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By Shahbano Bilgrami
Rs 275; Pages 246
hahbano Bilgrami’s debut novel tells the story of two lives at different ends of Pakistan’s social spectrum. That of Haroon, son of a wealthy, privileged family, but dealing with a history of terrible violence within the home, and of Abdul, the servant boy, essential to the workings of the kitchen, but otherwise a shadowy, elusive presence who watches everything from the sidelines. Bilgrami delicately sketches the parallel lives of these two young men, each holding up an inverse mirror to the other. Class and privilege are never absent from the story, and yet the violence in both lives provides a telling comment on the different ways in which these play themselves out.
This overtly gentle story hides, as do the histories within it, a subterranean violence, and its denouement plays this out to the full. There are some evocative moments, such as Abdul’s first encounter with the sea. Having asked himself what could be so special about water—after all, it is for bathing and cooking—Abdul is transfixed when he sees "a corrugated sheet of shifting greys...that edged slowly towards the misty golden sun
in the distance".
In the end though, it is class that wins out—as it does in another novel that this one reminds you of, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini—a fact that comes home to Haroon on his return to the house where he saw his father batter his mother, and then face a violent death himself.