses are hurled at her by many, but Meera remains undaunted by them all. She continues her writing journey and eventually gets recognized in her own country as well.

All these 10 women are known to us, we can all relate to them. As for me, after reading and breathing them for all these days, they have become a part of me now.

The protagonists in this collection are strong woman who face hardships, challenges and extreme circumstances with grace and elan. These are woman who lead simple lives, but their battle makes their lives special. They are the ones with undaunted spirits, they are the ones with Unfettered Wings.

Here’s the Amazon link to the Book, Go grab your copy –https://amzn.to/2Nfck1a

Twin Tales from Kutcch: A Book Review

Book : Twin Tales from Kutcch 
Author: Saeed Ibrahim.

Imagine walking through the sands of time in Gujarat and Mumbai during colonial times – a period well known for thriving businesses, flourishing European architectures, antique shipping and trade, traditional mouth watering cuisines, struggle and gradual transformation of lifestyle. Often, the past is forgotten in some corner of our memory. In this context, Saeed Ibrahim’s book “Twin Tales From Kutcch” provides one perfect recipe for us to revisit the gates of nostalgia.

The author has undergone a great deal of research while penning down this novel, and its evident enough in the first few pages (Needless to say, as we read further, the entire novel proves to be a testimony for the same). The detailing has been exemplary. Authors who are keen to begin their writing career with a flight, should surely check out the impeccable manner in which Saeed Ibrahim has worked on his debut with regards to research and detailing. The plot revolves around the lives of the two Aisha (s) i.e. Aisha Jan Mohammad and Aisha Usman. The story is built around how their lives are intertwined with each and further intriguing chain of events that unfold one by one. 10 on 10 for the plot!

The flow of the narrative not only manifests itself through its wonderful usage of lucid language but also takes the reader on a seamless, literary voyage and lets him absorb the essence in each of its chapters that reflects the times of late 19th and early 20th centuries. The writing keeps the reader hooked on. I must mention one thing here – though readers of fast paced novels such as thrillers, horror or science fiction might not find such books entertaining as it doesn’t cater to any spurt of adrenaline, the book is a perfect read for those readers who look to gain knowledge about places and people and other factual details. I would give 8 on 10 for the flow of narration.

The characters are a feast to the readers as they organically develop over the pages. While the author describes about the characters and their lifestyles, one can find themselves immersed while reading the details of their habits and occupations, almost in a sluggish, yet tranquil and inebriated manner.

The book is a little pedantic though and as mentioned earlier, such extensive detailing might overwhelm some readers. For example, in the very beginning one might find the sketch of Jan Mohammad (the father of the protagonist Aisha) dealing with common-folk barbers and their psychology in the yesteryear pretty informative. However, one might also root for the story to gain momentum and bypass the information overload.

Author Saeed Ibrahim

Again, we also have a stream of characters which makes the novel interesting as it proceeds forward. Cameo characters (such as Mr Stevens) or supporting characters (such as Khattiboo) were an absolute delight. A full 10 for the author to bring such characters to life.

Dialogues in the story were few considering the grandiose detailing. However, there were a few situational lines which were enough to seal the deal as a definite pick for the history enthusiasts. The title of the novel is very apt. A full 5/5 for that.

The cover of the book is pretty ordinary. It has become a fashion amongst publishers to adopt similar themes – yellow, orange & red with certain fonts which are forcibly applied across all themes – from historical fiction to young adults. I believe the cover should have been a bit more interesting. The cover should have reflected aspects from the novel such as an old bazaar or an outline of the woman. Even a woman in a bazaar would have worked instead of two rural women in the desert with their face veiled up. Gone are the days when both authors and publishers felt that a veil signified mystery for the readers. Contrary to what is said (never judge a book by its cover), a book is certainly judged by its cover. This is because, a book has two kinds of readers: core readers and windfall readers. The latter would very well overlook this drab cover and go for a fashion magazine which defeats the purpose of such a stellar novel. First impression is always the best impression and hence, the cover gets a meager 1/5.

Overall, the ratings of this book clocks a decent 41/50 (4.1/5) and it makes a good read. I would recommend it to history lovers, especially those interested in the colonial era.

Here’s the Amazon link to the Book: https://amzn.to/2Zx1G7w

The Unsafe Asylum – a Book Review

“Is it partition time again? Ma asked when I drove her to the station to put her on a train.
Feeling her heart pounding against my chest, I patted her on the back and said, ‘Don’t be silly. Partitions do not happen every day.’

‘The unsafe asylum – Stories of Partition and madness’ is a collection of 13 interlinked stories with mental hospital and its patients (both in India and Pakistan) at the background, and brings out the various incidents that take place in the lives of these characters over a period of time. The stories begin from June 1947 and cover a span of 40 years ending in 1984.

Anirudh Kala, himself a noted psychiatrist narrates these fictional tales which must be inspired from his own encounters from countless seminars and visits in India and in Pakistan during his visits to the mental health institutions there. When a ‘line of partition’ was drawn by Radcliff, along millions of people who crossed the border in huge numbers, there were also Hindu and Muslim patients who needed to be shifted from mental hospitals of the both these countries. The book revolves around them and their heart-wrenching stories.

The story ‘No forgiveness necessary’ talks how in that summer of 1947, ‘when mental hospital was a safer place than the world outside’ hospital officials for the first time compiled names and addresses of patients from specific religions, so that they can be deported to their ‘own countries’. The story narrated the tale of two best friends Rulda Singh and Fattu (Fateh Khan) who find themselves separated through deportation. While Rulda who was from Rawalpindi, was sent to India, Fattu from Hoshiarpur was detained in Lahore. Even after their discharge, these two friends had imaginary conversations and kept hearing each other’s voices. When normal human beings (who crossed borders) couldn’t face the trauma of being in an unknown land, one can imagine the misery of these mental patients who were thrown into the darkness of the ‘unfamiliar’ post partition.

There is another story called ‘Sita’s bus’ that narrates the tale of a married Sikh woman who was left out during Partition in Sialkot, Pakistan and becomes Firdaus Cheema from Harpreet Cheema after marrying again a Muslim man. She eventually gets pregnant but then the two countries sign an agreement to repatriate each other’s woman. The agreement included ‘consent for abortion’ with a ‘special fund’ allocated for mass abortions from the government. While she was forcibly sent to India, at a refugee camp in Jalandhar, she realized that her baby with her Muslim husband has been aborted as her first husband Manjeet Cheema agreed to accept her, only if she aborted the Muslim man’s child. Harpreet never meets Manjeet, instead she chose to take a bus to Delhi from there and when the bus conductor asked her name, she replied ‘Harpreet’. He asked, ‘Harpreet? Agge pichhe kuch nahi?’ (nothing before or after?) She smiled and said, ‘Agge pichhe kuchh nahi.’

From abortions to mass displacement to hallucinations that affected generations, Kala being the best fit for writing such stories, gives facts and figures that goes on to speak volumes about how their lives were wronged at the hands of the fateful decision of partition.
In the story ‘the mad prophesier’, the charecter of Dr. Prakash Kohli says, ‘about 300 people died in this hospital in 3 years while waiting for their transfer. That is, about half the patients that should have been transferred.’ Such was the violence that even mental patients who had no idea about the world outside where victims of communal violence.

The book gives us, who are far removed from the world where these people reside, an insight that can make one tremble at the sordidness of it all. 
In one such description, the author speaks about how Partition affected Fattu, ‘between curses and stark anatomical description, Fattu talked disjointedly about boys slaughtered in the snow, girls beings shot for singing mahiyas at weddings and a whole lot of cashews in school-children’s satchels being drenched in blood. It was a prolonged jumble of words and sobs after, and then he finally seemed to have exhausted himself. He lay down, spent and motionless.

Another story ‘A spy named Gopal Punjabi’ speaks of a man, who was an Indian spy but changed his loyalty thereafter to ISI just so that he can live and stay in the house he was once born. And as the author writes, in between ‘flag’ and ‘home’, he chose ‘home’. Known as Samiullah Ahmed Pash, minutes before his death, he revealed his real identity to his daughter-in-law Aalia.

Aalia after listening to him was devastated and dumbfounded.

How could a young man give up his country and his faith just to fulfill a childish wish to go back where he had once been happy? Just to be able to live in the house where he was born and where his parents were killed before his eyes? Just to be able to sit for long hours infront of the school he went as a child?

In an interview with the Indian Express author Anirudh Kala says, “Like Rulda and Fattu, there were many who were stuck in mental hospitals in Lahore, Hyderabad, and Peshawar in Pakistan and Agra, Bareilly and Ranchi in India. It was only three years after the Partition that both countries decided to get them back in 1950.”

All the 13 stories take up some issues that resulted due to the great divide and perhaps as a professional working closely with the victim, it was important for Kala to write these stories. “It made me realize that this partition of minds on communal lines can happen again, as it has so many times in the past,”.

Stark, sordid and real to the core, these stories pull out the effects of Partition from the deep recesses of the often ignored and unknown world of Mental hospitals. These characters are not the ones we meet everyday, however, their suffering was no less than ours in those horrid years, infact it was much more.

The Book Buzz strongly recommends the book & rates it 4 stars out 5!

Patna Blues – A Book Review

A coming of age tale of a Muslim Youth…

“Aur bhi dukh hai zamane main mohabbat ke siva,

Rahatein aur bhi hai vasl ki rahat ke siva

(There are many other sorrows in this world besides the agony of love/There are many pleasures in the world Besides the Joy of one’s union with the beloved) – Faiz Ahmad Faiz

For a lower middle class Indian Muslim youth, struggling his way out through the myriads of challenges that comes his way, life is definitely not easy, more so, when there are so many other simultaneous events happening around him. Does he then have the luxury of love or any other ‘frivolous pursuits’? The above couplet by the famous Urdu poet hence aptly summarizes ‘Patna Blues’ – the debut book by author Abdullah Khan. Published by Juggernaut, the 292 pager is a complete roller coaster, fraught with incidents that forms the life journey of Arif – our protagonist.

The story begins in 1992 and stretches till early 2000. Arif Khan is the eldest son in the family of 5 children, whose only desire in life is to become an IAS officer one day. Like many other families in the underdeveloped state of Bihar (especially in the 90’s), Arif’s family too wished most earnestly for him to crack the IAS exams. With an honest father who never allowed any ‘uppar ki kamai’ in his life, and earned just enough for the family to sustain, Arif becoming an IAS one day was everyone’s dream. They lived to see it come true.

However, fate had something else written for Arif, while his preparations were going full swing, he fell for a much married Hindu woman whose daughter was only few years younger than him. His restless and lovelorn heart wouldn’t care to understand the morally incorrect and devastating relationship that he was getting into. It is from here that the dilemmas of life, the ‘to be or not to be’ moments begin for him, never to spare him from its clutches again.  

Though every year, Arif gave his IAS exams well, he couldn’t clear them. Repeated failures and subsequent successes of his own peers weakened his spirit over the period of time.

A series of events rocks Arif’s life from hereon. His father meets with an accident and had to take up voluntary retirement, his brother after trying his luck in Bollywood and losing lot of money in the hands of fraudsters, comes back home. With just the meagre amount coming from the tuition he gave in coaching classes, his sisters and their wedding dowries left the family debt ridden.

Repeated rejections made him uncomfortable in social life. With a relationship that had no destination and a failure that stucks to him like a bad omen, Arif’s battle became two-fold – that of the mind and the heart.

There are events that alludes to the discrimination against Muslims that unfortunately happen in our country through incidents like Arif’s brother getting arrested for a riot in Delhi (suspected for his Muslim faith).

The author tries to put across the various shades of his protagonist, his failures and his subsequent successes and by doing this, he makes Arif a character that we all sympathize with and by the end of the book, we have already lived his life!

We all know Arif, we have seen him in our surroundings, amongst our relations. A very relatable character, brought to life with great craftsmanship rendered by Abdullah Khan.

Arif never clears IAS, nor does he clear any other state civil services examinations that he appeared for subsequently. However, life teaches him the true meaning of ‘success’, of ‘right over wrong’, of ‘truth over falsehood’. At the end of it all, he does a get job though, that of an Urdu translator in the Bihar Government.

“There was a time Arif wouldn’t have accepted anything less than an IAS position, but the situation had changed. Even this humble offer seemed like a Godsend. How dreams change with the passage of time…” (page 272)

A gripping tale and a complete page turner, Abdullah’s Patna Blues makes for a wonderful reading experience. The narrative of Arif’s tribulations, his dilemmas and confusions are a part of our lives too.

“iman mujhe roke hai to kheenche hai mujhe kufr

Kaba mere peechhe hai, kalisha mere aage

(faith restrains me; temptations attract me/ The holy kaba is behind me while the idols are in front of me) –  Ghalib {page 285}.

The little intricacies of small town life has been beautifully described to the minutest detail By the author. The waves of laughter and misery that flows through the nooks and corners of small government quarters, the tales of its inhabitants, their day to day life has been effectively captured in this book which makes for a very cherishable read.

Recommend this book strongly to all readers, young and old!