The Story of a Widow By Musharraf Ali Farooqi Reviewed by Deepika Arwind on 07Jun2010
Mona leads the way
The past few years have been a good time for Pakistani writing in English, as we have encountered a number of interesting novels from the country (one must not forget that many of these authors are based or partlybased in the United States), not to mention translations as well. Among these writers is Musharraf Ali Farooqi. He has translated "The Adventures of Amir Harza" originally written in Urdu by Ghalib Lakhanvi published by Random House and Modern Library in 2007, for which he received much critical acclaim. His other titles in English include "A Cobbler's Holiday: Or Why Ants Don't Wear Shoes" published by Roaring Book House in 2008. "The Story of a Widow", however, has been more popular than the former, and has won him praise from his contemporaries. The book starts with the death of Akhbar Ahmed, a government employee, who has a high standing in society and has lived an almoststoic life in many ways. Now Mona, his 50year widow, is suddenly very free; she does not have to chart her day out according to the needs of her husband, she doesn't need to cook for him or make him tea. She spends time trying to spend her time, but it is in this time we are able to see her routine life, her interactions with her family, the slow revelation of her difficult relationship with one of her daughters, Tanya. Mona behaves like a widow is expected to behave, and takes care of the house, socialises with her neighbour
Mrs. Baig. When Mrs. Baig takes in a tenant, Mona doesn't see him. Her few encounters with him leave her flustered she over thinks them, and gets very agitated in the process. These are some of the nicest moments in the book, for Farooqi is able to portray a kind of unique trepidation that Mona feels she immediately resorts to the norms of propriety, and feels she must be offended by Salamat's small gestures "forwardness", but is quite calm when she receives his proposal for marriage. We then see her taking her time over this decision, with all the mostly disapproving responses coming her way, especially from her Uncle Sajid and Aunt Aneesa, who cut off all ties with her and boycott her wedding. But Mrs. Baig, who is partly responsible for this martial arrangement, makes them meet, and for the first time we see Salamat's easy going nature and Mona's claim over herself. It is from their marriage onwards that Salamat's personality comes to light, when he brutally fires the maid for having stolen something he bought for Mona. She allows him many things even his drinking because Mona now feels desirable. This feels like a relief for the reader, despite the knowing that Salamat Ali isn't all she expects, for her earlier marriage is uncomfortable like a thick lump in the reader's throat. Farooqi brings out the oddity and the mundane relationship well, oscillating between Mona's newfound liberation and as well as her discomfort with Salamat's ways, as the book progresses. Mona is perhaps Farooqi's most welletched characters, sometimes leaving the other characters looking lacklustre, or even shortchanged. Mona and her sister share a complex relationship, and Farooqi sees this complexity through the end. Though there is the larger framework of propriety that they try to fit into, the relationship between the siblings is one of deep love and some misunderstandings. Hina takes care of Mona, but that doesn't stop her from being hotheaded or taking digs at her. She protects her, but they both have some unresolved bitterness between them. Mona's relationship with her daughter too is one of drama. However, in many instances, Farooqi doesn't give the reader a chance to think. He often just rolls out every one of his character's thoughts in front of them, making this almost toostraightforward a book in many parts. In this constant "telling", the book can become cumbersome in some bits. In some places, the humour is too slight, one almost hopes for a light moment, but it does feel like the book is speaking in one tone, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but allows for the danger of boredom. Farooqi's language is simple, and while one can't put one's finger on his stylistic highpoints, the book is wellcrafted. Yet, one is not left with an intense sense of anything after the novel closes. You too can post your reviews at our Review section, read the The Story of a Widow and read more reviews, simply logon to Justbooksclc, the best Online book library in Bangalore.