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Sunset, Sunrise


Chinmay Chakrabarty

TWILIGHT
By Azhar Abidi
Penguin/Viking, New Delhi,, 2008, pp. 215, Rs. 399.00

VOLUME XXXIII NUMBER 6 June 2009

This is the second work of fiction by Azhar Abidi. His first work of fiction, Passarola Rising, was ostensibly a work of science fiction set around an imaginary event that occurred in the year 1731. Twilight, on the other hand, is more of a family account, fictitiously rendered, that begins with a marriage reception of 1985 in Karachi in Pakistan. The bride, Kate, is a young Australian who is accompanying her husband Samad to Pakistan for the first time, to meet his family and friends as well as to familiarize herself with her husband’s past. This book was earlier published in the USA under the title. The House of Bilkis, and was well received there. As Samad discovers, his mother Bilkis, her warm commodious house, and the traditions she so diligently upheld and carried forward, have all but disappeared, and exist only in the imagination. But the events narrated in the book would find an equal resonance even in South Asia, on either side of the Radcliffe Line. Many parents and uncles such as Bilkis and Sikandar live in a kind of ‘twilight’ zone, with long held notions of culture, values, and ways of living now fading away. They wait in surrender of the inevitable, buoyed only with a sense of assurance that the offspring who have flown away in search of success to the developed world would somehow fare better. Moreover, the humane face of Pakistan, as displayed by the characters of this fictional work, would no doubt endear them also to the average Indian reader.   Bilkis and her barrister husband, Samad, who died seven years before 1985—the year the novel is set in—are migrants from northern India. They share aristocratic lineage, their families having links to other distinguished families of Lucknow, Hyderabad and Calcutta, where Bilkis and her two siblings were born in the ancestral house. These Indian cities and Melbourne where Samad and Kate live and which Bilkis also visits are mentioned in passing and only selected areas of Karachi have some bearing on current events.   Nonetheless the cities named do have their importance in understanding the characters. The first three in India bring out the cultural roots of Bilkis and her siblings, the values and lifestyle they grew up with, and cherished. Karachi too in the beginning, as Bilkis finds, was not much different to start with but gradually became inhospitable from the late 1970s. Karachi ...


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