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Between Clay and Dust – Musharraf Ali Farooqi

Between Clay and Dust – Musharraf Ali Farooqi

The best thing about Musharraf Ali Farooqi;s new book is that it gets down to telling a story. It doesn’t stop to dance in any monsoon, wear marigolds and certainly does not waste time staring into expressive kohl-rimmed eyes set above a silent mouth. A tale about growing old, and the struggle of the once-successful as they are forced to come to terms with their decline, Between Clay and Dust is the story of Ustad Ramzi, pehalwan champion, and peripherally of courtesan Gohar Jan. Both characters were at the top of their game in their day, Ustad Ramzi holding the coveted title of Ustad e Zaman and Gohar Jan’s music recitals drawing large, regular audiences to her kotha daily. Their world is rapidly dissolving- Partition robs them of the nawabs whose patronage kept their art flourishing and mullahism is slowly creeping into the fabric of society, bringing with it its squeamishness and censorship.

The book addresses a familiar problem, but with an unsentimental, precise and elegant eye. Farooqi’s prose is crisp and pared down, the chapters sometimes as short as a page. It is refreshing indeed to read something coming from Pakistan that isn’t about the plight of an oppressed chadar-chaar-dewaar woman or someone’s terrible existential angst. Farooqi has a story to tell and he tells it well and without having to resort to over-romanticizing either the pehalwan’s akhara or the tawaif’s kotha. There’s something to be said for that. You do have your near-stock character in Gauhar Jan, the courtesan who takes in a foundling and contributes to the mosque chanda. Ustad Ramzi is the gruff, stern old wrestler with a soft side. Farooqi’s skill is in the way one reads his characters’ commitment to their respective art, their resistance to the new ways not just the bull-headedness of the elder who can get away with it, but also the desperate refusal to let go of their principles. Nobody in Between Clay and Dust is going to end up giving sweeties to children or knitting sweaters, but they will have a quiet weep when nobody is looking.

Farooqi’s novel is populated with people who are lost in familiar worlds, who will not articulate exactly what it is they mean because they haven’t the words and it wouldn’t be appropriate anyway.  He seems to have captured that conflicted internal quality that seems peculiar to our part of the world; that admixture of excruciating propriety, desire to communicate and self-consciousness that quashes it. Between Clay and Dust is a poignant slice of a life and time long gone, and my sense of nostalgia remained with me for a long time.

Book details

Between Clay and Dust

By Musharraf Ali Farooqi

Published by Aleph Book Company

Year of Publication 2012

216 pp. Price PK Rs 895/=

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