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Clan Clang

The Dard-e-Dils dominate this breathless novel

Clan Clang
outlookindia.com
-0001-11-30T00:00:00+0553
Salt And Saffron
By Kamila Shamsie
Bloomsbury,distributed by Penguin India Rs:295; Pages: 244
Kamila Shamsie’s Salt and Saffron is an interesting collage of stories revolving round the Dard-e-Dil clan. It reads as a somewhat breathless account of a feudal family in Pakistan, the Dard-e-Dils, in a time-frame that sees the crumbling of feudal ideas.

The narrator Aliya reminds one of Scherezade as she spins out one story after another. But her stories are inter-related, often to the extent where it’s hard to separate the strands. It’s equally hard to fathom the mystery of the paired family members, the "not quite twins" who populate the novel. Perhaps the trope takes off from Partition and the emergence of a twinned India and Pakistan. Does it work? Not quite!

The title indicates the obsession with food that dominates the novel. Aliya’s renegade aunt Mariam brushes saffron off her husband’s neck and dusts it on to her own lips, lists vegetables "as though the list were a ghazal". Sample another evocative quote: "A smell that was not so much a smell as a miracle. Different strands of smells coming together like an orchestral symphony...." Brilliant in parts, the novel reads well but does not leave a mark. Now and then one is reminded of Midnight’s Children, in the references to the Partition, the attempt to reconstruct history and weave it into the fabric of the novel in a master narrative. It is not a wholly successful attempt. There are too many digressions, like the musings on yak’s milk. These amuse, but diffuse the focus.

Some of the prose is slightly colonial, like the description of Teej "that marked the first of the rains" when the young girls sang monsoon songs as they swung higher and higher. The Nawab bestowed "a rain-shaped diamond" on the girl who swung the highest without faltering in her singing. If you can ignore these glitches, it’s a pleasantly anecdotal read.

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