IN this collection of 12 stories, the first five are set in Karachi while seven have Allahabad or Ahmedabad as their backdrop. One might ask why only these three places have been chosen. This is because the author was born and brought up in Karachi and Dhaka. She studied in the USA, got married there and came to settle down in Allahabad where she raised her two daughters and is involved in women’s rights activism. Since the soils of three South Asian nations fertilised her cross-cultural upbringing, she has embraced “a South Asian cultural identity, a composite individuality that is broader than the fixed and narrow official definitions that passports and visas assign,” she says.
Her stories are vignettes peopled by ordinary people with extraordinary sensitivities that surprise the reader with their outer normalcy maintained despite idiosyncrasies of their fate. In the story titled ‘Risk’, a young Christian girl called Saima starts working in a garment store run by Moin Sahib, who is twice her age and married and yet she has an affair with him. She returns home at night and lives with her parents whom she supports. She sees street boys lurking downstairs and she imagines lecturing them to earn their living, just as she did, instead of loitering around aimlessly.
In ‘Fishing at Haleji’, furniture-maker Maqsood Ali grapples with a problem whose solution will irrevocably alter his daughter’s life, but finds an escape to a lakeside bird sanctuary an easier alternative.
Amina Begum complains that she did not want trees but “in all the thirty years we’ve been married, have you bought me gold earrings or a set of gold bangles?”
A deeply hurt Sultan asks, “Can you eat gold? You’ll know the value of these trees when I’m gone.”
Soon after this conversation, Amina dies of congestion and Sultan buries her in the kabrastaan. One day he sees her sitting among the branches of a neem tree. He waits day in and day out for Begum Amina to appear on the neem in the courtyard, but she does not return. He wants to see her smiling face and hopes that maybe one day he would “return to find she had created her undying abode in the branches of the lonely neem.”
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