When dreams are all we have

December 22, 2019

A novel about the harsh realities and bitter truths of Pakistani society

A retired professor of English, Nur ul Amin Malik has an observant eye, fine imagination, and a style consequent of his life-long experience of teaching. The term ‘floating’ in his novel Floating Wreckage signifies the drifting of the main characters, especially the protagonist. Whereas ‘wreckage’ stands as a symbol of the miserable lives of ordinary people who barely exist in the knowledge, or even the imagination of anyone living in the more affluent areas in Pakistan. Malik writes about the harsh realities and bitter truths of Pakistani society.

The novel is set in the slums of Lahore, around the era of Zia ul Haq, the times when Abid Ali used to be at the top of his TV career, when one-rupee note existed and two rupees were sufficient to buy some milk. The reader is introduced to the prominent landmarks of Lahore: the River Ravi, Minar-i-Pakistan, Government College, the Main Market in Gulberg, the Governor’s House and the Canal. Malik also points at the socio-economic situations and the Afghan War subtly. “The brutal war was taking its toll on human lives and saturating the soil with blood…”

Malik’s characters personify the essential ingredients of the human psyche. The clash of basic traits creates real drama. Disorder in personalities can be directly linked to their given circumstances and backgrounds. As the story progresses, one witnesses situations where Phajja personifies greed, Sheedah lust, Zohra self-interest, Nuzhat jealousy, Noor-ud-din the light of knowledge, and Shahzadi the hope for change which is vanquished by abuse of power, materialism and inhumanity. Every character on the stage of this book has its own intricacies.

The protagonist, Shahzadi belongs to a community of beggars, where education and self-respect are distant, unrealised dreams. From her appearance and traits, she’s nothing like her clan. Her stepfather sells her off to Fidah, a mentally ill boy, in the name of marriage. She is keen to study and to raise her status in society, but her parents, her only friend, the social order and her destiny, all conspire against her.

Malik highlights the ugliness hidden behind the facade of culture. How culture has been traditionally moulded and twisted to trap the weak, and how it is so conveniently adapted for the powerful.

Malik doesn’t try at any stage of the novel to create autopia. Floating Wreckage comes straight from a world where another name for life is misery. The author blatantly writes about the naked truths and discriminations of society. Among other factors, he highlights the ugliness hidden behind the facade of culture. How culture has been moulded and twisted to trap the weak, and how it is so conveniently adapted for the powerful.

Wealth and power have divided society into classes. Millions like Shahzadi, are deprived of a chance to rise in life. Their circumstances do not permit them and it is in the interest of the ruling elite to keep them chained. Corruption of major stake holding in society, such as feudals, police and politicians is visible.

The novel brings forth psychological and emotional factors, childhood, relationships, upbringing, religious pressure, betrayal, insecurities, fears, social stress and false hopes. Malik has fairly described the bearing of the institution of marriage on the lives of people belonging to different classes of society. Shahzadi is twice forced into marriage. There are many communities where a woman is merely a commodity. Marriage and the associated bliss are a mirage.

Floating Wreckage is full of strong descriptions. Even the minutest of details have not been missed. The imagery of the slum, ‘katchi Abadi’, the houses in there, the lifestyles of the characters residing there has been done to perfection. The body language, gestures, expressions of characters are explained with such mastery that they almost come alive.

Use of Urdu vocabulary makes it zesty for the natives of sub-continent, and informative for those less familiar with the language. With the flavours of agony, hope, despair, rage, passion and even an instance of gallows humour, Floating Wreckage is a journey, offering multifarious aspects in a very simple story. 

Floating Wreckage

Author: Nur ul Amin Malik

Publisher: Nigarshat Publishers, 2019

Pages: 324

Price: Rs550

The writer is a Lahore-based lawyer

Floating wreckage by Nur ul Amin Malik: When dreams are all we have