Thursday, September 29, 2005

Gramatically Purrfect


The readfest continueth. There are times in life when books take over completely. There are others when books lie forlornly on my bedside table begging to picked up. There is no method to my reading madness. I can devour stacks of books in a go and then there are dormant weeks where even flipping through Vanity Fair seems a chore. I have tried to gauge how it works, but there are no determinants. It just happens.
Next on my reading list was Kamila Shamsie's Broken Verses. Ms Shamsie writes well and I have read pretty much everything she has written. Her backdrop, invariably, is Karachi - a city I remember with terrific fondness. She writes about a world of which she has first hand knowledge- Karachi's elite Defence and Clifton areas, the people who inhabit them and the political background of Pakistan at the time. She has no qualms about not creating characters beyond this charmed circle and I laud her for it. There are writers who visualise life "across the bridge" and rarely (if ever) do they get it right. Broken Verses tells the tale of an England-returned thirty one year old woman with a dramatic past. Indeed, so dramatic that it threatens to take her over completely.
Aasmani Inquilab (an unreal name if ever there was one-it means celestial revolution) works in a private television company and dwells on the life of her mother (an activist/feminist during the Zia regime) and her mother's lover (a revolutionary poet) both of who have disappeared in mysterious circumstances. Aasmani relives the past when her mother's friend (a "retired" television actress) revives the past by returning with coded messages and a television performance which is based on her mother's mannerisms. I will not give the rest of the plot away, though I must confess that by the end of it my willing suspension of disbelief was hanging by a hair- and that too at the latent lesbianism running through the end.
My only problem is that each time I read a Kamila Shamsie novel, I come away feeling horribly jealous that I do not belong to her Karachi. For one, her characters (even the peripheral ones) are grammatically perfect. And they are all so clever. Their jokes are all about Gingko Biloba being a character out of Lord of the Rings. Their relationships are tortuous but they are endowed with the power of articulate self revelation. Even their fights are upmarket- they huff and sniff but never really let their guard down. They play word games, mind games and generally seem like the kind of people I'd like to meet (but never do) at a cocktail party. They only ever talk to each other - domestics waft around like lost spirits. They occasionally freeze themselves so badly that the sexual tension is unbearable. Is this the Karachi I knew? At many levels it is. But at others it doesn't suceed. For one, the wonderful cultural mix that is Karachi is Moulinexed into a bland puree. The eclectic speaking styles of the many "tribes" that make up Karachi are lost in a unified Karachi-Grammar-School-meets American-University-voice. The "Mummies" and "Daddies" have dark, hidden secrets which come tumbling out like toys from a cupboard. Having said all of this, Ms Shamsie writes with a studied passion. And I shall be there in the queue when her next book comes out.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank god that there's someone out there who likes Shamsie's work as much as I do (save Salt and Saffron).

11:26 am  
Blogger therainandme said...

broken verses is my fav book.ever.

and ya.. i can relate to that not meeting ppl like the characters in her novel :)

9:23 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kartography was awesome. Reminded me so much of home. Hope this one is as good or at least offers as much in nostalgic value :) Her characters are too perfect at times but they're a pretty decent depiction of what I remember of high school/ college years back home. Maybe we were spoilt at KGS, liberal arts colleges, etc. But Kudos to her for not wallowing in guilt for living on 'the right side of the bridge.' At least she doesn't pretend to know how the rest of the city lives. Assumptions like that smack of deluded elitism, which Shamsie thankfully avoids. I'm gonna stop ranting and raving now ... can you tell I like the way she write? lol

10:24 am  

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