24.3.14

a god in every stone

by Kamila Shamsie
I don't have the time to write something longer, but I have to note these down or I'll forget.

1. The anticipation of love: The whole book is full of it. It is always standing around at the edges, teasing you, testing you, seeing if you'll fall for it. I did, convincingly, every time. I fell for every character meant for love, whether or not anyone in the book actually did. I fell for Qayyum Gul (with his hands behind his head alone on a berth in a train; one eyed Qayyum, sure yet so very unsure of himself.) And I kept hoping she would too. I kept looking for it - Now it will happen, oh, now she will recognize him, wait this is the moment. A moment. I can't say if I loved the book for the anticipation of love, or for the love there actually is.

2. Reading Shamsie is like reading a non-fantasy Guy Gavriel Kay. It feels like you're really reading a book on history in story form. It's well-researched and a terrific pleasure. Makes you want to read up on little things. (May be I'm drawing this comparison because I've been reading Kay like a beast. But if you read Kay and Shamsie in succession, I dare you not to make it too). I loved her account of wartime Britain for its little details, the politics, the opinions. I loved how Vivian grows through the book: I love her idea of service to a nation in wartime, and how it changes as she becomes her own person. I love the tension in the book when the man from the government comes to meet her. You know she can't be that silly, you want her to not be that silly. When she is, you're immediately heart-broken. You know what is coming, it's an inevitability. But you hope because she hopes.

3. I really really want to go to Turkey.

4. My southern school education somehow missed out on the immediacy and intimacy of the history of partition, and I think this is true of many of my South Indian friends. A lot of North Indian friends of mine have a romantic notion of Pakistan - they have roots there (a grandparent who left, lands, families, that sort of thing). To me, it has always been a different culture, a different people. When I found out that they have a Punjab too, somehow Pakistani butter chicken became something I had to try. (I was 11. Not much has changed). So when I read Pakistani writers, I read them as I would read any other writer. Suddenly little unexpected things pop out at me and I think aha, there's something I didn't expect you to be like. With Mohammed Hanif's Alice Bhatti, I kept thinking that way about caste. About how I understood its perpetuation without really thinking about it as different/Pakistani. 

It happened with Shamsie too, but not in the same way: With her, it was about the cultural references. The train stations, the quaint streets, the clubs. (In my head, they look like old Hyderabad, and I can say with some certainty that the clubs are the same everywhere. I've been to Gymkhanas all over the country, and if they haven't changed between Hyderabad, Bangalore, Calcutta and Delhi, I doubt they're largely different or the sandwiches are much better in Pakistan).


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