Thanks to Ayesha Zee Khan for the Review Copy
Published in Daily Times / Saturday, December 08, 2012
Also appeared in Google Books Section
Reviewed by: Afrah Jamal
Compiled by: Ayesha Zee Khan
Budding authors and established names come together from Nepal, Maldives and Pakistan to showcase their range and the region’s rustic charm. This impromptu gathering of ‘the chosen ones’ boasts of names like Ibrahim Waheed ‘Ogaru’, the ‘writer-artist’ from the Maldives; Pushpa R Acharya from Nepal; Arbab Daud and Kiran Bashir Ahmad from Pakistan. Ayesha Zee Khan, the winner of the SAARC Literary Award 2012 for Building Bridges, an anthology of poems, also lends her voice to the chorus.
Ibrahim Waheed Ogaru unveils a moment in time when the reverberations of the past overlap with the present; he paints his nostalgia-laced journey in broad-brush strokes. Arbab Daud relives his harrowing trip into the wild. Pushpa R Acharya’s skilful sketches mark the end of an era. Kiran Bashir Ahmad gets the longest screen time to style an elaborate production. And Ayesha, who has compiled the tome, stays faithfully immersed in the fantasy/nightmare. Together they interpret the regional contours in their own distinctive style in an attempt to open the door for more accessible literature.
It is an ambitious little book that tries to define new heights of literary greatness with its simple fare but there are difficulties along the way of a technical nature that might prevent it from reaching the summit. One of them stems from the editing department.
Mischief is My Middle Name that bears trace elements from the Bachon Ke Duniya and Taleem-o-Tarbiyat years (Ayesha wrote Urdu fiction for children’s magazines back in the day) retrieves the precious stash of amusing family portraits from some dusty old attic. As the floodgate of memories is opened, so does the forgotten case of childhood follies. The Life’s Great Challenges doused with some good old-fashioned sentimentality asks readers to brood over the misfortunes of a downtrodden woman as it resurrects the mama-in-law stereotype. The suppressed daughter-in-law is not far behind. One narrative rallies around a happy delinquent who does not get her comeuppance and the other discovers a convenient doormat who gets more than she bargained for. Its spirited storytelling and carefree imagery notwithstanding, such offerings require major spring-cleaning to remove the impression that a few portions may have simply been put through Google translator instead of some diligent editor.
For entrée, Arbab Daud’s Piece of Peace starring himself props its modest vision from Wana against the ominous geopolitical situation. The concoction pads its crooked delivery of ‘tour-de-Wana’ with humour as it cheerfully stumbles into no-go territories setting off grammatical minefields along the way. This is just the beginning and cumbersome questions regarding syntax, style or overall structure pop up at inopportune moments, leaving the interesting layout along with its tragic depths unexplored as readers head off into the sunset looking for enlightenment in Pakistan’s troubled ‘Wild West’ and later find themselves in the midst of a hunt.
Then there are voices that may falter at times but leave profound impressions despite their fondness for quirky analogies or repetitive language that threatens to pinion the prose. Shama Book Point seeks out Karachi’s faded beauty and changing landscape as it traipses by a painter and a harmless looking bookstore owner engaged in conversation. The narrative has been carefully framed against a raw background to mirror the pervading ambivalence summoning deepening shadows and forlorn hopes for company. The Colours of Dreams might have been inspired by some case study ( I have since learnt that it was not) delving into a churning mass of superstition and faith in an uplifting tale of a poor family burdened with a problem child.
Pushpa R Acharya has been credited somewhere as an ‘academician, poet, translator and journalist’ and is the author of Chhaya Kal: an Anthology of Poems (in Nepali). In Olena’s Diary, he uses mysterious motifs from myths and legends based on tales gathered from the northern villages of Nepal for the desired effect. Jack in the Box by Ogaru observes the ongoing duel between local Romeos, pitching the village fisherman against the local Khateeb, leaving one to plot some revenge ‘Eastern-style’. Both writers have a role in preventing the literary dialogue from flat lining.
The book was sent to the International Sufi Festival, organised by the Foundation of SAARC Writers and Literature (FOSWAL), a subsidiary of SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation), and will be available in the market soon. There is a nice little foreword by Frank Huzur (poet, playwright and author from India) but no ‘Editor’s note’ or in this case ‘Compiler’s note’. Readers remain in the dark about the inspiration behind After the Rain or the criteria for selection. Since it seems to be missing a critical component — parts of the Pakistani chapter — because of those uneven edges might be viewed as the weakest link in the goodwill chain. Hopefully, it is nothing a hawk-eyed editor with nerves of steel cannot fix.