The Wait is and is Not - Nitasha Kaul

You Don't Mess with Viru - Jayant Kripalani

The Last Journey Home - Siddhartha Gigoo

Family Trip - Mihir Vatsa

For the Longest Time - Mridula Koshy

The Tree's Passport - Sumana Roy

I Try to be so Buddhist - Robert Sugg

Oh God, My God - GB Prabhat

Stroke at Noon - KL Chowdhury
(personal narrative)

Unbroken Awareness - Tendair Mwanaka

Island of a Thousand Mirrors - Nayomi Munaweera

My Hungry Workers - Sourabh Gupta
(personal narrative)

The Stone - Anupam Choudhary

The Return - Shirani Rajapakse

The Unsent Email - Shyama Laxman

Poetry: Naseer Ahmed Nasir
(Translated by Bina Biswas)

Dr Bhikbab Changes His World - Sheela Jaywant

The Pillar of Society - Manju Kak

Book Reviews

Distant Traveller - Attia Hosain
(Mita Bose)

London Company - Farrukh Dhondy
(Rakhshanda Jalil)

The Cripple and His Talismans - Anosh Irani
(Mariam Karim)

Their Language of Love - Bapsi Sidhwa
(Arjun Raj Gaind)

Silk Fish Opium - Jaina Sanga
(Suneetha Balakrishnan)

The Blind Man's Garden - Nadeem Aslam
(Mariam Karim)

The Almond Tree - Michelle Corasanti
(Bina Biswas)

Nobody Can Love You More - Mayank Austen Soofi
(KG Sreenivas)

Along the Red River - Sabita Goswami
(Abdullah Khan)

Tales of a Journalist, Bureaucrat, Spy - Som Nath Dhar
(KG Sreenivas)

Che in Paona Bazaar - Kishalay Bhattacharjee
(S Ramesh)

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Paintings: Donovan Roebert
Poetry: Priya Sarukkai Chabria


Dilip Bobb

Book Review

An Action Novel

The Blind Man's Garden: Nadeem Aslam

– Mariam Karim

Publisher: Random House
Genre: Fiction
Extent: 415 pp
Price: Rs 550

Pakistani writers, being still very close to the idiom of Urdu, bring a lyricism and poetry into their writing which is extremely charming and perhaps goes unremarked by critics who do not know the language. In The Blind Man's Garden by Nadeem Aslam, too, we find such passages and imagery of exquisite beauty, and almost all of them are related to nature and natural phenomena, which indicate Sufi leanings in the author, as yet not fully explored. Unusual metaphors and symbolism also issue from the influence of a mother tongue with a rich literary heritage.

'Eternity suspended over human time, the stars shining above the world like grains of light ......for several years after she had gone the garden looked as though something important had befallen it. The limes and acacia trees seemed to mourn her, the rosewood and the Persian lilacs, the peepals and the corals ... inside the earth the roots mourned her even without having seen her... the red paths set loose in the garden and the word had gone among the glistening black brilliance of the crows and the butterflies floating in the sunlight ... There was no soul, only consciousness. No divine plan only nature and we were simply among the innumerable results of its randomness.'

But these delicious descriptions are too few and far between in this novel. The book begins with the marvellously intriguing concept of the Bird Pardoner. One also remarks at the fascinating leitmotif of the fakir who drags heavy chains around him, and each link is the wish of another, to fall off at its fulfillment. The reader may be led to expect a philosophical oeuvre where myths and stories hold the key to human transformation. However, it is an action packed thriller, set in the interface both geographically and chronologically between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Two men, foster brothers, Jeo and Mikal, both in love with the same woman, Naheed, unwittingly find themselves in the battleground between Afghan and American forces, the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Rohan, the father of the boys, ultimately the blind man and major protagonist, is fighting his own demons both internal and external in the township of Heer. So the reader can look forward to John Le Carre type action sequences, attacks and sieges, Ian Fleming thrills , and Henri Charriere style escape routes ( Papillon).

'The Americans pay $ 5000, for each suspected terrorist.'

'He rushes down the spiral – as fast as he is able, the two pieces of chain falling ahead of him and getting under his feet – and asks if they know the warlord who'd been holding him prisoner....'

'Mikal's hands and feet are fastened with zip-locks and he is carried outside to the big bird with the twin propellers. He hears gunfire from the building and the screams of women and children. They leave him on his stomach....'

A lot of excitement as you can see – but a tauter handling of the narration and suspense would have created a stronger thread of the telling. The frequent sentimental flashbacks, the literary references, law, Pakistani law, myth, history, western and eastern, truth and interpretation often appear as intruders in the text. The author wants to say many things together, which is laudable, but which begs a different treatment of form.

As in most action novels the characters are in black and white. The good guys and the bad guys. Shades in character are explained ... like the Fakir saying that once he was of the Ahl-e Havas, and there is the other side , the Ahl-e Dil ... of which he is now. Or the conscience-stricken young terrorist who is trying to excuse the school siege and the suffering of the children held hostage. Trying to make sense of it all, saying Abraham had to sacrifice his son to prove his love for God. And, as in most action thrillers, the women are mostly fleshed out through the eyes of the male characters or the relationship they have with the men. Except for Tara, Naheed's mother, who has no man in her life.

It often appears to be a book which is written with a Western audience in view, indicated not only by the narrow depiction of Pakistan and Pakistani society , a narrow view of Muslims, but more undeniably by instances such as the Himalayas being described as 'the Alps piled onto the Pyrenees'. The number of people uttering muttering, quoting Koranic verses also start coming out of one's ears after a while. There are also some incidents which are cited with authority, but which are disputed in international belief. For example, the attack by Indian Army commandos on Lanjot village in 2000 and the merciless massacre of fourteen civilians including women and children .This isn't corroborated as truth in any international journal or TV report.

In spite of the grey areas from the point of view of literary criticism, it is a beautifully produced volume, an interesting and exciting read, especially for those who like war and action books.