Taha Kehar’s new novel dares to explore death and the quirks of Karachi’s social divide
an one reconcile with a dead person? Is there any way to heal the wounds inflicted by someone who is not around and cannot return? Is it possible to finally realise that the wounds that you so ferociously hated somebody for were your own doing and that you wounded the person you blame?
Taha Kehar’s latest novel, No Funeral for Nazia, explores these questions in a creative and thought-provoking manner. The protagonist, Nazia Sami, is dead. The book starts with her unusual wish: a party instead of a funeral.
She writes this in a farewell letter to her sister, Naureen, where she lists the names of the six guests she wants to see at the party. From her friends turned foes to her estranged daughter and her former husband, all the guests invited to the party would probably have opted not to see her had she been alive.
As her sister resolves to honour her dead sister’s wishes, her husband, Afsand, keeps reminding her about the cultural norms they have to follow when dealing with death. However, Naureen decides to go ahead.
In the house where Nazia spent her final years, an elderly house help, Bi Jaan, who has served the family for years and Sorayya, her niece who joined a few years ago (two characters that act like outsiders in various parts, asking questions that readers may have upon discovering seemingly ridiculous demands made by Nazia). While the characters act as they are told, Kehar allows them to protest the demands and wonder what made Nazia do this.
The pace of the novel is a little slow in the beginning. But this lets readers come to terms with the ‘no funeral’ request made by the protagonist. It also allows Kehar’s other characters to share what they have to say about a house party being an alternative to a funeral.
Any story about a late character must rely on flashbacks to inform readers how the character interacted with the surviving ones. But Kehar has taken a different route. He has used an expert – a hypnotist – to peel off the layers of hatred among Nazia’s friends and family that colours their opinions about Nazia, to give readers an authentic description of what their protagonist was like.
While some of Kehar’s critics might see his characters as divorced from life in Karachi, their mannerisms and opinions (and politically incorrect statements) are those of true Karachiites.
The sessions are great for the guests as they provide them an opportunity to release the burden off their chests. They are also helpful for readers who may have conjured up a not-so-great image of Nazia in their mind and blamed her for the hurt she inflicted on her guests and the relations she allegedly broke.
While Nazia’s decisions may not have been ideal, the sessions help the readers and those close to her understand that she was still worthy of love and respect and that they still owe her an apology. How they try to make up for the years of hatred is a great twist.
A novel that explores various aspects of death usually has a depressing tone, but Kehar’s prose flows perfectly and the readers do not find the overall going dark and depressed.
Through the conversations in the drawing room of Nazia’s house, where all the startled guests sit down to wait for their turn, Kehar gives a glimpse into the juicy yet mundane life of the characters and how Nazia had affected them.
Even though the story appears pretty straightforward, it has twists and turns that keep the reader hooked until the last page. Kehar is aware of the criticism of his previous work. He has used comments made about Nazia’s work as an opportunity to discuss how Karachi’s iconic bridge divide influences the opinions about the work produced by writers on the ‘fortunate’ side of the bridge.
Follo0wing the publication of Kehar’s previous novel, Typically Tanya, some people had said that while they liked the story, they could not ‘relate’ to the protagonist. Kehar apparently sees this lack of relatability as a powerful weapon that allows his characters to be true to themselves without any inhibitions. It certainly lets him expose their eccentricities and wild opinions/ preferences without an apprehension of being offensive. While some of Kehar’s critics might still see his characters as divorced from life in Karachi, their mannerisms and opinions (and politically incorrect statements) are those of true Karachiites.
No Funeral For Nazia
Author: Taha Kehar
Publisher: Neem Tree Press
The reviewer is an assistant editor at The News. She tweets/posts @manie_sid and can be reached at: email@example.com