Byline: Imtiaz Piracha

After Dr Rafi Mustafa's previous book Tales from Birehra, a collection of interlinked short stories in English, comes Ae Tahayyur-i-Ishq (Na Junoon Raha, Na Paree Rahi), a coming-of-age novel which begins with a family deeply rooted in a culture rich in the traditions and values of a small town in northern India. Set in the 1930s and '40s, the middle-class, semi-rural household of the protagonist Bilal illustrates the relationships among the characters of three generations of a family which experiences fluctuating fortunes. The language and expression of the novel has a lucid flow and momentum that kept me going, turning page after page, never losing interest in the story even for a moment.

The centuries-old harmony of this family's multi-faith society is shattered suddenly by the upheaval and chaos of Partition, but really, the setting could be anywhere in the world where the trauma of war or natural disaster has toppled an established social and economic structure. This gives the novel a universal appeal. The subsequent events of rebuilding a new life from scratch in a strange new country and the travails of a family uprooted into homelessness and inching towards resurrection are beautifully portrayed in delightfully pure Urdu without the use of any cliches of the political or sentimental kind. For instance, words such as zulm [cruelty], saffaaki [brutality], beyimaani [dishonesty], badqismati [misfortune], khudgharzi [selfishness] or mohajir [migrant] etc hardly feature in the text, while being clearly shown through events in the narrative. And that too without leaning on any other language for that matter, except when painting characters who speak different languages.

Bilal is a student of class three when the world around him is set on fire and demolished forever. Part of a desperate family fighting for survival, he resumes his schooling and encounters new friends, as well as building relationships with different communities in the new country. His favourite adult and mentor is Mamoo, his maternal uncle. Mamoo is a very eligible bachelor who refuses to marry for most of his life because he does not want to shoulder the responsibilities that come with marriage. However, in his later years he does marry a local widow with children, a woman who comes from a background completely different from his own. Mamoo now has a stepson, the same age as Bilal, and they are already best friends. There is also a stepdaughter...

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