Humeirah, by Sabah Carrim — a book review by Vasudev Murthy

The Johari Window is a simple construct created to help understand the relationship of a person with oneself and with others. What parts are known? What are unknown? How do we evolve as thinking individuals in our lifetimes particularly when exposed to radically new ideas that seem orthogonal in spirit to the milieu in which one must perforce exist? Can we exist within, and be quite content? Do we really need someone else?

humeirah

Humeirah, by the Mauritian writer Sabah Carrim, stands out as a particularly courageous story, of looking within for answers. Island cultures tend to be insular, or so we are led to believe, as heterogeneity is difficult to achieve on a consistent basis, and perhaps survival is compromised if there are too many mavericks. If we go with this premise for a moment, it must be an even greater challenge for a mind to strive to be absolutely independent, driven to constantly question and challenge, when the ecosystem around him or her discourages such striving, considering it heretical and socially unacceptable to the extreme. Where does one escape to when there is nothing to stimulate and give answers to often imprecisely described, constantly evolving questions? How does one find release from the strictures of a conservative community that discourages independence of thought and cannot understand why one would want it to begin with? Indeed, how does one escape from an Island? I found the unstated analogy interesting.

In Somerset Maugham’s The Moon and Sixpence the protagonist spurns a career as a banker in London and takes up art to find meaning in life. He does indeed find many answers and the world ultimately recognizes his genius. This is a quest that we all have – with time, however, we allow that quest to lose its pungency and join the herd.

While Maugham’s protagonist, Strickland, is able to walk away from the traditional and socially acceptable roles of a caring husband and father, Humeirah has much more to grapple with. What if a woman’s maternal instincts are not as intense as other women? What if the desire to be a “good wife” is muted? What if all this is happening within the bounds of a very conservative Sunni Muslim family in a tightly knit social setting? The struggles of an intelligent woman are a million times more desperate and painful to the observer, especially in what appears to be a very tough situation with no escape.

Some seek the madness of music, some find solace in spiritualism, some in art. In this case, the probing beauty of philosophy. And for the vast majority – there are no avenues, a grim testament to the tragedy of wasted lives that wither in time, with no possibility of being nourished simply because of social circumstances dictated by religious or traditional strictures. In Humeirah, there is a glimmer of hope offered. It is not a call to rebellion necessarily – though, by the way, the book is banned in Dubai of all places – , but certainly a subtle appeal to find answers in other passions and find some sort of uneasy resolution to the very baffling question of “Who am I, really?”

One may argue that the author has unwittingly portrayed the protagonist in an overly sympathetic light. Is there something inherently undesirable in conforming to some minimal extent with the needs of those with whom we have a social bond? The withdrawing into oneself and the obsession with questions of existentialism possibly created a rift with other actors in the story who were not gifted with the same intellectual strengths and needs, and were performing traditional roles that had, very possibly, delivered optimum happiness and structure over centuries. Could she be accused of being selfish? Indeed, she was. Great men and women, trapped in circumstances and roles which they abhor, possibly must bear the taunts of being called a bad mother or a cold husband, when they start questioning or exploring their passions. Or being called mentally disturbed, which of course raises yet another series of questions, as to who exactly is normal.

It would be a pity if Humeirah were to be just considered exemplary Mauritian literature. The story has many elements of Mauritius, but the appeal for me was elsewhere. The fact that I knew nothing much about the country did not bother me because the intellectual jousting and the description of internal chaos and conflicts was perfectly universal. It must take courage to challenge the norms of a community (Kutchi Memoms in this case) that would be considered successful in the conventional sense.

The author’s language is sophisticated and fluid and does not detain you unnecessarily in the reading, which in itself is a sign of confident and accessible writing. Only on such a firm foundation could she have been bold enough to exercise her intellect and frame complex questions. To me, a good book need not have answers. To provoke questions is in itself a great achievement.

Required reading for those who seek something new and powerful, yet believable…

Advertisements

The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald (a review)

Perhaps it’s because I’ve read so many attempts at love stories that have been terrible, I’d begun to lose faith in the genre, but this revived it. The character of Gatsby did that. To wait for someone so many years, and then, knowing that that someone is already married, still try to win her over, having a feeling that she would still be in love with him too, that was beautiful. The way the love is brought out, through small details like how long they had been separated, or throwing parties expecting that she will be one of the uninvited guests that come, or even owning the mansion across from her so he can be near, that was brilliant. If Jay Gatsby’s love was interesting, the same can be said about how Fitzgerald portrays Tom Buchanan’s love too — wavering, reckless, adulterous, even to the point of taking his wife’s cousin along to meet his mistress. It stays the same till the point where he knows deep down that his relationship with his mistress will not continue. And Daisy… did she love Gatsby as much as he loved her? That’s something I find difficult to answer. Till the twist to the tale, I thought she did. After that too, I thought she did. But looking in retrospect, I do not know for sure.

Not every book that has been recommended to me by friends turn out amazing. But there are some that turn out to be wonderful, and when done reading, brings about a sense of loss, of wonder not just about the story but as to why I hadn’t read the book before. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald turned out to be such a book.

5 stars would be too less for the book, a classic that I found to be very enjoyable… yes, the Great Gatsby was so.

Vinay Leo R. | A Bookworm’s Musing

(Not Just) A Journey…

He woke up to the pitter patter of raindrops against his window. For a moment, he smiled. The world outside looked lush, and when he opened his window a little, the fragrance of earth wafted in and he closed his eyes. He loved that scent of first rain. But then his eyes drifted across the road, to the big maidan. The ground was empty, and it was mostly slush now. His face fell. It was the last day of summer vacations and he had wanted to play with his friends. There was no feeling better than playing cricket at dawn with the rays of the rising sun stroking your neck. Not that he knew anyways. For a nine year old, the summer vacation was mostly about playing with friends without worrying about studies, eating golguppas from the street vendor, and yes… ice cream. That was his heaven. If the rain wouldn’t let up soon, the last day of his heaven would be ruined.

“Rain rain, go away, come again another day,” he whispered as a strong gust of wind blew his window shut.

He took his diary, and sat near the window. Poetry was something that he had only recently tried, something that he still wasn’t quite sure of.

world outside is green,
but I find it just mean,
I know I love the rain,
if I wish it to go away,
will it come once again?

He felt a little sad writing that last line, and he closed his diary and went to the hall. On the coffee table lay the book his teacher had given him. He hadn’t opened it at all. Thinking back to the previous year, he had remembered the “share library” the teacher had started. All his classmates had given a book into it, and so had he. But he hadn’t read any of the books he had been given. It hadn’t “fit” into his routine. But that day, he had nothing to do, not till it stopped raining anyway.

The book was titled “Aesop’s Fables”. He opened it, and started to read. Slowly, the world around him seemed to become silent. And another world opened up. He saw a cottage, a grumpy old man with a stubble coming out of it and looking inside a coop to find a golden egg. He saw the same man cut the goose that gave him the golden egg too. With each page he turned, new worlds came. He saw a fox jump at some grapes and a crow reach some water. He was so immersed in these new worlds that he never saw the rain outside let up, or hear his mother call him for breakfast.

When he was finished, he took his diary and wrote again.

magical pages I read,
somewhere it led,
each page, a new place,
magic in some way,
so nice for my head.

When the teacher told the share library wouldn’t be there that year, he had felt sad. The discovery of magic was to be a part of his holiday report. He had been sure that his teacher and his classmates would like that much more than his previous year’s summer holiday report, when he had proclaimed he visited a new restaurant. When he told his teacher about the book, and how he wanted to read more, she just smiled. Later that day, she took him and his classmates to a big room. And his eyes widened.

There were so many books there. There were red colored books with gold lettering, and books with sports cars on the cover. There were soft covers and hard covers, thin ones and thick ones. Some were lying outside, on the U-shaped table behind which stood a bespectacled madam. That madam gave a card, a blue color one on which he wrote his name, and she put a stamp on it. And he took another book. She told him with a smile that he could take a book, return it after a week and take another.

He asked her, “Only one?”

He knew he would be done with that book very soon. When he was, he went back to that big room in the basement, asked the ma’am for another, but she wouldn’t give him one more till the next library period. When he returned to class with a fallen face, his best friend suggested that they exchange books for the rest of the week. And they did. They did that week and every other week. With every new book, he found magic, he discovered new worlds that he talked about with his best friend. He met detectives and solved crimes, he shot a hound as tall as house and met rabbits who grew the biggest carrot. He met wizards who went to school, just like him and hardworking children who never went to school but had a thirst to learn.

“To become a good writer, one must be a good reader.”

And he took his teacher’s advice to heart. As he read, his love for poems grew. To his surprise, and his teacher’s delight, his poem was chosen to be published in the newspaper, one of just two from his school. He placed high in the inter-school competitions he participated in. Life, he felt, was good. But he never knew life, as unpredictable as it could be, would get in the way. His parents began to pressure him to study more and read novels less. And cut him off from his precious treasures at the library. For years, he forgot that magic, and read just to fulfill expectations. The world he once loved now almost felt like it was lost.

It was another rainy morning that made him remember that magic again, the petrichor fragrance soaking him as he walked to the library near his home. His eyes immediately found the fifth book of his beloved Wizard school, and he pounced on it before those in the library with him could take it. When he lay on his bed and opened to the first page, he felt the old magic return; and the world around him melt away.

The academic expectations that had once locked away his precious world returned, and he got lost again. But it was the bump that followed which shook it out. When the world around him labeled him as a “failure” and called him “hopeless”, he returned to the world that he knew he loved. He began to read, and he began to write. More than that, he began to love what he wrote and who he knew he was.

Today, he realizes that the world may sometimes lock the magic, but the key is always with him. And it is up to him what world of magic he wants to open. Reading, though the world may try to put a price on it, is priceless. After all, can anyone put a price on a breath of fresh air?

the world of magic that I open,
it has the power to heal frowns;
it has the power to pull me up,
when the world pushes me down.

it makes me live another life,
walk the paths only I can see,
a world that I choose to imagine,
that I believe must be set free.

do I read for that, or read for me?
I don’t know, and I don’t care,
for some things, I need no reason,
though others search somewhere.

time and tide stop for no man,
but the world stops when I read,
for when two worlds collide,
only I choose which one to heed.


What I am by profession doesn’t matter, for I am a writer, by choice and by interest. Here breathes my passion, my hopes, my dreams and my world. My name is Vinay, but here I am fondly called as Leo by many, a poet and storyteller. My thoughts call I Rhyme Without Reason, and A Bookworm’s Musing as their home.


Sign PNG Image