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In A Town of Non-State Actors

Amandeep Sandhu

By Fatima Bhutto
Penguin/Viking, New Delhi,, 2013, pp. 228, Rs. 499.00


The wiki entry on Fatima Bhutto says, ‘she grew up effectively stateless’. In her debut novel The Shadow of the Crescent Moon, Fatima takes us to a town called Mir Ali, in North Waziristan, on the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan. The novel is about people but it is also about the place. The location so much a protagonist here. ‘But the shadow of the moon never faded over Mir Ali. It hung over its sky night after night, condemning the town to life under its cold shadow.’ In conflicted lands, everything in a border town is at risk. Everything takes a beating: people, families, friendships, histories, geographies, and most of all identities and trust. Such towns are poisoned webs and one never knows where one will lose one’s mind, respect, or life or all. Fatima brings her angst of being stateless to draw out a richly human story of those who we normally call non-state actors from shadow lands that sit on national consciences.   The story takes place in the space of one rain swept Eid morning as the three brothers Aman, Sikandar and Hayat have breakfast together and set out to town to offer Friday prayers at the mosque and go on their chores for the rest of the day. Aman, until now a student in the United States and setting up his business, takes a taxi to the mosque. Sikandar is a doctor and goes to the hospital. Hayat zooms out on his motorbike without telling anyone where he is going. However, these three men are the scaffolding of the novel. The real novel is the story of two women: Mina and Samarra. Obsessive Mina, Sikandar’s wife, who visits every possible funeral in the town and asks uncomfortable questions. She is an embarrassment to Sikandar. Enigmatic Samarra has been close to Aman but has been violated by the state. She now leans on Hayat as she plans her revenge on the visiting Chief Minister. Saying any more would be a spoiler alert because the book is crafted as a thriller.   The characters of Mina and Aman are excellently sketched. Aman just wants to go abroad but ends up becoming a mole for the Pakistan Army, spying and relating information on his own people. He is not even aware how he is being used and how he is using others. The consequences are terrible. Mina was ...

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