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Of Love and Life


Semeen Ali

ALTERNATIVE REALITIES
By Nighat M. Gandhi
Tranquebar Press, Chennai, 2013, pp. 424, Rs. 350.00

VOLUME XXXVIII NUMBER 2 February 2014

Safar was about the inner journey of the heart and mind that revealed the truth of one to oneself, and took one closer to that state known variously as enlightenment, self-realization, self-knowledge, satori, fana- …My safar to places of my past led me to intimacy with myself. Revealed who I am to me.   A caravan of memories and experiences carry Nighat M. Gandhi across three countries—India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Women and their love have been celebrated as well as pondered upon in this book. The definition of love is not restricted to that between a man and woman. Even though that definition occupies a space in the book, Nighat does not conform to a particular stereotype and projects such kind of love as creating a hole in one’s heart. The first chapter, which is autobiographical, reveals a love not only between the writer and her husband-to-be but also the love that exists between a father and a daughter. She delicately handles the subject of food and the ‘haraam’ nature of it, while at the same time giving space to the connotations associated with certain kinds of food. She highlights the contrast established by Zia-ul-Haq’s anti-women stand that changes the protagonist’s attitude towards her erstwhile music-and-Ghalib loving father so that she learns to ‘to preen and fine-tune [her servility] to please him.’ The description of the mother also stands out against the same backdrop. It reminds one of Sara Suleri’s Meatless Days in which the status of women in Pakistan has been explored ‘where the concept of woman was not really part of an available vocabulary: we were too busy for that, just living, and conducting precise negotiations with what it meant to be a sister or a child or a wife or a mother or a servant.’ A similar situation echoes in this book.   The reader is brought right into the family’s life in the first chapter and memories of a past life are scattered throughout the book without becoming the focal point. The journeys undertaken by the writer sheds light on her borderless life, seamlessly moving from one country to another, interspersed with subtle humour describing the customs officers or the airport officials. That love cannot be restricted to Islam and Sufism has been introduced into the book with Amir Khusro and Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya: the spiritual companions, the soulmates. The relationship that ...


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