Always on the move

Always on the move

The flying manRoopa FarookiHeadline Review2012, pp 339449

The preface quotes Sonnet XXIX from William Shakespeare, which is suggested as an epitaph for the protagonist, by his daughter, in the last few pages of the novel. Only after completing the novel can the reader see the link between the quoted sonnet and the lead character, Maqil Karam, alias Mike, Mehmet, Mikhail and Miguel at different points in time, depending upon his whim and his desire to put aside one life and start living another. 

The metaphor of a wandering, restless cloud can be applied to Maqil. But while a cloud in transit sounds romantic, it is an effort to dredge up sympathy for the protagonist of this novel. In the acknowledgements, the author gives thanks to her late father, Nasir Farooki, and speaks of his unfulfilled desire of writing a book, All Gamblers Great and Small. The implication is that Roopa has written the book that her father intended to write.
An internet search reveals that Farooki has admitted to the character of Maqil being based upon her father, though not totally biographical. But, there are similarities, with Nasir abandoning his Bangladeshi wife and young children, when Roopa was a little girl; remarrying several times; leading the life of a gambler and finally dying under impoverished circumstances. But, it might be easier to suggest that Maqil could be a leitmotif for all gamblers, whose betting obsessions can only bring ruin on themselves and their families.
Maqil’s character breezes through life on his own terms, with a total sense of callousness towards those linked with him, through ties of blood or marriage. The strength of the novel lies in the sparkling prose employed by Farooki who at all times appears to be commenting on the different avatars of Maqil, without sounding judgemental. This is easily done, as the book is written in first person and totally from Maqil’s viewpoint.
There is very little opportunity for the reader to gauge what the other characters in the book are feeling, unless it is Maqil trying to see things from another’s viewpoint, which he hardly ever does. All the more reason then, to give credit to the nuanced writing that results in the reader judging Maqil, without the novelist seeming to do so!
Roopa’s narrative reveals flashes of brilliance in her many observations. As a young boy, Maqil treats the domestic help very well, resulting in an uncle’s comment in class-conscious Pakistan, “You’ll have to watch him; he’ll end up as one of those bullshit bastard commies.” At this stage, the reader starts imagining an egalitarian character, only to discover that the practice of equality is because these individuals will “do everything he asks, and everything he doesn’t think to ask…they feel honoured, dignified by his trust.” 
As the story progresses and the reader starts developing an aversion to the lead character, Farooki introduces the notion of Maqil and prayer. It appears that Maqil prays because he is “hedging his bets on both black and red” (the gambler’s chips). And then comes the next, surprising line, “sometimes, in the middle of a prayer, facing in the direction of Mecca, he finds himself comforted, and warmed inside by something more than just the river flow of the word, the firmness of the sentiments.”
What a relief to learn that the character is vulnerable after all, in this and in the way that he falls headlong in love with Samira Rai, who becomes the second wife and is, by far, the strongest character in Farooki’s narrative. “He is astonished at how easy it is, after all these years, to fall in love, every bit of his flesh and blood tumbling towards her. He had once felt that he was immortal, heroic. He is disappointed at how ordinary he is, after all, an ordinary man so easily pierced by a bumbling cherub’s arrow, finding love where he wasn’t seeking it.” Maqil’s intense love for Samira is redeeming yet disappointing, as he is not willing to take any responsibility for the twins that she bears him, through chicanery (on Maqil’s part).
Samira is tough and her greatest strength lies in her ability to see through Maqil and his convoluted plans. She is always two steps ahead of him and therefore never brow-beaten by his actions. She is his retribution, as is old age, when Maqil feels, “It is difficult to admit, even now, that perhaps I didn’t get it right, after all. That my own company wasn’t always the best and that there might have been a better life carrying on for me somewhere else…the truth is that I am too old to try. The truth is that I would rather speak than act. The words are prettier than the deed.”
Roopa Farooki is the queen of imagery and the book of this anti-hero is worth reading because of her ability to tell a great story.

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