Tinge of grey

Tinge of grey

Ayesha Salman’s debut novel is at once appealing and disturbing. Appealing for the commendable manner in which the author has handled the complex issues of class differences, religious distinctions and sexual abuse, and disturbing for the many questions of relevance it raises in the minds of thinking individuals.

Tracing the lives of three generations of a Pakistani family, the story moves forward in a poetic fashion, drawing the reader deep into the consciousness of its characters.

Centered around the life of Zaib, the novel’s protagonist, the story moves back and forth, to her childhood with her parents who shared a peculiar relationship, and then to her daughters who struggle to understand their mother’s insecurities. Well, that is where Blue Dust begins. With Zaib’s insecurities, probably stemming from the ‘friendless’ childhood she’s had. Being the daughter of a Muslim father and a Christian mother, she doesn’t ‘belong’ anywhere. Despised by the Muslims and shunned by the Christians, she has no friends to call her own, till she finds a secret friend in her servant Ghazala. With Ghazala, Zaib shares a special bond, but one that is forced to be severed in a society that is extremely class-conscious.

Thus begins Zaib’s journey of life that is punctuated by the sublime relationship she shares with her father, who she finally loses to cancer, and her affection for her sister Devi, who lands herself with a womaniser for a husband. Even as she attempts to deal with the unexpected turns her life seems to be taking at regular intervals, she meets Hassan and decides to spend the rest of her life with him. However, her deep-seated insecurities turn her into an obsessive wife, so much so that Hassan starts feeling claustrophobic in his relationship with Zaib and leaves home for good. Zaib takes refuge in alcohol and it is now left to her daughters to nurse her back to life.

At this juncture, we get familiar with her daughters Alya and Sonia, who are dealing with problems of their own. However, the author has lent them both, especially Alya, such great charm that their strength of character lingers in our minds long after we have closed the book. Though deprived of their father’s attention through their childhood, owing to their mother’s tight hold on him, they sympathise with her condition and assist her in coming to terms with life without her beloved Hassan. After Zaib, if there’s one character in the book that strikes an instant chord with the readers, it is Alya. A victim of sexual abuse, she nurtures a secret crush for her cousin Asad, a youngster we would all love to hate for the manner in which he ‘uses’ Alya for his carnal desires.

The book is also an eye-opener of sorts, especially for us in India, as the general assumption is that problems such as pedophilia, sexual abuse and alcoholism don’t exist in Muslim countries. Well, as the story unfolds, Blue Dust introduces us to all these uncomfortable truths and more, as they scar the lives of the many characters of the book. The author’s bold treatment of such issues deserves to be commended, though it is, at times, highly disturbing.

An unflinching portrait of life in Pakistan, the book succeeds in capturing the whims and anxieties of children through their growing years. Also, the author’s poetic narrative deftly explores the many shades of emotions a person experiences, making it extremely difficult for readers to judge even the greyest of characters. Well, that’s Blue Dust for you. Definitely worth a read.

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