Skip to main content

BOOK REVIEW: A Restless Wind

First Published by Daily Times (Pakistan) / 07 Oct 2013

This is an Advanced Review

Zara Hamilton returns to Qila, her ancestral home, to a dying aunt, a troubling secret and a cradle full of memories. Her Pakistani origins, Indian roots and British background add spice to a casual road trip. Her quest will be inscribed against a stormy backdrop darkened by communal rites, tired superstitions and Hindu-Muslim divides. It casts the requisite pall on princely states, and their gracious guardians, and turns the few memorable chapters from her life into a lovely epic.

Shahrukh Husain lifts the barriers separating two worlds, unearthing crevices filled with centuries of emotional debris and calcified remains of old glories. Her new novel traces their luxurious outlines with grim determination as it staggers into a vault of memories and retrieves a closet full of worn-out skeletons in search of clarity.

Married to an Englishman, the protagonist’s dual identity and rich heritage come in handy as she makes the journey to a land far, far away. Trivikrampur becomes the perfect foil. It is where old flames are dusted off and stately homes reopened as the protagonist treads into the unknown. It is where readers can sift through the secrets and lies through a series of flashbacks, as a multi-ethnic cast of characters take the rein.

The writing becomes a bridge between a fairytale existence of maharajas and mystics set next to a comfortless terrain occupied by marauding bandits, maniacal activists and potential spies. Yes spies. Each layer adds a different dimension and tries to cut through the stiff formalities separating the Ramzi and Vamana dynasties. Occasionally, it runs into roadblocks when a simple family drama/bittersweet homecoming collides with sinister matters of national (in)security, sending its principle character hurtling through a spy thriller fantasy.

Ms Husain is a British writer of Pakistani origins whose work as a psychotherapist has put her in the path of asylum seekers. It allows her to devise an exploratory mission that strays beyond designated waters and taps into the desperation and heartache in and around the qila (fortress). There will be an array of side stories tugging at the plot; Zara’s abandonment issues and faith are paired with lingering post-Partition hostilities and the human condition.

The sojourn in the Qila will remain shrouded in mystery, a veil of mist that never lifts completely, leaving distorted shadows, providing a cosy home for dreams and nightmares. Readers can follow the trail of suspense leading to Zara’s old abode where remnants of a slightly gothic feel permeate the air, or they can opt for secondary plot-lines that passionately argue for lost souls cast out in the cold. The Oxford years, however, breeze by without disturbing the ornate setting or its wild untamable heart.

A Restless Wind can be viewed from multiple angles: as a salacious soap opera, a damning political indictment, a glorious tale of two dynasties or an awkward spy thriller that merrily paddle the shores of East & West and dock somewhere in the middle.

Their motherland’s luminescent core is dutifully mined for the exotic flavors; its deep-seated prejudices put on public display. A sprinkling of supernatural livens up forgotten legends and infuses the narrative with a dreamy quality. It dashes in and out of genres, tripping alarms, laying bare a gaping void within the homeland and paranoia-driven policies that mar regional peace. And in between the drama and fancy trimmings, migrant woes remain relevant.

That the character’s protective cocoon provided by her Western connections dissolves easily does not require suspension of disbelief. The transformation from a theatrical countryside flanked by mysticism and theology to a landscape bleached of colour is achieved by a few frighteningly simple strokes. The local Muslims are seen musing if they are still outsiders after a thousand years; the visitors debate their status in their adopted countries. Since Zara wears the cape of a crusader, which will ultimately set her on a collision course, is perhaps an unavoidable twist. That anyone can come out of such an ordeal without scars leaves the final act with some jagged edges.

A Restless Wind is an unconventional family portrait, evocative of Trivikrampur’s lost grandeur and primitive soul. Here the east lives up to its reputation, a place of wonder and magic, its savage streak visible beneath those garish hues. It may not always be a flattering depiction but it is a powerful one.


Link to Daily Times Site.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The Book of Davis - Reading between the lines

Published by Global Affairs / Aug 2017

Raymond Davis is a champ. A team player, who puts the needs of his comrades in arms before himself. He is savvy. He is a man of integrity - a survivor - a trooper. Ray, the epitome of courage runs headlong towards danger and into a minefield - literally. He is all this and more. This is his story after all.

6 years ago, he was a trained Special Forces SF, undercover ‘contractor’, forced to navigate the cramped alleyways of Lahore on a routine mission – the details of which remain a mystery. His book ‘The Contractor: How I Landed in a Pakistani Prison and Ignited a Diplomatic Crisis’ with Storms Reback, revisits the scene of the crime to solidify his innocence and along the way take a few potshots at random players who helped secure his release. It’s a hair-raising ride.

His style is conversational, his demeanor - amiable. The case is still fresh in people’s minds and his intent to set the record straight ignites yet another round of controversy…

OPED: Keeping the Truth & Reconciliation Train on Track in Pakistan & Bangladesh

Published by Global Affairs / June 2017

It is no secret that Pakistan’s Eastern Wing broke away or that India helped carve Bangladesh in 1971. There were weaknesses to be exploited and deep seated resentments that left sizeable fissures in between Pakistan’s East and West wing. The Indian PM Modi can now tip his hat to 1,661 Indian soldiers allied with an armed resistance – the dreaded Mukti Bahini without fear of reprisal. Of late, there have been whispers about a KGB element in the mix. But the past is over and done with. Or is it?

There was madness and mayhem and civil unrest. Both sides suffered. The figure of three million offered by Bangladesh however has been widely disputed. While there has been a lot of water under the bridge since 1971- there has not been any serious attempt at breaching the divide. But most Pakistanis have not whitewashed their history and acknowledge their errors in judgment and lack of political foresight that led to the debacle.

‘The wall between Bangl…

BOOK REVIEW: Hira Mandi / Author: Claudine Le Tourneur Dlson

Published in Daily Times Saturday, February 11, 2012

Reproduced on Claudine Le Tourneur Dlson's Website

Translated from French by Priyanka Jhijaria

Reviewed by Afrah Jamal

A programme about Hira Mandi did the internet rounds a couple of years ago. It claimed, among other things, that the sons of the ‘dancers’ reportedly end up as lawyers, doctors, artists — a few join politics and some even reach the military. These outrageous statistics may be one of the reasons the documentary was banned from the mainstream media. That and its primary premise — the plight of the fallen women — would prompt the conservatives to howl with dismay before scurrying off to bury any evidence in the backyard along with other bodies.


Claudine Le Tourneur d’Ison embeds such wrenching moments in a bold narrative where its doomed protagonist can hail the brave new world and its genteel patrons from an extraordinary vantage point. The expedition to the underworld with the unfortunate progeny and the hapless…

VIEW: WOMEN in the PAF: AN ENSEMBLE CAST

PUBLISHED in HILAL (Pakistan Armed Forces Magazine) Feb 2010

By Afrah Jamal

Progressive - Conservative - Contemporary - Professional; separately these terms could apply to any service; together they were reserved for just one - the PAF.

Pakistan Air Force has kept in touch with its roots through its glorious traditions and kept up with the changing times with innovative thinking. Oftentimes, traditions that made it stand apart have also stood in the way of, well - progress. Consequently, the service nimbly skipped past the one proposed change that was going to have a profound effect on the lives of countless young girls and would forever alter the way society perceived their womenfolk.

Before 1994, Lady Officers were a rare sight in the PAF. So rare in fact, that when male cadets donned wigs to represent the female species in annual variety shows, nobody wondered why. By 2010, women have become an indispensable part of the service. While, PAF was no stranger to a woman in uniform, a f…

OPED: Radd-ul-Fassad – An Urgent Revision in the Wake of Mashal Khan's Lynching

Published Global Affairs / June 2017

Written in the immediate aftermath of Mashal Khan's lynching

On December 2014, 148 people, mostly school kids were murdered by terrorists in the APS (Army Public School) school massacre. In April 2017, a university student was lynched in Mardan. One tragedy marked a turning point. Another opens a Pandora’s Box.

APS happened while Operation Zarb-e-Azb was underway. It shook the nation to its very core; and pushed the armed forces to expand the scope of its offensives. Military courts were set up in the aftermath. A death row inmate (Qadri), once lauded by clergy and lawyers for killing a Governor, was finally executed along with scores of militants.

And soon another operation would come into effect after shrines, rallies and public places were targeted in a resurgence of terror in 2017. If the first was driven by vengeance, the second came from desperation. Pakistan’s survival was at stake – unless it tackled the darkness head on. But the dark…

BOOK REVIEW: Pakistan: Beyond The ‘Crisis State’ / Author: Maleeha Lodhi

Thanks to Liberty Books for the review copy

Published in Daily Times / Saturday, June 18, 2011

Reviewed by Afrah Jamal

Published under the title: 17 Reasons to Hope

“History will be what we make it. If we go on as we are, history will have its revenge and retribution”— from the movie, ‘Good Night, & Good Luck’

A region known for most “terrorist sightings”, a place feared for harbouring medieval mindsets next to progressive thinkers and a nation shunned for having an affinity for nuclear toys. By turns a cautionary tale, an indispensable ally and an international pariah, Pakistan does not fit into any mould — for long. But its name crops up whenever things go awry.

Pakistan: Beyond the ‘Crisis State’ is a compilation of articles put together by Maleeha Lodhi that countermands the grim prognosis. When Ms Lodhi, who has served as Pakistan’s ambassador to the US and UK, acknowledges that “resilience has been part of Pakistan’s story from its inception, obscured by the single issue lens…

BOOK REVIEW: Operation Geronimo – the Betrayal and Execution of Osama Bin Laden and its Aftermath

Published in Daily Times (Pakistan) / 27 April 2013
Author: Shaukat Qadir
Reviewed by: Afrah Jamal



Book Cover Courtesy: Link

The insider account by a former SEAL later used to prop up the raid sequence of ‘Zero Dark Thirty fills in the dramatic details but a change in vantage point zooms in on the Pakistani equation. In less than a 100 pages, the author proceeds to tie up loose ends leftover from the reams of official spin surrounding the events of May 1 2011.

He is a retired infantry Brigadier from Pakistan Army who uses his unprecedented access to the corridors of military power to launch an independent inquiry into the incident. His research takes in isolated facts, hidden motives and shadowy agendas to create an alternate timeline of events. They correspond with the main outlines of the sanctioned version but differ in the approach. The resultant document builds an appealing profile that demands a second look at the so called ‘mansion’ in Abbottabad and the dead man walking within…