Saturday, October 8, 2016

Bhutto, Pirs & Pawindahs {Pakistan}

A Season for Martyrs | Bina Shah

The Wandering Falcon | Jamil Ahmad 

Both 4.5/5 stars

Haroon screamed once, then fell silent; but instead of catching his comrade in his arms and dragging him away with him, Ali scrambled to his feet, put his hands over his ears to block out the pounding sound of the bomb, and ran. He wished that he too could die, just to escape from the sounds that couldn’t possibly have come from human throats: moans and whimpers at once animalistic and raw, like the keening of scores of maddened, hysterical wolves. 

What is like? Being in the middle of a bomb blast? What is it like being in the middle of a resistance movement and lathi charge? Being dragged by the cops to be taken to the police station?

What is it like? Being a descendent of affluent land owners, the most hated ‘feudals' that are constantly labeled as the root cause of all of the country’s problems? Being in a high secretive, scandalous relationship with a hindu girl? And what is it like, to be emotional wrung, pining for your own father, who left you and your family to start another?

Bhutto, Pirs & Pawindahs: Bina Shah & Jamil Ahmad's Books on Pakistan Historical Fiction, part of Globetrotting with Books Series

A Season of Martyrs is a bold book. And an unapologetic one, assuming it was written for readers outside Pakistan, to get a glimpse of Sindh, a province that was once the land of Sufi saints, to present day Karachi which is deals with everyday troubles such as load shedding of electricity for several hours a day to kidnappings for hard cash.

It’s about Benazir Bhutto, set mostly around the last few months before her assassination. How can one not be enamoured by her in spite of the corruption charges? Not only was she the first elected female leader of a muslim nation, But it was when she was as young as 35 and had recently given birth to her first born! I remember picking out “Daughter of the East” from my mother’s book shelf years ago and being impressed by her eloquence. She was born with a silver spoon, had studied in the finest universities in the world and yet, she chose to follow her father’s footsteps in the world of dirty politics.

You think the author is switching between the tumultuous political events of the country and the grind of personal lives, most of the book narrated through the eyes of a young, skeptical, emotional wrung journalist, but in fact she is craftily weaving them together. Till the very last page. 

The weirdest thing about reading historical fiction is reacting to a  seemingly brand new piece of information and almost immediately realising your glaring blindspots. I’d never even given a thought to the idea that the Sindhis & Bengalis were both muslim and hindu. It’s not like I’d ever opened the map of Pakistan either. 

Yet I would incredulously lift up my chin, turn my head and ask my half asleep husband in the middle of the night something like “so the Bengalis in Bangladesh don’t have Durga Puja?!!” as I resisted allowing this seemingly unbelievable yet very obvious fact to settle in. 

“I bet they eat rosogullas though” I mutter on.

Bhutto, Pirs & Pawindahs: Bina Shah & Jamil Ahmad's Books on Pakistan Historical Fiction, part of Globetrotting with Books Series

While Bina Shah paints a picture of Sindh & Urban Pakistan, Jamil Ahmad paints an even surreal one of the Nomadic life at the borders of Pakistan & Afghanistan, which barely endured after the new way of life triumphed the old way, when the once fluid international boundaries between Pakistan and Afghanistan were dismantled, restraining the free movements of Pawindahs, the ‘foot people’.

Tribes needed to be on the move every single day, each tent containing a family. A family meant man, his wives, his children, their  dogs, chickens, herd of camels and flocks of sheep. In their minds permanency only meant a stay long enough to wash clothes or to fix the cradles to sturdy branches of trees. 

Asking them for documents to cross the borders was like asking the millions of birds and animals that migrate every year for food and water to stop doing so!

The stories are like distant fables that slowly come to life and were written by the author all the way back in the 1970s, inspired by his own experiences of serving in the Tribal Development Corporation.  Yes! These short stories were written nearly 40 years before being published and long before the ‘talibanisation’ of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and make an absolutely delightful read. 

‘How is it possible for us to be treated as belonging to Afghanistan? We stay for a few months there and for a few months in Pakistan. The rest of the time we spend moving. We are Pawindahs and belong to all countries, or to none. What will happen to our herds? Our animals have to move if they are to live. The stop would mean death for them. Our way of life harms nobody. Why do you wish for us to change?’

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  1. They both sound like fascinating reads, I'll add them to my list. Thanks for sharing on practical Mondays

  2. Sounds really interesting. I will have to look out for this title. Thanks for linking with #bigpinklink

  3. I love catching on your reviews, this one sounds interesting. Thanks for linking up to #dreamteam Hope to see you again next time x

  4. Thank you for linking up with us on What to Read Wednesday and sharing your ideas!