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Love, learning and legacy

Pearls and Shards by Dr. Iftikhar H. Malik is a captivating narrative that seamlessly blends rich heritage of Punjab

By Shagufta Yasmeen |
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PUBLISHED May 26, 2024

Pearls and Shards by Dr. Iftikhar H. Malik is an intriguing story dealing with interesting characters. Dr. Iftikhar’s protagonist Saleem Awan takes the readers from the rich plains of Punjab to the intellectual and vibrant domain in England and USA. The insight into the lives of students and later academia is simply praise worthy. Whether it is Saleem taking lunch for his grandfather or his deep involvement with studies and research, the journey has been described in such a way that it keeps the readers ‘ attention focused.

Dr. Iftikhar being a historian has used his knowledge to enlighten the readers. Mentioning his region in Punjab, Saleem recounts how the area has seen the “ Aryans, Alexander, Huns, Kushans and the Mongols before Emperor Babar landed here from across the Silk Road in the early sixteenth century.” The novel commences with the story of Saleem and his family- his grandparent, parents, uncles and aunts and then paves the way to the low transition of this protagonist into a young man with inclination towards research and his steady progress that takes him first to Lahore and then to the richer plains of education.

Dr. Iftikhar has successfully woven the story using three major characters- Saleem, Nadine and Natasha. An insight on these three characters, their lives and their families, and how does it impact on their lives makes this novel very interesting. These three characters have different backgrounds and relate their experiences in different educational institutions leading finally to a common ground. These institutions are well known and take pride in grooming the students befittingly. Nadine mentions seeing Roy Jenkins sitting next to Rishi Tharoor from Balliol. Their views on Current affairs add a dimension to the story. The lives of students on and off campus has been portrayed in simple yet captivating way. Their involvement in academic and nonacademic affairs impacts the novel in a subtle way. Nadine’s description of Oxford is enticing:

“Oxford intrigues me with its graceful quadrangles, manicured lawns, formal rituals, specific terms such as dons, battels and collection, and I began to adore English accent.

Natasha’s introduction in the novel gives a glimpse of a family where the father is a racist and hated colored people, who according to him were polluting his race by mixing with young white American”. In the very initial stage the introduction of Archie, the colored boy Natasha had befriended while at school, and who was shouted at by the Dad is important, as it plays a vital role in Natasha’s choice of male friends .

Dr. Iftikhar has interwoven the three major characters in such a way that one feels the impact they had on each other’s lives was bound to happen. The inclusion of characters like Jamal in Natasha’s life, Gordon in Nadine’s life and Sitara in Saleem’s life makes the novel an interesting tale. The way these characters are brought together is efficacious. First Nadine and Saleem, and later Natasha and Saleem cross paths with each other. This interweaving of characters gives a very realistic picture of modern day relationships. Their lives rotate around their academic engagements with some time given to their personal lives. It seems that these characters find complacency in furthering their careers, gaining the utmost from the opportunity they have in their individual pursuit, while physical satisfaction takes a k seat.

Saleem is a sola persona. It seems he shirks from forming lasting relationship, while all three female characters- Nadine, Natasha and Sitara give up on me to find stable partners. It tells us about the person’s involvement in his work, his desire to achieve excellence in research and writing to make a name for himself supersedes personal relationship, although while thinking about Sitara he remarked :

Here was a woman that a man in me should have kept close to his heart and body but the fool |I have been over the years, remains unrepentant.

Different incidents weave the tale and take the readers to different places where they could meet distinguished guests like Eqbal Ahmad, Ahmad Ali and many more. The whole ambience of the novel is captivating. It celebrates a full life with characters involved in their individual pursuits. Alongside this the book also presents an insight on history and how it impacts people.

How aptly Dr. Iftikhar sums up human life:

“Human life is a journey with an inborn quest to attain some known and unknowns, occasionally accounting setbacks when the entire effort may appear like a meaningless rigmarole, but it must go on as stillness is not really embedded in our instinct”.

The novel weaves together different characters belonging to diverse backgrounds, and are brought together by the campus they find themselves in.

Pearls and Shards is a unique work in its scope, and the readers would enjoy it as a spectrum of fascinating events.


Shagufta Yasmeen is an educationist based in Karachi

All facts and information are the sole responsibility of the author