To surpass expectations when you have books like Maps for Lost Lovers and The Wasted Vigil behind you must be no mean task. However, Nadeem Aslam makes short work of it with The Blind Man’s Garden, as he plunges the reader headlong, heart first, into the biggest conflict of our times with only empathy to serve as guide. Set in the months after the attack on the Twin Towers, The Blind Man’s Garden can be described as a book about the other side of 9/11, away from the images of airplanes, Ground Zero rescue ops and war-ravaged Afghanistan exploding on television. There are no innocents in this story, no one is proclaimed guilty, there are no victims, no perpetrators, just human beings—mortal, flawed and entirely beautiful.
The story follows two foster brothers, Jeo and Mikal, residents of the fictional town of Heer in Pakistan. They travel to Afghanistan to tend to the wounded in the aftermath of the American reprisal to 9/11. Betrayed and sold to the Taliban, they end up fighting against American troops. The novel is the story of Jeo’s swift death and of Mikal’s slow incarceration and torture, first at the hands of an Afghan warlord and later at the hands of the US army. It is equally the story of those they leave behind in Pakistan—their ageing father Rohan, battling blindness, self-doubt and the loss of his wife Sofia, who he may have indirectly killed through his excessive piety; of the beautiful, determined Naheed, who is both Jeo’s young wife and the woman Mikal loves fiercely; of her widowed mother Tara; and of their sister Yasmin and brother-in-law Basie, teachers in a Christian missionary school under threat from the students of Ardent Spirit, a school founded by Rohan and now controlled by fundamentalists.
Though this is Aslam’s most overtly political and topical work, The Blind Man’s Garden transcends politics and looks squarely at the failures of civilisation on either side of the rift. It is a deep exploration of what it means to be human, and how the things that divide the human race intersect and entangle with that which is shared. It offers a mirror, not perhaps a whole one as much as many shards of broken glass, for the two sides to find themselves in each other across the vast, cold, seemingly unbridgeable chasm of cultural differences and clashing sensibilities.
Aslam’s prose creates an effect very similar to that described as pentimento in painting, where images or elements that have been completely painted over by the artist become visible, revealing an earlier design trapped under the layers of the present work. There is a translucence to the author’s English which reveals an under layer of Urdu. Seeping out from beneath the grammar and syntax of his perfectly polished adopted tongue is the melancholy and ache of Urdu’s vivid images and startling metaphors: blood, pomegranates and rubies combine to capture the many inflections of pain, hurt, grief and regret. Moonlight, fireflies, flowering plants and trees, singing birds, the movement of the stars and the colour of the sky texture the narrative and act as subliminal triggers which create an emotional subtext connecting the reader to the beauty of Islam’s poetic and artistic traditions.
Like grass that grows out of abandoned ruins asserts the triumph of life over death, this is a life-affirming tale of love and redemption emerging from the stark landscape of loss. Love is not consolation, it is light. The book is Aslam’s prayer for the whole world, his attempt to bathe it in light.
Sofia has a better understanding of love and life than her deeply religious husband, Rohan, who frets over her lack of belief and dogma. I will miss all of this, because this is all there is, is what she says as she takes leave of the world.
> "... things that divide the human race intersect and entangle with that which is shared."
Good book review.
We at Outlookindia.com welcome feedback and your comments, including scathing criticism
1. Scathing, passionate, even angry critiques are welcome, but please do not indulge in abuse and invective. Our Primary concern is to keep the debate civil. We urge our users to try and express their disagreements without being disagreeable. Personal attacks are not welcome. No ad hominem please.
2. Please do not post the same message again and again in the same or different threads
3. Please keep your responses confined to the subject matter of the article you are responding to. Please note that our comments section is not a general free-for-all but for feedback to articles/blogs posted on the site
4. Our endeavour is to keep these forums unmoderated and unexpurgated. But if any of the above three conditions are violated, we reserve the right to delete any comment that we deem objectionable and also to withdraw posting privileges from the abuser. Please also note that hate-speech is punishable by law and in extreme circumstances, we may be forced to take legal action by tracing the IP addresses of the poster.
5. If someone is being abusive or personal, or generally being a troll or a flame-baiter, please do not descend to their level. The best response to such posters is to ignore them and send us a message at Mail AT outlookindia DOT com with the subject header COMPLAINT
6. Please do not copy and paste copyrighted material. If you do think that an article elsewhere has relevance to the point you wish to make, please only quote what is considered fair-use and provide a link to the article under question.
7. There is no particular outlookindia.com line on any subject. The views expressed in our opinion section are those of the author concerned and not that of all of outlookindia.com or all its authors.
8. Please also note that you are solely responsible for the comments posted by you on the site. The comments could be deleted or edited entirely at our discretion if we find them objectionable. However, the mere fact of their existence on our site does not mean that we necessarily approve of their contents. In short, the onus of responsibility for the comments remains solely with the authors thereof. Outlookindia.com or any of its group publications, may, however, retains the right to publish any of these comments, with or without editing, in any medium whatsoever. It is therefore in your own interest to be careful before posting.
9.Outlookindia.com is not responsible in any manner whatsoever for how any search engine -- such as Google, Bing etc -- caches or displays these comments. Please note that you are solely responsible for posting these comments and it is a privilege being granted to our registered users which can be withdrawn in case of abuse. To reiterate:
a. Comments once posted can only be deleted at the discretion of outlookindia.com
b. The comments reflect the views of the authors and not of outlookindia.com
c. outlookindia.com is not responsible in any manner whatsoever for the way search engines cache or display these comments
d. Please therefore take due caution before you post any comments as your words could potentially be used against you
10. We have an online thread for our comments policy:
You are welcome to post your suggestions here or in case you have a specific issue, to directly email us at Mail AT outlookindia DOT com with the subject header COMPLAINT