Thursday January 20, 2022

An assembly of the Oppressed

May 10, 2020

Written in Punjabi, divided in four parts, a smart tale of one hundred and four pages, Fauzia Rafique’s Keeru strikes the nerves in numerous dimensions. The novelette begins with Keeru’s narrative and is followed by the narratives of Haleema Alice Bibi, Keeru’s Babey (mother), Naila, Dal Jeet (Keeru’s friend-turned partner) and Isabella aka Baila.

When the state is dead and society becomes abusive, the oppressed and the marginalised find their ways out of that society and it is not their loss, it is society that loses.

They may feel nostalgic but they may also find themselves some peace in embracing societies that value their skills and talents irrespective of their caste, color, race, religion and gender.

A strong commentary on the sad state of affairs in the wake of retrogressive approach in Pakistan is presented in Keeru. Fauzia Rafique has woven a tale around the unfair tradition of accusing people, who are unacceptable for various reasons linking it with major contemporary questions Pakistani society faces including the homogenised patriarchal behaviour of an otherwise polarised society towards women, and men of lower class, status and race. She also delves upon the idea of linguistic diversity and how language could be manipulated and manoeuvred as a tool to symbolise a certain kind hegemony by a certain section of society.

While the resistance of the oppressed, the rise of the misfit and the assembly of the outcasts seems the only way out for survival, Rafique’s novelette leaves a serious question mark on the impotence shown by society when some of its sections justify the murder of individuals like Shahbaaz Bhatti, Salmaan Taseer and Mashal Khan.

Rafique also leaves a trigger for the imagination of readers to ponder over the insensitivities society has internalised as she recalls Qandeel Baloch’s brother suffocating her to death because it was hard for his honour to accept the ‘identity’ which Qandeel had chosen for herself.

While the novelette is an explicit political comment, it becomes a lyrical human tale of love, acceptance, dignity, diversity and humans bonds without brackets. ‘Keeru’ is somehow presented as the central character who turns out to have an inclination towards feminine sensibility.

As a reader, all four narrators of four parts are quite significant and equally important yet ‘the creator’ of Keeru, the mother, reminds one of the warmth and the pain a woman may feel right after giving birth from a bruised body exactly as Keeru’s mother does once their house is burnt down to ashes.

The novelette is a celebration of the assembly of those who have been abandoned from their societies, who have not been given their due space, respect and rights.

The novelette is a celebration of the resilience and the resistance Keerus of the world posses and the writer deserves appreciation for weaving the characters which may seem real but remain larger than life.