Tragedy and satire

April 24, 2022

Sanober Irshad’s debut anthology of short stories explores South Asian families and their peculiarities

Tragedy and satire


Sanober Irshad, the UAE-based Pakistani author of Our Idiosyncrasies, began her writing career by contributing to various newspapers and magazines from around the world. With a keen eye for detail, she then took the next step and has now authored a book. Her writing revolves around South Asian families and their eccentricities, illustrating the balance between desi standards and self-conceptualisations. Her debut anthology has been appreciated by readers and critics alike for its insightful commentary on the trivialities of many desi families.

Our Idiosyncrasies is a carefully-crafted, intelligent composition of short stories. As the title suggests, these are short bits of insight into our desi peculiarities, providing a sneak peek into our culture. Tragedy and satire are wrapped in a blanket of humour in her work but do not lose the essence and structure of the whole picture. These stories are immensely thought-provoking. From the matchmaker aunty – devoted to setting up any single person that crosses her path – to various kinds of social media users and online daters, to overly intrusive strangers and well-intentioned, elderly family members, Irshad creates a comprehensive palette of interesting characters to highlight the eccentricities of South Asian cultures.

Using several fascinating characters, the author delves into topics that are both culturally and socially relevant. These include marriage and family, procreation, curses and legends. You are quite likely to find that each of the characters in the book is in one way or the other someone similar to somebody in your own surroundings. Each of these characters focuses on the bizarre and unwelcoming way in which many South Asians interact with one another.

It is a fast-paced, engaging read. The stories resonate with readers of all ages, genders and cultures. All the satirical stories give an insight into the values and belief system that drive the desi community. Most of these narrate actual incidents that have been transformed into fictional situations. Each story offers a snapshot of the lives of ordinary people. Interference remains one of the most-loved hobbies of these characters. Most people value culture over religion, enjoy highlighting the flaws in other people and treat daughters in the household differently to daughters-in-law. Falling in love is often considered tantamount to committing a sin; getting married without the approval of the entire khandan is almost unthinkable. For many , he ‘selection’ of daughters-in-law is primarily based on their complexion, height and their ability to make round rotis. The purpose of many women’s lives is to get married and reproduce. The stories also show how social media is intruding on our lives.

Irshad highlights our societal misfortunes in every story. My favourites are Marriage Hunt and The Totka Factory. They highlight how a few nasty comments can make people morph into something that they aren’t. Another memorable story is The Perfect Match where Mia, a quintessential career-oriented young woman, is looked down upon by everyone in her life. Certain characters are especially well portrayed. These include a married, childless woman who is assumed to have sexual health issues; a soon-to-be-married girl, who is given a prep talk by her aunt for the ‘good news’. As much as many of us want to be rid of these concepts, these practices are very real and a part of many households.

Above everything else, the stories are amazingly accurate; showing the widening gulf between tradition and culture. Many in the older generations want to hold on to their thought processes, to keep a measure of control over their children. On the contrary, the children want to rid themselves of the clutches they deem toxic.

Our Idiosyncrasies

Author: Sanober Irshad

Publisher: Foundation International

Price: Rs 1,000

The reviewer is the   publishing editor at   Liberty Books

Tragedy and satire