Intertwining with the past and the present, A Restless Wind is an intense read that takes you on a whirlwind journey from London to India.
Zara, a Muslim in Britain, is a successful lawyer. At 35, she is about to become the Queen’s Counsel. She’s married to an Englishman, Peter, who she fell in love with almost instantly. On paper, her life is on track, but in her mind, she’s confused and restless.
Her state of unhappiness starts with cases of illegal immigrants seeking asylum from the communal violence in Gujrat, travels into her marriage that she no longer finds exciting and ends with memories of Qila, her ancestral home in the town of Trivikrampur. All the while, she thinks of aunt Hana, the matriarch of the aristocratic House of Ramzi, whose ill health finally pushes Zara to visit Qila after ten years.
“A trip to Trivikrampur will do you good. Get some balance back. Right now you’re lost,” offers Peter as support to Zara. But as page after page of A Restless Wind by Shahrukh Husain will tell you, it’s not that simple.
The moment Zara lands, she’s confronted by her first love, Jay, better known as the Maharaja of Trivikrampur, Jayendra Singh Varma, who had swept her off her feet when they were studying at Oxford. Along with the complexity of their relationship, we dive into the lives of other people around Zara — her cousin Saif, the spiritual head of the Ramzi clan, his suspicious wife Pebbles, their daughter Sharmeen and aunt Hana, who raised Zara after her mother abandoned her.
Zara’s relationships and her inner journey unravel against the backdrop of tension between Hindus and Muslims in Gujrat, along with political trappings. Shahrukh Husain also tells us how the rajas of the princely states try to find their place in an evolving nation.
A Restless Wind isn’t about Zara finding herself; it’s about tying her past and the present together into one person. “But which ‘you’ were they talking about? The career woman? An orphaned, abandoned child? A voiceless, nameless immigrant? Or the scion of a noble household, brought up to the knowledge of a line that began further back than the thirteenth century?” Zara wonders to herself at the start of the book.
It’s a pleasant book to read and Husain’s work as a children’s book author comes in handy as she weaves a tale of royalty and contemporary lives. The narrative is simple and constant throughout the book. What isn’t constant, however, is the pace and captivating storylines which readers find in the first half of the book. Somewhere in the middle, as Zara tries to juggle family, her marriage, a pining love and her identities, the book loses its momentum by taking on too much. Instead of tying up the loose ends, ironically what the protagonist herself is after, the book introduces new characters and somewhat random storylines. This, sadly, leaves the ending a bit haphazard and almost rushed.
Local roots, foreign ties
by Jhumpa Lahiri
Jhumpa Lahiri’s debut novel tells the story of a Bengali couple who move to the United States and try to strike a balance between retaining their cultural values and adopting new ones. What follows is the first 30 years of their son’s life, born and brought up in the States, and how he has to choose his ancestral values without any feelings of connection. The Namesake is witty, poignant and undoubtedly one of Lahiri’s best works.
Salt and Saffron
by Kamila Shamsie
Another debut novel, Salt and Saffron by Kamila Shamsie covers Aliya’s journey back to Karachi right after finishing college in the States. She reconnects with her relatives and the city, learns to understand and put up with the Pakistani family style and, most interestingly, finds out her family’s history which relates to her present day life.
The Village Bride of Beverly Hills
by Kavita Daswani
A change from tracing back roots, Kavita Diswani’s light hearted book looks at how Priya, the youngest of four sisters, moves from Delhi to Los Angeles after her marriage. Living in a joint family, Priya has to keep up with what her in-laws expect of an Indian bahu while also adapting to the American lifestyle — juggling life, love, career and traditions.
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, November 17th, 2013.