Wednesday, November 6, 2013

From the other side

This is a book review of "A Restless Wind."

Name: A Restless Wind
By: Shahrukh Husain
Pages: 350
Published by: Picador India
Price: Rs 499

My first thoughts while reading this book was that it's very topical. Communal tensions are on a simmer and we read about the 'victim' stories ever so often. You will find all this in the 'A restless wind'. The only difference is that it's being narrated by a Pakistani woman – who was raised in India and the country of her birth.
Husain's protagonist, Zara Hamilton, was born in Karachi, but raised in Qila, a fortress in Trivikram, in Gujarat.
Zara's aunt (mother's sister) is a part of the Ramzi order, pirs, who are the Gurus of Hindu king of Trivikram. The royal lineage is the direct ascendant of Vamana (Lord Vishnu's avatar) and their association with the Ramzis is a symbol of communal harmony.
When she is urgently summoned by Aunt Hana to Qila, Zara decides to give her floundering marriage to Peter, little breathing space. Besides finding out what Aunt Hana wants her to discover, Zara has another mission. A lawyer, specialising in helping immigrants and asylum seekers in London, she wants to find out if there's a safe home for women destitute, unwelcome in the countries they have approached for asylum.
But her return rattles several skeletons and Zara's personal demons – secrecy surrounding her mother, Nyla, who had abandoned her when she was 8. She's also in conundrums about her feelings for the present day Maharaja of Trivikram, Jayendra Singh Vamana. They were madly in love when they were students at Oxford University, but the Maharaja had left without giving her any reason. The reason, becomes clear to her when the Ramzis are witch-hunted, was that their marriage would have cracked under the pressure of communal forces, besides causing irreversible damage to the Ramzis-Vamana relationship.
Being weighed down by her ancestry and her present, Zara's story is her journey in search of her identity – existential as well as the one mapped by geography. At the end of this journey, Zara learns that even though the social fabric has worn, some threads can't be snapped. Also, she finds all the answers to her questions in the Qila.
What doesn't work in this lyrical story, is the unnecessary clash of East vs West and another love story between Zara's niece and her cousin. In her attempt to tie up the loose ends, Husain also gets Nyla to connect with her daughter. Tightly packed with characters and overlapping stories of their own, it succeeds in distracting you briefly away from the core of the story – the war between races and religion become profound when it gets personal.

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