Monthly Archives: January 2018

Boy of fire and earth

There is a beginning in every ending. Nowhere does it feel truer than at the end of this book. I want more, I want the future of Wahid’s story. I would like to know what happens next for him and for the world. So I hope Sami Shah decides to write another book or books that explore more of this world within a world that he has created.

But let me get back to the book that is already there, the one I just finished reading. As someone who reads constantly, to me, books represent worlds, universes made out of letters, words and sentences. Universes that I can escape into, immerse myself in by simply absorbing said letters, words and sentences.

The world created by Sami Shah, the one of Boy of Fire and Earth, was one such from which I did not want to emerge. Based in Karachi, filled with creatures that range from the good to the bad and ugly, dangers like the end of our planet and the coming of judgement day interspersed with moments of a city drowning in injustice, fear, apathy, hope, love and friendship, the book is compelling.

It has left many questions in my mind. Questions created by this story without being overt about it. The characters, like Wahid – our protagonist, Iblis – the devil, the physics professor, they all ask them, struggle with them but with a subtlety that is rare. Big decisions are made, to destroy the world and save it, without long speeches and words of honour. This simplicity pierced my mind more sharply than any eloquent declarations could have done.

I connected to the overwhelming suffering, pain and injustice that define Karachi in this book as well as the casual acceptance of it all by the characters who choose to focus on their individual lives rather than get involved in any sweeping questions of humanity, the city or country. But eventually it all boils down to it anyway.

More than the language, it was the imagination in this book that appealed to me. It is not poetic, it does not do enough to make its characters breathe or solidify its world but the imagination behind the words is amazing. Simple words are used to describe a fantastical universe full of djinns, chudails, zombies and monsters. So, as a reader I took these simple words and let my imagination create everything that was described. After all, what is a story but the joint effort of the teller and the listener, the writer of it and its reader.

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The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

In the past, a character like Offred would have made my blood boil. I would be silently seething as I read and screaming at her in my head to do something. “Stop looking at the flowers and mooning about the weather! Strategize!” would be my constant refrain. But not this time.

It is funny how fiction introduces me to myself so often. I have changed and this change is visible in the way I reacted to Offred and her tale. I accepted as I read that some times you are a hero, a fighter, a warrior and sometimes it takes all you’ve got to simply survive.

This book while thought-provoking was highly disturbing and uncomfortable to the point of making my skin crawl. Mainly because despite its bizarre world, it has possibility on its side.

As I read, it began to dawn on me how easy it would be to render someone like me powerless. One minute I matter and the next my entire life, beliefs, everything I hold dear becomes inconsequential. And there would be nothing much I would be able to do about it.

The sense of helplessness is palpable and as I went along with Offred on her journey I felt it. The lack of information, inability to find out anything or change it felt like a stark contrast to the click gratification for anything and everything.

The understanding, not just mere intellectual knowledge but real knowing in your bones kind of understanding, is difficult. To do that is to confront a situation again and again so that real learning can happen.

It was a glimmer of this understanding that came to me in the course of this story. Not everything can be changed. Not everything is fixable. I am only superficially in control of my life. All I can do is hope and try.

At one point in the book, the narrator says, “I wish this story were different. I wish it were more civilized. I wish it showed me in a better light…” this about sums it up.

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