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Hyderabadi Delight

Kalpana Kannabiran

By Samina Ali
Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, New York, 2004, pp. 309, price not stated.


The sights, the sounds, the smells, the women, the men, the streets, the joys, the pretences, the pain, the tastes, even the kisses (two kisses in the air to cajole a reluctant child) of Hyderabad spring to life from the pages of Madras on Rainy Days. Mungni, Shaitan, Mehndi, Sus’ral, Aysh, My-ka, Ghum. The span of a girl’s life. Her universe. Her only steps outside taken to seek the alim’s help in dealing with the Shaitan (futile in the face of the loss of innocence) or in the pursuit of Aysh —tragically short lived, ending even before it starts. There are of course preludes to a girl’s life as well in Hyderabad. A desperate attempt to find out what life really means, before it is snatched from her and she is hurled into this spin that begins with Mehndi. Yet this very act of reluctant willfulness mars life even as it starts, the persistent bleeding, the pregnancy that will not cease to be, holding out frightening prospects for a life ahead.   Life is complex. Choices are difficult. Dilemmas aplenty. Expectations and desires simply never match. For men as much as for women. But men fulfil expectations and desires, living two lives or more all the time: “arranged in marriage to one person, choosing another to love” or again being able to say, “simply by marrying, I’ve done half my duties to Allah. That is all I am willing to do to appease…God” (p.76; p.106); while women smother desires to meet expectations—the split tongue must be stitched up, the split body must be stitched up “the two women jostling inside the one frame no longer tearing the skin by its seams” (p.80). And that is what is poignant about the story. The jostling never stops.   For women marriage is the resolution. Henna and Layla love each other, continue to do so, even desire each other after their respective marriages, but there is no conflict, even during intimate moments, between their two lives—questions yes, but no conflict. The men must reckon too with the deep conflict between expectation and desire—one that is not necessarily resolved by marriage. For Naveed, Sameer’s marriage is the unfairest cut of all— “How can you continue to go on with this?…Believe what everyone else says: men do not love men, not here, not in India, not ...

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