Long ago I read somewhere that post partition South Asian Muslims are facing identity crisis. They indeed are. More than men, Muslim women are the ones who still live their lives in exile. ‘All passion spent’ is a memoir of that exile. Written in Urdu by Zahida Hina – the novel is about a girl named Birjees. She crossed the artificial boundaries created by men who behaved no less than a beast at the time of partition. I caught hold of English translation done by Neelam Hussain and published by Zubaan just because it was lowly priced. The translation is well done, it leaves the mesmerizing sweet flavor of Urdu Zubaan behind.
Birjees was just another girl who lost her father and thought to shift to Pakistan and stay with her fiancé who was related to her through blood, culture and language. His new home in the ‘state of pure ones’ was no less than an exile for her. The relationship of blood broke while the relationship based on similarities, abruptness and compassion progressed. A Parsi family gave her shelter. They waited for her even after she parted. The day she came back Ms. Cowasjee –the family matriarch took her last breath in her presence. The story didn’t end there. It takes a detour to give us a glance of a dejected lover who waited too long to share the feelings of his heart and towards the end two solitary souls looked at each other before departing.
There are too many ‘Ifs’ in the novel. The ‘ifs’ of life and destiny form a significant portion of the narrative.
“So many ‘ifs’! May be that was what life was about- an aggregate of random, meaningless ‘ifs’. Yet each ‘if’ was replete with dire possibility- each one containing an endlessly unraveling saga of dread before which one was abjectly powerless- over which one had no control”.
The tone of novel is similar to the works of Urdu writer Qurratalain Hyder. The major difference is that the side characters who played important role in giving the narrative a shape are Parsis. The novel is rich in description of Zoroastrian Historical Past. It is written by a Muslim author and the protagonist is also Muslim, still Islam & Muslim practices seem to be out of its frame. The quotes from Avesta instead of Sufi poems make it different from the other pieces of fiction written about that time.
The story is sad. But humor is also not missing. Ms. Cowasjee’s character in the novel very well painted a stereotypical picture of Parsi folks. The image of a typical old Parsi housewife kept playing in the mind throughout the reading.
It is not a light read but definitely worth reading. The story leaves one with the feeling of forlornness and makes one question the absurdities of life; fast moving wheel of time stops for none.
“Performers, actors, itinerant entertainers, hundreds of thousands of groups and races, known and unknown, have acted and will continue to act out their parts on the world’s variegated stage and then be heard no more.”