Review: Brick Walls: Tales of Hope & Courage from Pakistan by Saadia Faruqi

BrickWalls_Coverby Monica Arora, Reviews Editor, Kitaab

Brick Walls: Tales of Hope & Courage from Pakistan by Saadia Faruqi

FB Publishing; 200 pages

English writer, poet and WWI veteran J.R.R. Tolkien has said, “The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater”. A lot has been said and written about how Pakistan is a hotbed for terrorism. Its “purported” links with international terror organisations have earned it much notoriety and attracted negative publicity for the country worldwide. Reams have been devoted to discussing the Indo-Pakistan border skirmishes, and fear of violence is escalating. Much has been discussed about the troops from both sides being vulnerable and often succumbing to their injuries.

In complete contrast to these reports of mistrust and encounters are the stories of love that abound in the two countries. Right from the time of the partition in 1947, tales have emerged of Hindu and Muslim neighbours standing up to protect each others’ kith and kin. Many novels, serials and movies created by people in both countries stand testimonial to these tales of love and courage. Stories of how a Muslim neighbourhood offered shelter to a lone Hindu couple trying to flee the rioters during 1947 or vice versa, or how those in Pakistan searching for their loved ones were re-united with them across the border in India owing to the intervention by an NGO or state machinery–such stories often warm the cockles of hearts across the LoC.

What remains unchanged and untarnished is the fact that Indians and Pakistanis have much common history and culture that flows down generations. Barring some basic differences in perhaps dressing or food or other habits, the masses in both countries experience similar emotions caused by dwindling joint families, emergence of urban nuclear families, impact of globalization, threat of terrorism, and so on.

Saadia Faruqi
Saadia Faruqi

In this backdrop, Saadia Faruqi’s evocative collection of stories entitled Brick Walls: Tales of Hope & Courage from Pakistan is like a breath of fresh air as it breaks through all the clutter of violence, terrorism and fear and offers much hope and faith in humanity despite the odds. Each story has a common Pakistani man or woman as the protagonist who is dealing with myriad issues. The revival of their confidence and self-belief is the common thread tying these tales together.

Asma the seamstress in “Angel of Hope”, who, in her distress at her poverty and her son’s ill-health, has lost all optimism for a better life. The young and impressionable Rabia Malik in “Bittersweet Mangoes”, who is stirred at the sorry plight of the less privileged and marginalized sections of society and eventually falls in love with her friend and classmate Pasha, without caring for her status or position in “high-society”. The apprehensions of the gracefully aged and much experienced Farzana about her children and her own future in “A Mother’s Heart”. The piteously heart-wrenching letter written by Lubna in “Free my Soul” behind the formidable prison walls after bearing a lifetime of anguish and misfortune. These feisty women offer a sparkling new perspective into how, despite being a purely patriarchal society, Pakistan is slowly churning and changing in its outlook and women are learning to look beyond conventional diktats.

In “Tonight’s the Night”, the main protagonist Javed Gul is a rock star and musician, an unusual profession for Pakistani youth. He aspires for a young journalist’s affections even after being grievously injured. The spurned lover Faisal in “Paradise Reinvented”, turns back in the nick of time, thus avoiding committing a heinous crime and turning into a terrorist. These are two fascinating character sketches of young men of roughly the same age. Their reactions to their varying situations are interesting. It is very endearing how Saadia has created an interesting potpourri of traditional circumstances and yet very modern dilemmas for these contemporary characters who break away from established norms and think and act for themselves.

The most endearing of all characters for me was young Nida in “Making the Team”. Nida is completely nonchalant about her multiple qualities, be it as a good student or a kind human being. Her heart is set on playing cricket. The manner in which she convinces her elders and peer group and joins her local neighbourhood team is so wise and yet so sweet that it left me with a smile. Each of these charming stories is an ode to love, valour and above all the indefatigable human spirit which continues to guide all humanity in its quest towards a better future. The delight of discovering the lives and times of common people of Pakistan–who are trying to lead a life of normalcy despite being in the news for all the wrong reasons, their cultural nuances, their day-to-day anguish and struggles and the tapestry of their cultural propensities–makes for interesting reading. The author Saadia Faruqi has liberally embellished each tale with emotional flourishes and vivid descriptions. Indeed, a very enriching and heart-warming read particularly coming from a neighbourhood country with commonly shared tumultuous political history and yet, interwoven and highlighted with underlying love and a sense of positive optimism. This collection is an ode to the resilience of the common man!