A tale about love, freedom and jihad — woven around history
Gulmeena is about love and freedom – woven around history. It is the kind of novel, rare these days, which you can understand easily without stressing your mind; not the kind where every page is riddled with abyss philosophy; irrelevant details; redundant dialogues; and confusing thoughts. Who needs to fatten a book with the banal when there is an exciting story to tell?
Lovers Gulmeena and Zarjan flee from their enemies, leaving Shawal for Miramshah. However, they mistakenly enter Afghanistan’s Paktika province where they marry and settle down. Their lives take a devastating turn with the rise of the Taliban. Zarjan is coerced into joining the Taliban and is killed in a skirmish. Gulmeena is compelled twice to marry again and is widowed both times. Her only son becomes a suicide bomber.
Here’s an excerpt from Page 242:
“Which fruit is the sweetest in paradise?” a cleric asks school children. Then he provides the answer, “It is a hoor. Her eyelashes will be the size of a vulture’s wings. You can imagine her height now. Her eyelashes will not fall to the ground. Religious scholars have made a calculation. She will be 127 feet tall. God will also increase your height. Angels will be her tailors. They will design and stitch her dresses, which will not be of cotton or silk but of divine light. She will be dressed in 72 clothes, and yet you will be able to see every part of her beautiful body. Do you know who will receive these courtesans? The martyrs.”
The novel has some valuable information about Afghanistan and Pakistan’s Tribal Areas.
There is also an intriguing story in the backdrop of the final years of the British Raj. Major Russell is stationed at Wana fort alongside hundreds of soldiers. A cleric from Afghanistan arrives in Wana and delivers fiery speeches that incite tribal people to revolt against the Raj. Aided by his trusted Pashtoon soldiers, Russel skilfully puts down this uprising. Yusufzai and Khattak tribesmen’s loyalty to the British Raj is highlighted.
There is also an intriguing story in the backdrop of the final years of the British Raj. Major Russell is stationed at Wana fort alongside hundreds of soldiers. A cleric from Afghanistan arrives in Wana and delivers fiery speeches that incite tribal people to revolt against the Raj. Aided by his trusted Pashtoon soldiers, Russel skilfully puts down this uprising.
The narrative underscores the British rulers’ propensity to humiliate the local people. The renaming of Musa Neka as Angoor Adda, despite the absence of grape vines, is an illustrative example.
Zaif employs a minimalist narrative, a rarity in Urdu fiction. Some of the best known Urdu novels are quire verbose. The surplus words often confuse rather than elucidate the situations. Most readers are hesitant however to point out that the emperor is naked because many people known for their better understanding of literature have said that he appears dressed in divine attire. Deep within, they know that the attire doesn’t exist, but lack the courage to speak their mind and be called ignorant. Instead, they join the bandwagon and praise the emperor and his clothes.
Much that gets praised In the name of abstract art seems rubbish to many. Humans often struggle to learn from straightforward things, so it can be even more challenging to derive meaning from abstract art.
In the absence of professional editors, ethical publishers, and transparent literary standards, some good writers get marginalised. Instead, lesser writers are able to influence publishers’ decisions with their wealth. This situation leads to the publication and promotion of literature of questionable quality. Today, even accounts of daily routines are sometimes celebrated as masterpieces. As a result, there is no effort to produce works that might be ranked alongside great fiction produced in the rest of the world.
Abdullah Hussain and Quratul Ain Haider, both chose to translate some of their best work into English, such as Udaas Naslain (The Weary Generations) and Aag Ka Darya (River of Fire). Regrettably, the English versions failed to captivate global audiences due to a lack of depth and accessible insights. It is important to note that the English versions were abridged - nearly half the word count. It is important also to remember the beneficial associations such as Tagore and Yeats.
Author: Zaif (Zafar Syed)
Publisher: Rumeel House
The reviewer is an Islamabad-based poet and author. He may be reached at Yamankalyan@gmail.com