By Daniyal Mueenuddin
This book is a finely honed collection of stories, artfully interwoven across the steep and concentric societal hierarchy. The characters are all part of a complex system of feudal legacy; though varied in their monetary place, the emotions and subtleties remain the same through every story.
The center of the book is KK Harouni, the complacent residue of an ancient Pakistani feudal lordship. The stories circumscribe his extended kin of managers, servants and workers, who are pilfering yet serving his comfortable inheritance. The prime characters are almost always women and though only two of the stories are titled such (Lily and Our lady of Paris), the others follow the same pattern.
The men in the stories are in a comfort zone of power, sufficient wealth and authority to govern their lives. And in the imperfect world, their faith is shaken by concupiscence, combined with prowess of a woman that they feel threatened and humble to succumb. However, in all his stories, there is no triumph; like a pack of strangers at a gambling table, they all take back loses and few victorious moments to relish.
The stories are all hauntingly beautiful and that is totally owing to the prose like writing. Daniyal’s expressive writing and the peaceful exposition may be compared to Jhumpa Lahiri, which leaves a downy ringtone at the end of each tale. His ability to pack ironies, loose ends and nonjudgmental realities may be almost similar to Malgudi Days, but the element of satire is dark.
There were also other details; the author combines in his stories that give a peek into a Pakistan I had never known existed. In ‘Lily’, Daniyal, gives a glimpse of modern Pakistani life, a copious Islamabad society ousting orthodox fundamentalism. In ‘Provide Provide’, he comments on the gypsy realm and in ‘Our lady of Paris’ and ‘A Spoiled man’ he describes the affluent Pakistani, who almost lives as a westerner.
With a package of strangeness, unwarranted longing, perfect relationships undone by idiosyncrasies of love and moments of unattainable passion, Daniyal has created a ‘wonder’ in itself. I recommend this book for a peaceful vacation in the countryside; it may almost be a cue for self-analysis!