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
Unbroken Awareness - Tendair Mwanaka
Island of a Thousand Mirrors - Nayomi Munaweera
My Hungry Workers - Sourabh Gupta
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
- Attia Hosain
London Company - Farrukh Dhondy
The Cripple and His Talismans - Anosh Irani
Their Language of Love - Bapsi Sidhwa
(Arjun Raj Gaind)
Silk Fish Opium - Jaina Sanga
The Blind Man's Garden - Nadeem Aslam
The Almond Tree - Michelle Corasanti
Nobody Can Love You More - Mayank Austen Soofi
Along the Red River - Sabita Goswami
Tales of a Journalist, Bureaucrat, Spy - Som Nath Dhar
Che in Paona Bazaar - Kishalay Bhattacharjee
The Persistence of Memory
Their Language of Love: Bapsi Sidhwa
– Arjun Raj Gaind
Extent: 254 pp
Price: Rs 499
With a literary career spanning more than three decades, Bapsi Sidhwa has cemented an enviable position for herself as one of Pakistan's most recognizable literary icons. Thanks to the successful cinematic adaptation of novels like Ice Candy Man and Water, she has managed to become a palpable global voice, renowned for exploring the evolving crisis of modern Pakistani identity and its curiously fractured Zeitgeist.
Even as her fellow countrymen (and women) struggle to reconcile the memory of Partition and the hardship of the draconian laws and dictatorial years under Ayub Khan and General Zia with the contemporary tumult of a country divided perpetually between religious hysteria and careworn democracy, Ms Sidhwa has earned a reputation for trying to articulate the human condition of ordinary Pakistanis, particularly the country's small but vibrant Parsi diaspora.
While younger writers like Mohammed Hanif and Mohsin Hamid may be considered the epitome of the new, global Pakistan, in many ways, Ms Sidhwa represents the last gasps of an older, more hopeful Pakistan, echoing from when it was still a young country, still fecund with the dreams and aspirations of its first generation of citizens. Ordinarily, aspiration is a difficult quality to capture without seeming maudlin and tawdry, much like eloquence, which so often loses the battle against hyperbole and contrivance. Ms Sidhwa, however, demonstrates a skill at being elegant without seeming ham-fisted, not unlike Anita Desai, or that other luminary of Parsi writing, Rohinton Mistry. In fact, Mr Mistry and Ms Sidhwa can be said to have somewhat similar styles, a subtle touch and a wry sense of humour coupled with a smattering of genuine pathos to create an ineffable sense of nostalgia.
There is certainly nostalgia aplenty in her latest collection, Their Language of Love, a collection of short stories whose settings range from Lahore during the Indo-Pakistan conflict of 1965 to New York and Denver.
In 'Breaking It Up', Zareen, a middle-aged Parsi woman, travels to the United States to try and convince her daughter, Feroza, not to marry a Jew and thus betray her Zoroastrian heritage, only to have her world view challenged in a most unexpected way. In 'Sehra-Bai', an elderly woman debilitated by a stroke retreats into the comfort of her memories, remembering a time when she was healthy and whole. In 'A Gentlemanly War', a thinly-veiled memoir, we meet Zareen once more as she recounts the tumult that engulfed Lahore in 1965 when Indian forces advanced towards the city. In the title piece, 'Their Language of Love', an Indian bride travels to America and struggles to adjust to her new life with her 'arranged' husband who is a stranger to her, and strives to weather the perils of a foreign land.
The best of the collection by far is a charming tale entitled 'The Trouble-Easers', where Ms Sidhwa cleverly uses the allegory of a traditional Zoroastrian ritual to illustrate how all religions are ultimately connected. It is a fine example of the common themes that unite all the stories – a rich helping of Parsiana combined with the inevitable clash of old-world values against new. And ultimately that it where the real merit of this anthology lies -- in Ms Sidhwa's characterization as she endeavours to create a mélange of strong, eccentric, outspoken heroines who demonstrate that rarest of qualities, chutzpah.
This is not an experimental or deeply 'relevant' collection, but rather a gentle, sometimes delicate volume, sensitive, character driven, reminiscent of Joseph Mitchell at his best. Ms Sidhwa has done a fine job of drawing upon her own experiences and encounters to create a deeply personal, keenly observed and richly detailed tapestry that is both very readable and moving.
Nostalgia, and by extension, memory, is always a very potent tool in the hands of any novelist. After all, as Marcel Proust put it in his seminal masterpiece, The Remembrance of Things Past, 'When nothing else subsists from the past, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered ... the smell and taste of things remain poised a long time, like souls ... bearing resiliently, on tiny and almost impalpable drops of their essence, the immense edifice of memory.'
However, a writer must not be mired in moralization, torn between the need to reconcile autobiography with ideology. In the hands of a lesser author, this collection may have ended up as somewhat sententious, but thankfully, Ms Sidhwa has succeeded in treading the minefield between didacticism and historicity with great flair without seeming either cynical or self-righteous.
A thoroughly enjoyable and diverting read, especially for those interested in Zoroastrian culture.
Arjun Gaind has an MA in Asian History and an MPhil in Creative Writing. He writes comic books for a living, and his first novel, a memoir about the troubles in Punjab during 1984, is due for publication later this year.