Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Review of three not so easy to read books

These three books I read in the last two weeks were not an easy read for me. Two of them were already on my bookshelf for years. I had attempted reading them in the past but could not keep up my interest for long but now I am surprised at being able to read them now. Their styles were so different and unusual, plots did not have traces of what you see in common lives of the neighborhood so it was not easy for me to connect with the characters in these novels and they were all sad portraits of life. They drain lots of energy out of you but they would make you a seasoned human being. For an average reader, these books would not make much or any sense but if you are not an ordinary one (but have literary interests) and want to see different faces of humanity, they would not fail for sure.

Vanity Bagh by Anees Salim

The story begins with the protagonist of the novel, Imran Jabbari, entering a jail being sentenced for being involved in a serial blasts case. He begins to tell his memoirs looking at blank pages in the book binding room of the jail. There was nothing close to his heart than Vanity Bagh, a mohulla of Muslim residents where his family lived. He along with his friends from the neighborhood form a group and give it unusual name ‘5-1/2 men’. They get involved in petty fights but little they knew that they would become part of far bigger crime. While some of the observations of author reflect the opinions of Muslim community but that does not make this novel communal. The strength of plot lies in how the main character reveals his past life to the readers and being surprisingly honest with it. And the style of this novel is so unique, I cannot compare with anything else I have read in the past.

The author Anees Salim, wrote two more novels to get over the pain of rejection of his first work and now he is an award winning author. He does not promote his work but expects his books to do the talking and not him. Well that is a hallmark of a genius writer and I expect lot more good work coming out of him.

The illicit happiness of other people by Manu Joseph

This is a psychological thriller. A poor family living the middle of well to do neighbors goes through an unfortunate incident. Their elder son, who was in his teens and a great comic artist, commits suicide and the reasons are not known. Then begins the journey of his father, a journalist by profession, to find out what would have led to his son to give up his life. Though he meets all of his friends and talks to them, he does not get anything satisfactory out of it. After a gap a few years, he receives the comic strip his son intended to send to someone else just before his death but it being returned. Father begins the efforts again trying to decipher what the comic was revealing. One thing leads to another. The mystery beings to unravel but the reason behind suicide was not a simple one. The boy had gone through very serious psychological explorations and the reasons for such a situation were many. The journalist learns very unusual facts of the psychological issues many people face and finally understand the reasoning with that ends the novel.

Manu Joseph is a journalist and author and his works have won him many literary awards.

This house of clay and water by Faiqa Mansab

The story is set in Lahore and revolves around three characters. One that of a housewife, Nida, married into a upper class family but tortured in life with loss of her mother, her one year old kid and seeing no true love in her life. The second character, Sasha, a woman who has an ordinary husband who cannot earn enough to fulfil her wants of luxurious goods so strays beyond her marriage to satisfy her needs. The third character is that of a Hijra (neither a male nor female) named Bhanggi, who spends most of his time in the vicinity of a dargah (shrine of a Muslim saint) and is deeply pained for the reason he was not born normal and cannot live life like others. All these characters get to know each other at dargah. They have a common thread among them. All of them are lonely and tortured in their lives. For them life is not short but a long suffering. Sasha changes her attitude of not being loyal to husband after her minor daughter goes through rape. Nida who does not have much option in her life and no one to comfort her, gets closer to Bhanggi. Nida’s husband does not approve this and gets the hijra killed. Pained further by this development, Nida leaves her family life to become a hijra and occupies the place of Bhanggi.

This novel is the debut work of Faiqa Mansab.