The literary and the sentimental
I resisted reading this book for a long time because I have no interest in pehalwans or akharas. Then one day the electricity went for several hours during the heat of a Delhi afternoon and I was not able to work at my computer.
So, grudgingly, I picked up this novel to read. It would not be an exaggeration to say that as soon as I started reading, the inverter-run fan became an air-conditioner, the heat of summer became the verdancy of spring, and the sweat of Delhi became the water of life. What a novel! Between Clay and Dust weaves its magical prose while moving between Ustad Ramzi, the almost-retired head of a wrestling clan, Gohar Jan, the almost-retired courtesan of the largest kotha in the inner-city, and Tamami, Ramzi’s younger brother and would-be successor to the highest wrestling honours. Sparsely written and densely imagined, it is a finely-sketched, brilliantly written novel set in a time and place we cannot pinpoint — sometime between Partition and the present, in an inner city somewhere in the erstwhile Hindustan of North India and Pakistan. This suspension in time and space is an inspired choice that beautifully echoes the emptiness of the novel and its characters.