Winner of the Man Booker prize 2008, White Tiger has been read and loved throughout the world and surrounded by constant controversy in the sub-continent. I had been planning to read the book for ages but the hectic life of an MBBS had not yet allowed me to enjoy the thrilling masterpiece. So on the first day of my summer vacations I rushed to the nearest bookstore and bought it from a road-side book stall (the ones thronged with fat bearded men with caps discretely looking for sexual material) which would be my food and water for the next 48 hours. Continue reading “Review: White Tiger”
When I am standing by the railing, you come up from behind me. Like in some epic romance, your arms wrap around my waist and your cheek fits snugly at my temple. I can feel the warmth of your chest rising and I can feel the hollow it leaves between us when it falls. I think you feel it too and you shuffle closer; I think you are encouraged by my non-response; I think you think it means nothing is different. Continue reading “Dreaming of Darcy”
Fajr, or “when will dawn arrive?”
“Why be infatuated with him?”
“He’s proud, he’s pretentious — the world’s not the right fucking place, now that he’s turned his eye upon it.”
He’s the man I’d die for in one instant, and kill the other.”
I would own you. Each stubborn hair on your head — your chest. The shy ones on the inside of your thighs.
I’d own how you look,
the way your chin stands up against the world,
the way your spine props straight up,
and how your body conquers the space about it.
Lahore With Love: Growing Up with Girlfriends Pakistani Style
by Fawzia Afzal-Khal
Syracuse Unviversity Press, 2010
Although this is quite a bold statement to make, I will go ahead and make it: Fawzia Afzal-Khan is one of the most overlooked creative non-fiction writers of our time. She has a linguistic gift that gives her prose a weighty depth that appears effortless yet is painstaking in its profundity. Lahore With Love: Growing Up With Girlfriends Pakistani Style is the story of Afzal-Khan’s life through the lens of her female friendships. It is also an emotional narrative of the growth of a fraught nation, and the intimate impact it has had on relationships teeming with both love and tragedy.
I was introduced to Afzal-Khan’s work in early 2003 when she sent me an essay that is now a chapter in this book entitled “Hajira.” At the time, I was the founding editor of a small, social justice magazine that was seeking creative submissions for its premiere issue. We were seeking groundbreaking work, and Afzal-Khan’s fit the bill. Her beautifully crafted story of a woman who chose to forgo her own success in order to support the career of her stifling husband blew me away in the same way Hajira’s self-inflicted bullet snuffed out a brief yet impactful existence. With stinging eyes, I accepted the submission immediately and kept a lookout for more of her meaningful work.
Until now, Afzal-Khan’s writing has only been found in small doses — a response to Salman Rushdie’s erasure of Muslim feminist voices here, a meditation on the Swat valley there—with the exception of her scholarly work, which appears in numerous academic journals. (Afzal-Khan is a university professor at Montclair State University in New Jersey.) She even gave a glimpse of what was to come in her contribution, “Bloody Monday,” to 2008’s And Then the World Changed. But the scattershot pieces were not enough to satiate my appetite for the loveliness of her words or the personal way in which she writes of the people (and country) she holds dear. That said, Lahore With Love has made up for lost time with inspired provision in excess.
Slip into a comfortable chair along with this memoir, and request to remain undisturbed. The 145 pages will glide by all too quickly and beg to be returned to again and again.
As you crossed the road, without looking,
the cars stopped. How could they not, as aspirations float and the wind too finds its path through trees, and between bricks, it must move, must be allowed to move, apparitions which carry gaps of breath, that space which contains you is sacred to them who appreciate their visions and hopes, for a step, a movement of contained extension draws sublimity in hearts coarsen to reality. How could it not.
How could we not understand that in high streets also we must present, especially here, present and please – recall that grandmother who upon understanding and seeing the greyness in my eyes displayed her treasured grandson, so that I too may know that we are un-redemptively connected, freely it is given and that we share, must share.
The drivers confessed more then love, they confessed to you, their eternal dream, my dream, our dream, of living and breathing somehow freely without dimness of conformity or enslavement in gender and class vocabularies – who better than you grocer understands beauty. You who with tomatoes and coriander daily live know that ‘character reveals beyond the will’ – that it is not enough to judge by weight alone but to smell, and taste, and sense also and even then we will not know – they understand that wind moving through trees, altering, cleansing – doing more than can be understood, explained, contained – aimed for – must also be allowed to cross roads…
Have you ever felt the ecstasy on achieving something that fell completely outside your personality? Has your fantasy ever taken you to a place from where there seems to be no return? Has your imagination become so vivid that you have failed to distinguish the thing imagined from reality?
I imagined a life, filled with love and hope and ideals. In my fantasy I gave up all that I was, so as to absorb the other. The fuzzy other became so real that to think now of a life without him seems scary. I thought that I had finally discovered, what I believed to be love, I believed that I had finally found the source of my happiness.
Every night I spent hours creating and recreating my fantasy, living through every moment as if it was the beginning of the journey that would lead to my happiness. I not only imagined my own happiness, but forgot the anguish of others as I felt that love could ease all pain.
I spent hours begging my Lord to make this dream turn into a reality. In my head I found a place for him in my family, I envisioned the arguments for and against the relationship and pondered deeply into the answers. I looked at my source of power and included her in my vision as somebody who would help me achieve this ideal.
But then Danish walked in. Unprepared, I faltered. I felt a pain I had never felt before. My head swirled. I wanted to quit, but I couldn’t loose – that would be an insult. I searched his eyes, as I always did, for answers, but as usual I was left confused. My confusion made me lose my confidence, but again I tried to pacify my soul, I told myself that this insecurity was endearing. But fear gripped me, so strongly that I couldn’t see; everything seemed foggy.
It was too hazy, I was terrified, I felt I was jinxing my own fate, but at the same time I felt that if I didn’t dream I would lose out completely.
I can’t stop imagining it. But the desire for its fulfillment seems to have fazed, not because I don’t want it anymore, but because I am overcome by the fear. I fear that I will be compared and I will never measure up to his yard stick.
I know my rejection is near, and therefore the defense mechanism kicks in, I want to be the one to let go, but still the questioning and doubt don’t seem to cease, I can’t make him think he won.
But why am I doing this? Why at the cost of my own suffering?
I am not good enough; I don’t know enough and never will.
Anxiety – please God just let me succeed; just take away this confusion, this pain, and this overwhelming misery. If my fate holds tears, then let it be carved in stone, and let them flow, my Lord, let me feel the hurt. But if there is the slightest chance that you will listen, please show me the way.
I can’t keep feeling like this my Lord, I need to recognize the love and if it exists not, then I need to understand the lack of it. If the lacking comes from the fact that I lack, then guide me in filling this hollowness.
You swore my Lord that I will suffer as much as I can take, I don’t think I can take this my Lord, my heart has opened after a long time, and if this time it shuts, defeated, then I don’t see a future. I can’t do it my Lord, I can’t try any more, I can’t hold back the tears my Lord, I can no longer suppress my fears. It has to be easy my lord, this time it needs to come on a plate, I cant make an effort again my Lord, I am completely burnt out. I don’t know how to act my Lord, I can’t seem to understand the feeling, I don’t have time my Lord I feel it all closing.
When I close my eyes, I only see the face, of the one I can’t have, my Lord, the one I have repelled. I dream about it when asleep and awake; I feel I am losing my Lord, please help me keep my faith! Please don’t hold back, my Lord, I can’t do this on my own, I fear my own sanity, I fear I am nearing the end. I don’t know how to react, please put the words in my mouth, tell me what to do, my Lord, please don’t leave me now.
I can no longer breathe, my Lord, my sensitivities are aroused, I want to do it, my Lord, I no longer want to lose out.
One year later…
…and I still haven’t found what I am looking for…
So drive me far away. To a destination unknown. Where no one knows me, and I know no on, where time ceases, where pigs fly, where fantasy prevails, and reality is your own creation. Where I can see no more, the truth that I deny; where I no longer live in anguish and where my despair triumphs. I can’t ask for anything more, I cannot give up, so if I lose, I want this to be the end – of life, if that’s what it entails.
I imagine my life without hope, but it doesn’t end my, the instinct still persists. I feel, my Lord, that this is all a lie; I try to end this loneliness inside. But it doesn’t cease, I always find myself at the beginning, of the same road, my Lord, why is this not ending> I don’t want it to, my Lord; I don’t want this to be my trial, I want a saviour, my Lord, I don’t want to die.