Saw the book on the shelf of a book shop and the mere glimpse delighted me. Wanted to read the book solely because it was written be a dear friend. After reading a few reviews on the same, I realised that I need to mention a few things that are not yet noticed by anyone. Trying to be as unbiased as possible!
Yes the book does seem to be talking about women, more because each title suggests as such, nonetheless, I find men to have a strong presence, and a positive one, in all the stories. Fathers for instance: pa in the first story, although he has a negative impact on the lives of many, would not stay back if his daughter refuses to go, also Laal in the same story makes sure that Farida is in safe hands before he dies. We see Reema to be her Dad’s ‘little princess.’ The brutal man Rustom, manages to ‘keep his cool in front of the girls’ and pats their heads. He rebukes his son for Habiba, ‘the dearest.’ Nazia’s father speaks ‘gently’ and has ‘so much love,’ and is the ‘only person who took(takes) responsibility’ and tells her that ‘things could be better for her in the future.’
As a comment on the marriage, we do see the ugly side as when Nazia is seen to have had an abusive relationship, or when Saima has to solve the case of a murder of a young bride, the softer side overshadows all this apparent negativity in a subtle manner. Be it Aslam and Nargis in Reema’s story, or the relationship between Saima and Asif, there is a sense of understanding and love. Farida and Summi both communicate a sense of beauty in their relationships. Men as partners can be comforting as shown through Nazia’s suitor and Beena’s husband even when everything is not ideal. In Reema’s case, she derives strength by showing off Petter to Billu. Eaman’s mother Zainab is also shown to have a stable partnership despite her shouldering more responsibility towards the children.
Also, all the stories in the book hint upon certain issues in a subtle manner that should not go unnoticed, and bring about a point of view that itself is as solid as the protagonists. The ‘whiff of burnt cloth, kerosene and ashes’ does not need to be elaborated. The world of Alzheimer’s, the terrorism, the kidnappings, honour killing, forced marriages and much more, all have solid haunting presence. Maria’s selection of the ‘willow,’ a ‘depiction of sorrow,’ hints silently about how one can be deceived by beauty concealing the sadness.
Above all, something that gives me a good feeling about all the stories is the realistic approach of the main characters. The petty issues that are popularly sensitised in feminist fiction are dealt with grace and composure. Women can be accepting of the not so perfect world around them. Ideals do not really exist. Ayesha’s realisation of the topaz’s significance in her husband’s life has not been played as something negative for her. ‘She couldn’t think more,’ has more to do with ‘no need to!’ Also, one can infer that Baseer who had been intoxicated by his encounter with Maria, settles into a steady relationship with ‘his wife who bore him four children.’ Beena’s ideal world is unaffected by her husband’s Shahrukhless sentiments as she lets ‘his words float out of the window without bothering her.’
Overall there is much more in the book than what appears as mere stories. These are real life women around us, who can rationalise, aspire, revive, grow, support, feel, and make a difference. They are as much around us as the air that we breathe in, but hardly ever notice. They are not men haters. Through their stories, we are presented with poignant ideas in a subtle manner.