Book review: The hidden soul of harmony

A novel imbued with literary romance.

Tazeen Inam July 23, 2011

Book: The Cloud Messenger

Author: Aamer Hussein

Genre: fiction

Publisher: Harper Collins Publishers


“In class, Marco was reading out the lines ‘dekh lo aaj ham ko ji bhar ke/koi aata nahin hai phir mar ke’ from ‘Zehr-i-Ishq’. Listening to his soft, dry voice, accompanied by the sound of the wind in the leaves outside, I could just hear the silk-wrapped arpeggios of Tahira Syed(who had recently recorded a musical arrangement of that section of the poem) echo in my head. Suddenly Dick guffawed: ‘Oh, like so much nineteenth-century Urdu literature, this is at the level of Victorian penny dreadful.’ And I, who had never heard of Edward Said or his emerging theories, exploded: ‘But that sort of comparison is facile! I don’t see why you are making it.’ I don’t remember Dick’s response: it was probably dismissive, but I had made my point.”

We are a lucky generation to witness the rise of English writers from Pakistan. In this current scenario of unrest, these writers bring books that take us to the era when Pakistan was full of life and love. South Asia is a region with a real essence of love and tranquillity; it has romance blossoming in all regional languages — their prose and their literature.

The Cloud Messenger too, is a book based on the writer’s romance with literature. The writer has immersed himself in the intricacies of the Persian and Urdu languages. While Persian taught him the discipline of grammar and translation, Urdu taught him the joy of lyricism. In turn, he acquired a new vocabulary for emotions.

It’s written in an autobiographical style. The character Mehran is portrayed as honest and kind but also sensitive. He is a vagabond who travelled from Pakistan to India and from London to Italy. He is a linguistic’s student, who did not pursue any career and constantly struggled, and was, to some extent, supported by his father. It was only his mother who encouraged him to study Persian as it was her mother tongue too. He is called a ‘part timer’ — a part time translator, editor, lecturer and writer. His greatest achievement is the translation of stories written by his maternal uncle, who died at an early age.

The book has two parts: one on the trivia of South Asian prose and the other is based on the complications of relationships. Aamer Hussein’s selection of words and knowledge of prose is immaculate. Only a writer who is from Pakistan, has roots in India and has travelled across Europe can come up with this rare combination. He has unwound the eras from Zouq to Parveen Shakir meticulously. He has shown his lust in poetry in Mir, Iqbal, Rumi, Bulle Shah and Shah Abdul Latif.

For Mehran the only constant is his love with poetry. He leaves friendships behind because of frequent travelling. His childhood memory of cloud messenger; a story told by his mother, made him experience something similar when he was translating his uncle’s stories — a messenger, who carries stories of the past to the present and back again from the present to the past.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 23rd, 2011.


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