Asian Life & Times - SALT
Two Karachi-based women
have brought out two individual accounts of the same event in history that
they lived through – the break-up of Pakistan and the creation of
Bangladesh. While Raihana Hasan’s
Of Martyrs & Marigolds
‘Of Martyrs & Marigolds’
is Aquila Ismail’s eloquent debut novel.
It touched the soul – extremely painfully
at times. It took one back to those dreadful headlines forty years ago.
The novel is a fearless
and an unbiased narrative of the birth of Bangladesh seen through the eyes
of Suri –a young college student at the time. It is a story of dilemmas
faced by the ‘Urdu-speaking’ Bihari- citizens of East Pakistan, who loved
the country they had opted to live in.
It is a tale of atrocities committed by
both sides – Pakistani army and the Bengalis - towards their own. Not many
writers have documented this painful period of Bangladesh’s recent history –
and Aquila has recreated with nostalgic charm the growing up of Suri in a
middle class ‘Urdu-speaking’ family living in Bangladesh – a country they
moved to by choice.
As the novel unfolds, its characters and imagery
become vivid – and the story more agonizing. Based on actual incidents, some
that haunt you for long after the page has turned, the novel is gripping and
at times horrific. There were many a time I had to put the book down and
pick it up again after a few days.
The happiest moments in the novel are those of
Suri’s school and college years in Dhaka. Suri grew up in a comfortable
middle-class home and her narrative begins with a child's worldview –
innocent, and non-judgmental - of life amidst the exotic tropical flora and
fauna, the colours of childhood, the snug daily life with friends and
family. Later as a college student – Bob Dylan’s poetry, Bollywood fashions,
parties – it was a regular life of a teenager.
The army crackdown and
the violent Bengali backlash against the ‘Urdu-speaking’ populace change the
course and the mood of the novel.
The Civil War that followed, unleashed
upon the millions of people – the very real fear of betrayal and threat,
rape and murder, and torture and massacres and turned it into the ugliest
and most shaming period in the recent history of South Asia.
emerged was beyond barbarism. It was a repeat of 1947 – but Manto was not
amongst us to chronicle the pain and suffering in his lucid short stories.
And once again we failed to learn from
Aquila Ismail is indeed a ‘real interpreter.’
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