In Short Books

And they all fall flat: Review of ‘Rafina, A Novella’ by Shandana Minhas

A dramaybaaz protagonist, but where’s the drama?

Shandana Minhas wrote this story in 2004; it saw the light of day 14 years later. Luckily, the story, that of a determined if rather naïve girl’s attempt to carve her niche in the world, is such that it can’t really become outdated. But the treatment makes you wonder if some kept-away manuscripts should be brought out into the glare of the sun at all.

The heroine of this eponymous tale, Rafina Khan, is a pretty young woman from a modest background in Karachi. The novella opens with a statement made by a family friend, which Rafina overhears: “It’s the name, Naz, it’s the name. Who told you to call her Rafina? Sounds like a dancer in the movies. After Helen… Rafina! No wonder she’s such a dramaybaaz.”

Now, an opening like this usually presages quirky characters, drama galore, generous sprinklings of Hinglish, and a fair amount of humour. The drama is there, so is the Hinglish; however, the characters’ quirks are never fully developed, the dramatic outbursts fall flat and the humour is barely there.

The real problem is that you just don’t take to this shallow, superficial teenager; her self-absorbed, vain reflections could have come off as funny, but they don’t. She is judgemental and nasty to both her mother (“Why doesn’t she put that pathetic face and sickly colour to some use?”) and beautician mentor, Rosie aunty, who appoints Rafina as her understudy (“You aren’t even allowed in the main salon when clients are around because you look so ugly in that outfit you might scare them away.”)

Negligent editing does not help. One character, Danish, becomes Moshin a couple of times. Some sentence constructs are awkward: there is mention of the unblemished lines of the new erection (meaning, building); comments enter the ears; people swallow their own mouth. Some sentences are downright mystifying: “PJ wanted to put make up under her”; “once he fired the model and Rafina took her place at his ear.”

Rafina really does not leave you any wiser or entertained for having read it.

The manuscript editor and author is based in Bengaluru.

Rafina, A Novella; Shandana Minhas, Picador India, ₹450

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Printable version | Apr 2, 2020 6:17:39 PM |

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