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Of Trauma and Home-made Sweets

Antara Datta

By Sorayya Khan
Penguin, 2004, pp. 223, Rs. 250.00


The common malady afflicting most novels written in English by writers of the subcontinent is that they all aspire to be utterly serious. Rarely can one pick up a book that is not about war, violence, trauma, rape, nation or loss. That these subjects constitute the realities of our times is undeniable. My problem is not with the choice of these issues as fit subjects for representations, my dissatisfaction lies in the ways in which they are conveniently conjured up for the consumption of a global market.   Sorayya Khan’s Noor is about war, trauma, memories, special children, female bonding, home-made sweets. If this sounds remarkably similar to the last book you’ve read, then it might just be a matter of coincidence.   To be fair to the writer, the novel begins not too badly; there are patches that even show promise. Set in contemporary Pakistan, Noor is a novel about Sajida who, as a girl of ‘fiveandsix’, is picked up from the cyclone hit and war-worn streets of East Pakistan by Ali, a Pakistani soldier. Ali brings her home to his mother Nanijaan and raises her as his own. When Sajida conceives her third child Noor, she knows intuitively that it will be a girl and that she will be special. Noor is special not only because she suffers from a mental disability, but because she has a gift. She is an artist and through her paintings, she is able to give shape to the memories of the central protagonists of the story.   Embedded in the private memories of Ali and Sajida are the histories of war, violence, devastation and death of entire communities and peoples. It is the community of suffering that Noor is able to evoke in stray sketches of bloated buffaloes, dead fish, army trucks and barrels. The novel, above all, is about coming to terms with a past too painful to remember. Noor’s presence provides the link between isolated strands of lost identities and lives; what she inadvertently says or draws, evoke moments that make the past available, not only to the characters, but also the readers.   Woven into this larger narrative are the ordinary trials of a family trying to deal with a special child, filial estrangement, the daily rituals of cooking, and washing hair. The strength of the novel lies in its attempt to evoke the experience of events that change the ...

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