Realism Reviews

In a foreign land: Vineetha Mokkil reviews Sabin Iqbal’s ‘Shamal Days’

Sabin Iqbal’s sophomore novel, Shamal Days, revolves around Abbas, a Keralite newspaper editor living in a small, unnamed country in West Asia. Abbas’s personal saga unfolds against the backdrop of political and social churnings in the region, opening with reports of violent protests and a suicide bombing in Gaza. In the very first chapter, Abbas reminisces about interviewing Saddam Hussein in his “eerily silent palace in Baghdad.”

Abbas has been in the media for over two decades. He is a deeply disillusioned man with an out-of-control drinking habit, and the business of news “seems like a joke” to him. A guarded man who has kept his heart caged over the years, he finds himself alone in his 40s. His preoccupation with sex is a melancholy affair, and it haunts him throughout the narrative, lands him in compromising situations, but never leads to meaningful relationships.

In his first novel, The Cliffhangers, Sabin Iqbal wrote of the complex links between religious identity, politics and communalism in contemporary India. In Shamal Days, the focus is on the aspirations and alienation of members of the Indian diaspora in West Asia. The murky politics of newsrooms and of the volatile region are sketched with deft strokes.

Shamal Days flits back and forth in time, tracing the course of Abbas’s working life in the foreign country while weaving in the twists and turns of his personal life. The jumps in time are often jarring. Iqbal also veers off tangent in multiple scenes, randomly throwing in secondary characters and fragmented plotlines revolving around them. The plotline involving Abbas-Ratnam-Bhaskar, the mainstay of the narrative, is given far less room than it deserves. Secondary characters, on the other hand, take up a disproportionate amount of space.

The writing see-saws between ecstatically lyrical and dreadfully overwritten. Rain makes the desert bloom as if “reminiscing about a long-abandoned rhapsody,” shamal winds blend the “whiff of parched sand with the depressing reek of emptiness” asAbbas teeters from darkness to darkness till a wake-up call makes him confront himself.

Shamal Days; Sabin Iqbal, HarperCollins India, ₹399

The writer is the author of A Happy Place and Other Stories.

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Printable version | Sep 18, 2021 3:18:35 AM |

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