Intizar Husain: Basti

So, my friend, time is passing. We’re all in the power of time. So hurry and come here. Come and see the city of Delhi, and the realm of beauty, for both are waiting for you. Come and join them, before silver fills the part in her hair, and your head becomes a drift of snow, and our lives are merely a story.

Basti is a lovely Urdu word that hints at space and community, a human settlement of any dimension, from a few houses to a city. 

The word alone is enough to pique my interest. But because some books lead you to other books, that is exactly what Geetanjali Shree’s Tomb of Sand did for me. I stopped counting at six — the number of times Intizar Husain’s name was raised in the novel. 

Now I see why. Basti can be looked upon as a literary father of Tomb of Sand in the family of borderland literature. Both also defy the borders of literature.

Basti maps the life of Zakir who experienced the divisions that created Pakistan that created Bangladesh that separated him from the love of his life.

I have to admit that it took nearly half of the book before I was able to get into its rhythm and flow, but I allowed its poetic beauty to lead this reader from outside the Indian subcontinent to be drawn into its history and heritage; and sadly, into the tragic quotient of its divisions.

Nadeem Aslam: The Wasted Vigil

August 8, 2021

As soon as my eyes traced the first line, the words held my face in its hands, implored me to keep looking it in the eye, made me reread and reread sentences and paragraphs for the sheer texture and the lushness of its polyphony; even when it became too brutal, even when it felt too much, it would not let me look away.

I have not experienced a novel this heartbreakingly breathtaking since Ondaatje and de Bernières — for its beauty, for its pain, for its music, for its truths.

This is a poetic education on the conflict in Afghanistan with an intricately wrought storyline and a web of characters that could only have been written so painstakingly. 

Set in a time when its people were still in a daze, trying to assess who, what, and how much was left or if there was anything left at all, it was that period after the fall of the Twin Towers in New York, and as retribution, the collapse of the Taliban.

But for many days now, I have been waking up to updates of the Taliban’s resurgence in Afghanistan; and here I am reading a book published in 2008 that carries this ominous line: “The Americans should not exult: the war hasn’t ended. The real war is about to begin.”

It chills me to the core and I cannot look away.