Aesthetics of the broken

December 15, 2019

The novel explores how love and the search for love are the essence of all religions, societies, cultures and civilisations

Intellectual intelligence, emotional intelligence and cultural intelligence are the three facets of life at the heart of the novel Sasa by Muhammad Sheeraz Dasti. Intellectual intelligence means understanding, approaching and living life authentically. Emotional intelligence is the capability of individuals to recognise their own emotions and those of others. It also means discerning different feelings, and labelling them appropriately. Cultural intelligence is the capability to relate to and work effectively across cultures. The protagonist of the novel, Saleem, is a representative figure for all these aspects of life.

Title of the novel, Sasa, literally refers to a bird. It symbolically represents and enhances the writer’s reflection of the luxurious life even a bird enjoys across the civilisational divide. The plot starts and ends in Kathgarh, a village in Dera Ghazi Khan. The narrative moves back and forth from Kathgarh to Boulder, a rich town in the US state of Colorado.

Love and search for love, as the essence of all religions, societies, cultures and civilisations are at the roots of the novel. The novel also attempts at showing how new gateways to promote understanding between the worlds can be unlocked by love. Most of this can be observed in the anxious nature of Saleem.

Every chapter of the novel is a judicious combination of a romantic and a realistic view of the world after 9/11. Patriotism, Americanisation, humanism, East-West divide, materialism, cultural conflicts, universalism, the oppressed Third World countries, the oppression by superpowers, the uneven war between the ‘centre’ and the ‘margin’ are the themes which ooze out of the words, sentences, and stories in the novel and run parallel with life-histories of some of the most beautiful humans in romantic relationships.

The existential angst of the protagonist cannot be overlooked. Existentialism’s first move is to make people aware of who they are and to make them understand that the full responsibility for their existence rests on them. When we say that people are responsible for themselves, we do not only mean that they are responsible for their own individuality, but also that each person is responsible for everyone else.

When we say that people are responsible for themselves, we do not only mean that they are responsible for their own individuality, but also that each person is responsible for everyone else.

Saleem is seen constantly under the burden of such a responsibility. The outer world represents all external conditions and possibilities which supplement Saleem’s existence. His existence relates to three worlds, the natural, the social and the personal. The natural world concerns Saleem’s biophysical conditions, the social world relates to the laws and codes of society and the personal world means his search for personal identity.

He is a victim of identity crises. When he is in the US, the thoughts of why he is there and who he is supposed to be, follow him everywhere. These are the questions which cause angst, loneliness and a lingering sense of guilt. In the US, his previous cultural identity haunts him. It is impossible for him to forget the land of his origin.

Although physically he is in the First World, spiritually he breathes in the Third World. This makes him ponder the Third World cultures. He concludes that it was the imperialistic nature of superpowers that gave them a superiority complex. These issues knittogether the plot of the novel, with the novelist introducing some critical undertones all over the pages of the novel.

The beauty of the characterisation is that all the characters are alive to their roles and full to their expressions. Characters from East and West never lose their individualities or roots, despite momentary attempts at crossing the cultural barriers. In spite of the conflicts and differences between the characters and their situations, an early phase of transculturalism portrayed in the novel makes it par excellence.

The beauty of the novel’s landscape is superb. The most touching scenes are those which present life in Kathgarh. By using enchanting images carried through poetic prose, the novelist draws a vivid picture of the rural Punjab. The characters of Roza Peer, Bakhshu Nai, Aishwariya and Amir represent the aesthetics of the ugly and broken that can be found only in settings like the one chosen for Sasa. On the other hand Munaza, the superhero of rural Punjab represents the beauty of the soul that is characteristic of the eastern civilisation.

Primarily a pungent critique of the social and economic conflicts of today’s world, Sasa is also a novel of love and hope. With its strong Wasebi women, it is a brave voice of freedom of thought and expression. Saleem’s journey into the USA makes for a thrilling account of our globalised world. His reflections on life in Pakistan provide a new way of critiquing social evils. 


Author: Muhammad Sheeraz Dasti

Publisher: Aks, Lahore, 2019

Pages: 231

Price: Rs800

The writer teaches English at the Government Postgraduate College Chakwal. 

Muhammad Sheeraz Dasti's Sasa: Aesthetics of the broken