From the back cover: Moving from the elegant living rooms of Lahore to the mud villages of rural Multan, a powerful collection of short stories about feudal Pakistan.
This 247 page volume has eight loosely connected short stories, all related to the family and household staff of the aging landowner KK Harouni. There’s Nawabdin electrician, whose most prized possession is his bike, which he fights to protect from a bandit; and Jaglani, Harouni’s estate manager, who fleeces him while selling his land and gains power and prestige in the village of Multan. There’s Saleema, a servant girl who uses sex as a tool to advance herself through life and Hassan, Harouni’s cook, who has stashed away a significant amount of money by padding the kitchen bills, whose son is now in jail on the charge of having murdered his sister-in-law, a crime that he has not committed. Through the stories of these four characters Daniyal paints a picture of the servants of rich feudal landowners.
For a glimpse into the lives of the landowner and the high society of Pakistan we have Husna, one of Harouni’s poor relatives, who in her mad desire to lift her station in life becomes his mistress in his old age, only to be discarded like garbage by his children after his death. Then there’s Sohail, Harouni’s son, who is in love with an American girl. The relationship goes sour after his parents meet them in Paris, and his mother convinces Helen that by marrying Sohail, she would be setting them both up for sorrow. The depravity of high-society is portrayed through Lily, a bored, rich Pakistani girl, who flits from party to party, drinking, doing drugs and having casual sex, wanting to transform her life, become pure. A chance that she gets with Murad, who runs a farm growing exotic vegetables. They marry, but she can’t take life on the farm, and painfully, within a few months, realizes that she can perhaps never change. And through Razak, who has been hired by Sohail and his American wife Sonya to tend the orchards, we learn of the absolute power of the rich and the abject helplessness of the weak and poor.
The book creates quite a vivid picture of Pakistan. Despite the relatively short length of the stories, the various characters are quite detailed, and you get a good feel for feudal Pakistan. The writing is fluid, and I love the way the book ends – I’m not going to type out the entire paragraph here, just a few lines from various places in that paragraph to give you a sense of what I mean.
“At first the cabin sat inviolate below the swimming pool, locked….Gradually, like falling leaves, the locks were broken off, one person taking the thermos, another the wood table…The door of the little cabin hung open, the wind and blown rain scouring it clean.”
This was a fitting end for that particular short story, but if you think about it, it’s a fitting end for the entire tableau that Daniyal created; indeed, even for life. After all, at the end, all our prized possessions are slowly carted away or discarded, our homes stripped of the character that it once imbibed.
As an Indian, this was a fascinating read about a neighboring country that I don’t know all that much about and probably never will.