March 28, 2020
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Karachi Adagio

A charming tale from Pakistan. It has no sex, no violence, and no cultural or political angst

Karachi Adagio
The Story Of A Widow
By Musharraf Ali Farooqi
Picador Pages: 255; Rs 495
Just as one despaired of ever reading an old-fashioned novel with a credible story and characters and an uncluttered style, comes this charming tale from Pakistan. It has no sex, no violence, and no cultural or political angst. In short, none of the mandatory prerequisites of contemporary fiction. There is just Mona, a pretty young widow of means, who lives in a genteel Karachi neighbourhood and a bold widower, Salamat Ali, who wants to, and does, marry her. The first half of the book is an amusing account of their courtship and eventual wedding, with ugly cousins as in the Cinderella tale, conspiring aunts, resentful daughters and the dead husband’s portrait in the cast. The second half has darker shades: Mona begins to wonder whether she has been conned by a clever fortune-hunter.

Farooqi, whose translation of the Hamza Nama won praise, now tries his hand at a Jane Austen-like tale with great finesse. With few young people in the cast, Farooqi is able to explore the mannered life of Karachi’s genteel classes at a pace that is leisurely but tightly leashed, and graceful but perceptive, and in a language so exquisitely nuanced that nowhere can one forget that this is Karachi, not Delhi or Dubai. This facet gives the novel a quality of comfort with the story, something often lacking in the writing of those clever young novelists who like to show off rather than just show. Perhaps Urdu has an innate elegance that makes Farooqi’s ‘two inches of ivory’ comparable to that ultimate miniaturist: Jane Austen.

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