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Moving Beyond the Blues

Arunima Ray

By Ayesha Salman
IndiaInk, Delhi, 2012, pp. 216, Rs.250.00


A debut novel, Ayesha Salman’s Blue Dust deserves praise for more than one reason. However, what struck me is its portrayal of complex psychological characters in an equally intricately knit narrative. Salman has written a story which is passionate, painful, psychological and surreal. I must confess it left me emotionally drained but perhaps intellectually enriched. The novel is a family saga spanning three generations. At the centre of it is the protagonist Zaib. The family story spans the whole time that begins with Zaib’s parents and ends with that of her own children. Zaib, the central character in the novel, is a singular one in many respects, and it goes to the credit of Ayesha Salman to have created her so distinctively. She is an imaginative character whose world since her childhood consisted of matchstick men, fairies, elves, gnomes, and so on. Then there is Ralph whom ‘the “grown ups” never saw, but he was there’ (p. 28). Zaib easily moves in and out of her fantasy world that she conjures up frequently. With an absolute deftness Ayesha Salman shows Zaib’s movement from her cherished imaginary world to the real one in her very childhood and from insanity to sanity in the adult life. Herein perhaps lies the significance of the name of the book called Blue Dust. Blue Dust, as referred to in the novel is the powder of the tablet valium used as drugs. It is used as such other drugs are used to escape from one’s harsh reality or the other way around to lose oneself in the realms of fantasy. The name of the novel suggests the realms of the mind, its blues, sometimes fantastic, some times imaginary and sometimes dream like, and the novel explores all of these. Ayesha Salman also explores various socio-cultural issues that may affect a person’s life. For example in the chapter ‘Zaib’s Two Halves’, the author shows how Zaib’s childhood had become a problematical one for having a Muslim father and a Christian mother. She grew up with two halves ‘the clean half’ and ‘the dirty half’, and it was the Christian half which was ‘the dirty half’. Zaib’s hatred for the elitist Pakistani society which is pretentious and treacherous and which she thinks is responsible for her father’s downfall, has been critiqued and exposed in the novel. It is due to ...

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