Bandial crafts a captivating story about love, terrorism and exploitation
uhammad Ali Bandial’s latest novel, And Still the Earth Turns, opens with familiar yet weighty themes such as love, terrorism, exploitation and molestation – both physical and psychological. The story highlights the persistent mistreatment of minorities due to myopic interests, which runs as a constant thread throughout the narrative. Fictionalising some real-life events, the author exposes several layers of a duplicitous society where many mistakes superficial encounters for genuine social experiences. Many parents, for example, mistake obedience on the part of their children for ignorance. The misguided notion of simplicity fuels a complex process of world-making that is both flawed and limiting.
Bandial approaches every situation from high moral ground, even though the lead characters sometimes make errors in judgment and suffer until they get a second chance. Throughout the story, many small events create an echoing effect, but the novel mainly revolves around two themes: terrorism and the terrorism of love or the love of terrorism. The main couple in the novel embodies the modern man, or what one could call a “hollow man.” Such people prioritise their own self-interest in every situation.
The protagonists, Qasim and Asma, are two university students with a deep understanding of global concerns and ambitions to become part of the Civil Superior Services. In the novel, they serve as instruments to uncover societal issues and expose the harsh realities that emerge from their encounters with others.
At the university campus, Qasim and Asma are subjected to bullying and harassment at the hands of Raja Niaz, a self-righteous person who seeks to eradicate immorality from the campus. However, his definition of what constitutes immoral conduct is questionable. The novel explores the concept of fairness on campus. Raja Niaz wields power over a group of underprivileged students like Deemu. He intimidates and bullies other students, effectively becoming a gangster. Qasim and Asma refuse to submit to his tyranny and assert their independence, despite Asma’s privileged upbringing as the daughter of a retired bureaucrat.
Throughout the story, many small events create an echoing effect, but the novel mainly revolves around two themes: terrorism and the terrorism of love or the love of terrorism.
Their dreams for the future are shattered by a series of unfortunate events, including the blame for a suicidal attack on Kaleem’s family and Qasim’s engagement to his cousin. These events force Qasim to re-evaluate his plans. He abandons his love for Asma and moves towards a new world full of violence, terrorism and injustice and devoid of love and belongingness.
The novel highlights the errors in judgment made by the lead characters. The writer’s moral and social conscience shines through, clarifying each situation and guiding the characters towards a path of enlightenment. By weaving in small events throughout the story, the novel creates an echoing effect that emphasises the overarching themes of terrorism and the love of terrorism and the impact they have on society.
Asma finds it difficult to settle into her new life. She works at a counter-terrorism agency in Islamabad after moving from Lahore. Her yearning for Qasim grows stronger every day, even as she meets people like Sam and Haroon. Eventually, she, Sam, and Haroon embark on a journey to find Qasim. They visit his parents’ house and his brother Mustafa’s shop. In the meantime, Qasim realises that he misses Asma and is determined to reunite with her after a conversation with Deemu, who advises him not to give up what he already has for the sake of something new.
To sum up, And Still the Earth Turns contains elements of Victorian literature in its political views and portrayal. Truman Capote once advised writers to process their emotions and humour before attempting to evoke a response from readers. Bandial has accomplished this by crafting a captivating and emotionally impactful story that deeply engages its readers.
And Still the Earth Turns
Publisher: Book Guild Publishing Ltd, 2023
The reviewer is pursuing a PhD in English literature