19 August 2009

Review: The Story Of A Widow

Author: Musharraf Ali Farooqi
Pages: 249
Price: 495
Publishers: Picador
Published In : 2008

It was with some enthusiasm that I picked up this book by Musharraf Ali Farooqi. There were positive reviews, and the author has his work as translator for the acclaimed The Adventures Of Amir Hamza of Ghalib Lakhnavi and Abdullah Bilgrami behind him. But this turned to be a very drab, vacious book on many fronts.

When one reads about a book set in a particular country or culture, one likes to get a sense of the place and its people. This one is based in Karachi and should have captured the essence of the Pakistani living and its inhabitants in a more textured, nuanced manner. But all Farooqi does is to give you a story that is too generic, plastic and facile.

The concept is interesting enough - that of a 50 plus widow who looks at marrying again and experiencing a sexual, marital happiness that she missed with her deceased husband who was too controlling and finicky. Not a bad plot. But the whole drama appears staged and unconvincing.

Mona, a 50 plus widow, attractive and comely, is quite content with her single status again after her husband's death. Her two daughters, the empathetic Ambar and surly Tanya are married, so the mother has enough time on her hands - something she never had earlier. Her husband has left her enough money and she has an efficient staff to take care of her spacious house. Her decorous social life is restricted to visits to her neighbour - the elderly Mrs Baig and her sister Hina and her husband Jafar.

The author gives us a rather telling glimpse into Mona's life with her husband Ahmad - who while he was a responsible man was unduly meticulous about finances and cared very little for his wife's feelings. She rightly believes she missed out a lot in life just being the ever dutiful wife and mother. So when Salamat Ali, a widower settles as a tenant in Mrs Baig's house, Mona shows him a passing interest.
Salamat we're told is a man of 50, but his habit of ogling at Mona using his binoculars or thrusting film tickets into her hand make him look like a lout, a sadakchhap. This appears odd to say the least. But more excruciatingly portrayed is Mona's extended family, a mob of despicable, gossip-mongers. Her sister Hina is somewhat considerate but that too in an overbearing and officious way which irritates Mona.

There is a tone of artificiality that runs through the whole narrative and neither the characters not their actions have adequate depth or nuance. The relatives goad Mona into marrying Salamat and then want her to divorce him at the first opportunity of him being proved a scamster.
The author makes a farce out of Mona's life in the end. He seems to conspire to keep her in a tremulous state all through. Still, she's the best written character of the lot. You get a sense of her dissatisfied marriage and her desire to be with a man who can value her.
It seems strange  though how she agrees to marry Salamat as she's never convinced about the man. Mona is not in love with him nor does she find him particularly attractive in any sense. The author gives Salamat Ali the air of a slimy fellow very early on, hence there are no surprises when Mona's world gets thrown into a disarray soon. To add to this Salamat is a very badly written character.
 At the end of it, one wonders what the point of the book is – that attractive widows must be on their guard against opportunistic, vile men?

1 comment:

Qalandar said...

Thanks for this review Sandy, I hadn't heard about this book, although I have heard about the author because of the translations you mentioned...