Set in Lahore, This House of Clay and Water explores the lives of two women. Nida, intelligent and lonely, has married into an affluent political family and is desperately searching for some meaning in her existence; and impulsive, lovely Sasha, from the ordinary middle-class, whose longing for designer labels and upmarket places is so frantic that she willingly consorts with rich men who can provide them. Nida and Sasha meet at the famous Daata Sahib dargah and connect-their need to understand why their worlds feel so alien and empty, bringing them together.
On her frequent visits to the dargah, Nida meets the gentle, flute-playing hijra Bhanggi, who sits under a bargadh tree and yearns for acceptance and affection, but is invariably shunned. A friendship-fragile, tentative and tender-develops between the two, both exiles within their own lives; but it flies in the face of all convention and cannot be allowed.
Faiqa Mansab’s accomplished and dazzling debut novel explores the themes of love, betrayal and loss in the complex, changing world of today’s Pakistan.
The way Faiqa Mansab has penned this novel where you get alternate POVs of the different characters makes you understand the settings and the lives involved in a deeper way. The words pull you inside the story and you end up being the character you’re reading about rather than a bystander who sees it happen.
The emotions portrayed range from mild to intense and the wording is such that you feel them all. Some moments bring the lightness of smiles in your life and some moments you’d be ready to commit some serious damage to the characters!
For a debut, this is one brilliantly penned story.
This is a book that I had been looking forward to reading since I first heard about it. And one excerpt that I had read on a website had me more intrigued.
Before I talk about how I found the novel itself, let me tell you all something that is a known fact about me. I don’t like reading books written in first person narrative. I did not know that this book has some chapters in first person narrative.
The novel had a slow start but soon picked up momentum. Even with the slow start, a connection with the character was formed; building my interest.
It talked about the society we live in. All the scenarios presented were so real that I could not help but be immersed in the world presented. The world I reside in.
That’s different. I’m a man.
The above summarises why women suffer in our society. The statement resonates with the reality we live in. A man is allowed to do anything and everything and the only logic behind that? “I’m a man” or “He’s a man”. I see this happening around me. Be it the lower class, middle class or the elites, this thinking is embedded so deeply into the psyche of the people in this society that however much a woman fights for her freedom, there will always be something that she will be shamed for. Because she is not a man!
The story has few main characters and we see how the experiences of life changed them. The minor characters of the story portray the huge issues that we face in our society as well. Many may have faced it and I cannot even imagine how they ever breathed after that. Hats off to these people.
Moving further, the story talks about how the society forces us to stop being ourselves. How it forces us to don a facade that fits in the environment in. Nobody cares that a person may be dying within as long as they are smiling and laughing (though as a society we really can’t tolerate people being happy as well). It portrays how talking about depression is taboo in the world we live in. Everyone is ready to give you advice to be more religious as if that were any cure! Nobody believes that depression is an illness. Even the people suffering! Even they think if it was known that they suffer from this illness they’ll be looked down at.
Basically, everyone is burning in their own hell and there is no way out but the slitting of wrists!
Another taboo that Mansab has brought out in the open is the treatment of transgenders. We live in a society where they are not accepted. They are not acknowledged. It talks about the life of one. And the narrative is so strong that you feel their plight. You feel to the depths of your soul the suffering these people go through. Imagine a life where you’d rather be an animal because people at least love their pet animals!
All of this I was still able to bear. I could feel the pain and the struggles of these characters. I was cheering for them as they fought their demons. What made me lose it completely was what happened to a 12 year old girl.
WHAT FOLLOWS IS A SPOILER (MAYBE). BUT I ALSO TALK ABOUT HOW THAT MADE ME FEEL. STILL, DO NOT READ FURTHER IF YOU DO NOT WANT IT SPOILED FOR YOU.
Zoya is a 12 year old girl. She is Sasha (one of the main characters) and Luqman’s daughter. Her parent’s failed her when they did not accept her as an individual who craved their love and attention. She was a mere nuisance for everyone for the most part. A servant to look after her, the child never knew her family’s love. Instead what she learns is that she is un-lovable. She learnt that she is unwanted.
The fate she suffered had me in tears!
Stating thus, let me tell you I have never before cried at fiction. However much I may feel for characters I have never been moved enough to cry my eyes out. This was a first for me.
I loved the novel but I do not think I will be picking it up again anytime soon.