Wednesday, 27 May 2009



A middle-aged widow, whose two daughters are married, herself gets married again. That being the outline of a novel, it may not sound to be an interesting read. But, with a mix of subtle humour, and narration of a woman's dilemma and desire, Musharraf Ali Farooqi's recent novel The Story of a Widow is an observant novel.

Born in Pakistan and currently settled in Canada, Farooqi was drawn into the literary creativity since his childhood. He recalls his days as a young boy when he read a lot and the illustrated children's stories used to attract his attention. It was this interest that made him “to wish write stories like them”. As he puts it: “Probably, I was good for nothing else.” So he nurtured that dream of writing a children's fiction. “And I am happy to report that I accomplished it when I published my children’s picture book, The Cobbler’s Holiday or Why Ants Don’t Wear Shoes,” he adds.

The Story of a Widow sees the central character of Mona whose dominating husband Akbar Ahmed has died leaving enough wealth for the widow. The portrait of the dead man hangs on the wall of the couple's home in Karachi and Akbar Ahmed seems to express his views silently through his portrait and Mona somewhat acts in deference to her dead husband; her efforts to make independent decisions thus being scuttled. It is then that her neighbour Mrs Baig gets a new tenant in the shape of Salamat Ali.

Through a well-balanced mix of narration and conversations that unfolds the tension in Mona's immediate circle, Farooqi then lets the story flow like drama after Salamat Ali's proposal to marry Mona which she accepts. “I chose this style of writing only for this story because I think it suited it. I do not have a fixed style, and I hope I never do, because that would be very boring for me,” Farooqi informs.

The character of Akbar Ahmed is a reminder to Mona's unhappy life with her dead husband's dry and stuck-to-principles ways that stands much in contrast to the happiness that Mona attains from the somewhat mischievously romantic self of Salamat. But at the end, it is Salamat who unexpectedly fades out. How easy was it to let Salamat go away in the anticlimax, I ask. “Knowing the kind of character Salamat Ali is, I am sure he will never really fade out. He will emerge somewhere else to carry on what he does best --- endearing himself to some woman and then making her happy and disappointed at the same time. I had to let him go so that he could live his own life,” Farooqi replies. The message of the story, says the author, is: “You go widow! But widow, beware!”

The novel offers a glimpse of life in Karachi. “I guess, Karachi is a city whose social life I knew enough about to set the novel there,” the author affirms. “You will notice that most of the events in the novel take place indoors. This is how it is in Karachi. The tale is told from the point of view of an introverted person who spends most of her time indoors, and with her family. So the city interacts minimally with the character and events”. Thus, the story might not have been much different had it been set in other cities in Pakistan or elsewhere where the population is mostly of Pakistani origin, say, in some British towns. “Probably Mona’s uncle would not have easily found an obliging policeman to threaten Salamat in England,” Farooqi shares a trace of his wit.

The idea of The Story of a Widow originated from Farooqi's visit to a home in Toronto, Canada, where the lady of the household kept the photograph of her former husband hanging just above the chair of her current husband. Keeping that in mind I ask the author about his writing process in general. “I do not launch myself into writing anything now without having the complete outline of the story before me,” he replies, adding, “It still changes continuously, but I know how the changes will be reflected in the ending.” In this context he mentions the literary influences on his creativity. “For each writing project one draws on a different set of literary resources. In the case of The Story of a Widow, I drew on the social drama depicted in Japanese writer Junichiro Tanizaki’s The Makioka Sisters and Urdu writer Azim Beg Chughtai’s short stories.”

Talking about the Pakistani writers in English, Farooqi says, “I find it great that so many young people are devoting their creative energies to literature. A lot of good will come out of it.” But aren't these writers somewhat overshadowed by the hype around Indian writers in English? “I am in the privileged position that I have friends among both Pakistani and Indian writers. So no matter who gets hyped, I win,” Farooqi replies happily.

He is currently working on the fantasy epic Tilism-e Hoshruba; translations of Urdu poet Afzal Ahmed Syed's works are also in the offing.