A mesh of insecurities and secrets

November 1, 2020

Safinah Danish Elahi’s debut novel probes the complexities of Karachi’s upper class as it navigates its way through parenthood and relationships

Karachi’s upper crust takes centre stage in Safinah Danish Elahi’s debut novel that carefully but unapologetically probes their nuances and complexities as they navigate their way through parenthood and relationships.

Shezray, Minahil and Hina lead lives that centre around providing the best for their children, even if it means sacrificing their dreams for their own. Having endured arduous pasts, the three fiery women know exactly what to expect from their offspring, often with little regard to their husbands’ input. A mesh of secrets and insecurities form the backdrop of the characters that ties in to each of the women’s anticipation for Track Day – a sports event at their kids’ school that guarantees the winner a spot in the coveted Asian Games. The events that lead up to the day sketch out the women’s desperate need to ensure their child earns first place in the race, all the while revealing dark pasts that eventually follow them to the present.

Track Day is not just a sports event in the children’s lives but a momentous occasion for each of the mothers as their hard-earned persona rests on their child’s triumph - an assurance in disguise that they rightfully earned the fruits of the many sacrifices they made when they were young.

I picked up the book, greatly excited for the women-centric theme it carried. Truthfully so, it showcases supremely powerful women dealing with residing in a society that never fails to remind women that they function under a dominant force. The three protagonists in the novel are a product of their own resistance to society and to their own upbringing. The author brilliantly portrays the seemingly resplendent lives of the rich who feel utterly vexed in themselves no matter how blessed they may appear on the outside. When Shezray, the headstrong owner of her self-named textile company, Shez Textiles, struggles to find a decent nanny to take care of her kids while she works, or seeing how adamant she is to train them for Track Day, it draws a perfect example of what trouble in paradise looks like. To add to it, she is so preoccupied that she is oblivious to the fact that her husband Omer, who works under her in her own company, is pursuing a private affair with a colleague.

Picture-perfect Minahil “has played a supporting character in people’s lives” and was forced to sacrifice what could have been a thriving career as a graphic designer for the sake of her ‘gifted’ husband. A chronic overthinker, Minahil is content with her athletically-challenged and overweight son who wants nothing more but to read books - something his father greatly disapproves of and instead desires to see his son as fit and successful as him. Minahil and her husband’s relationship is wedged in the fate of their son’s performance on Track Day amongst other things that usually put Minahil on the receiving end.

Enters Hina, the popular owner of a beauty salon, and her husband Rehan. She believes that only two things matter: that her daughter gets enrolled in the prestigious and elite-breeding Karachi International School and the mothers of the kids studying at KIS seek her for beauty advice. Hina rivals the rich and their ‘pseudo-intellectualness’ having grown up in a lower-middle-class home that puts her at constant odds with the privileged mothers who seem to have never fathomed the merit of hard work in their ornamented lives. Track Day means to her just what it means to all the other KIS mothers: for their children to succeed no matter what happens, prompting her to keep her daughter from engaging in any activity she deems could hinder her path to success.

I picked up the book, greatly excited for the women-centric theme it carried. Truthfully so, it showcases supremely powerful women dealing with residing in a society that never fails to remind women that they function under a dominant force.

Laila, Hina’s sister, is the other woman in Omer’s life and works at Shez Textiles. Smitten by her intelligence and beauty, Omer begins developing feelings for her, tossing his married status and dignity out the window. Both begin meeting secretly. This escalates into an awfully predictable blowup. Through the course of the novel, several occasions invite the characters to interact, such as the party hosted by a mutual friend of the couples. Owing to the author’s sublime prose and attention to detail, the scenes come alive as if we were watching as a theatre audience. On the other hand, at a few points in the novel, the characters appear too banal to recognise the cost of their wrongful actions – such as in the case of Omer’s infidelity.

The author provides little to no room for her staunch characters to exercise answerability and this is where they fall short of garnering the reader’s sympathy. Too many linkages between the characters feel off-putting sometimes, but enough to know that the collage of people we meet are entwined in unimaginable ways.

We recall the skeletons in the closet when the dreaded Track Day rolls around, and we’re hopeful for some resolution. The book’s charm lies in its crisp and picturesque story-telling, its heartfelt moments, the fragility and helplessness each character experiences in maintaining meaningful relationships. To say that “all that glitters is not gold” would be a cliché, nonetheless, Eye on The Prize predominantly offers a recollection of the value of courage that we - regardless of our status - require to knuckle down for the sake of those we love and cherish.

Eye on the Prize

Author: Safina Danish Elahi

Publisher: Liberty Publishing

Pages: 236

Price: 795

The writer is a freelance journalist and book reviewer

A mesh of insecurities and secrets