Incredible but picturesque portrayals of loneliness and love.
Another Gulmohar Tree written by Aamer Hussein, is a story two people from across the continents who build a life together of quest, commitment and ultimate reward. Lydia is an English woman who meets Usman, a Pakistani writer 10 years her senior, at a socialist seminar in Bloomsbury. She decides to follow Usman back to Pakistan and eventually marries him and settles down in Karachi. The story tells about Lydia's many, seemingly easy adjustments, and adaptations to her new life and culture. Usman, on the other hand, appears to struggle with his life, his career and his family.
The book describes the couple to be “Puzzled angels, visiting earth on holiday, lost until you finally find each other.” Lydia certainly comes through as an angel who forsakes her career, her language, culture, religion and country for the sake of her love for a foreign man. She is portrayed as a woman who hits the ground running and changes her name, religion, dress and even learns Urdu, all this before meeting her man again or being certain of a marriage proposal by him.
One wonders whether this is the kind of confluence of east and west, people of cross cultural experience desire – a lasting commitment from a western woman whose transformation, acceptance and level of comfort with the eastern culture is so total – its a bit unbelievable. Is this realistic to expect? Can it sustain over long periods of time?
Rokeya's (as Lydia now calls herself) experiences with her new culture are not elaborated upon. Her frustrations and learning experiences are foreign to the reader. Rokeya never pines for her native home or her family – except for shedding a tear when her father sends a birthday card late.
Her remarkable integration is more seamless that most expatriates returning to their homeland. The book also raises the question: what is the inherent value of someone willing to change so much and demand so little. It's interesting that this book talks about the ease of adjustment when immigrating back to Pakistan just as his previous book Insomnia dwells on some of its difficulties.
Insomnia and Other Stories is a collection of short stories set in no particular place or chronological order. The main protagonist in many of the stories is a Pakistani named Murad. Many of the stories trace the life story of Murad from a young, awkward, impressionable student to a mature writer in his middle age. Hussein writes much about writers themselves in the stories “The Book of Maryam”, the “Angelic Disposition”, “Insomnia” , and “Hibiscus Days”.
Hussein returns to certain central themes over and over again in his writings – the flaming Gulmohar tree, the blood red Hibiscus bush.
He writes about the right to dream and the choice to serve – about disillusionment and untimely death. He examines friendships and discontinuity and the lonely life of writing. His preoccupation with writing is evident in his recurrent return to this theme.
Seclusion seems to be the lot of his writers – sometimes chosen, sometimes accidental, as well as longing and a sense of not belonging. Of living in the fabric of a society and yet pulling back. These are stories about people who share the same intellectual and emotional space and inspire each other to write. Friends that form a network, or a safety blanket if you will, to nurture, coax and egg one on towards goals. All of his writer subjects are middle aged and single or divorced or childless as stated in one of the stories.
The “Book of Maryam” quotes from the Quran – the story of the birth of Jesus.
In “The Angelic Disposition”, the protagonist takes comfort in the strength of her husband's unquestioning support to grieve for a man who was never more than a friend. She counts on her rosary (tasbeeh) 33 times, then 33 times, then 33 times again, not the names of her Lord, but the words of her friend. The story makes reference to the Christian belief of Satan being a fallen angel – and that angels should never grow old.
“Insomnia” is about melancholy, grief and soul searching, death and devastation, where the silence stretches on waiting for the phone to ring for the next encounter with a friend.
Aamer Hussein's stories live in the cutting edge of loneliness, pain and a heightened need to communicate every shiny raindrop, every pearly teardrop, every flaming bush and singing thrush.
They make you think - about cultural boundaries, about the passage from youth to middle age, about being a foreigner in a different land. About Wars, earthquakes, tsunamis – naturals disasters, death and darkness. About the fallibility of relationships. About feelings and futility.
And they remind you of the poem “Spring and Fall – to a Young Child” by
Gerard Manley Hopkins : Margaret, are you grieving Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Insomnia and Other Stories; Aamer Hussein; Telegram Books; Rs.199.