Reviewed by Namrata
Title: Interpreter of Winds
Author: Fairoz Ahmad
Publisher: Ethos Books ( 2019)
Interpreter of Winds is a collection of four stories which brings together Fairoz Ahmad’s experiences and observations while growing up as a Muslim. In a world where we are (sadly) divided by religion and united by our bitterness towards it all, these stories are an invigorating read. This short collection is a remarkable attempt to interpret faith and capture its challenges.
Ahmad is a young voice who is striving to be the change he wants to see in the world. Having co-founded an award-winning social enterprise Chapter W — which works at the intersection of women, technology and social impact, he has been awarded the Outstanding Young Alumni award by National University of Singapore for his work with the community. He believes that magic, wonder and richness of one’s history and culture, together with their quirks and eccentricities, could help narrow the gap in our understanding. His stories seem to be an amalgam to repair the breaks that whisper incompatibility through the world.
The book starts with the titular story, which is a beautiful ode to the cultural history of Southeast Asia with its brilliant depiction of Islam and its growth. With many stories interwoven together in the main narrative, this story takes us through the nineteenth century. Revisiting history of Malay Islands, the descriptions flow through the hall of thousand mirrors, the sphinx and talking camels. The conversations with wind are deep and lingering. This story is strongly reminiscent of the Arabian Nights for many reasons. One is of course the concept of story within a story, second being the narrative technique, where one tells stories and the other just listens to them. Long after the stories are over, despite returning to the normal world, the listener is never the same again. Elements like a talking camel add to the magic and fantasy used to unfold the plot.
The second story, ‘The Smell of Jasmine after the Rain’ is akin to poetry in prose. It starts with these words:
“It is said that each time the wind blows, the bones of old men rattle in pain.”
The tone of deep loss, longing and pain continues throughout the story as it talks about religion, devotion, gods, goddesses, life and death at large. With some memorable characters like Pak Guntur and Pranoto, this is my favourite from the collection.
‘The Day the Music Died’ is the shortest story in the collection and perhaps, the most persuasive. It remarkably starts and ends with the same lines. Talking about the various taboos and beliefs, Ahmad manages to portray a moving picture of today’s harsh reality. In those few words, he conveys an important message for the world. The resonant closing line is the perfect culmination of this engaging story.
‘The Night of a Thousand Months’, the last story in the collection is one that leaves you speechless with its climax. Brilliantly layered with emotions, richness of detail and underlying realities, this is a lucid read.
For a debut author, Fairoz Ahmad has done a stellar job in capturing his diverse experiences in these stories. Taking cue from the happenings around him, he creates a different world that ensures a lasting impact on the reader. He conveys his thoughts without sounding preachy. Ahmad’s writing is elegant and fluid. His stories, his characters and the titles to each of his stories, have a voice of their own.
Ahmad’s stories are a heady combination of Kafka and Murakami, with its effervescent descriptions and gripping narrative. They seem to question and challenge the reader. The plot and the sub-plots are interwoven impeccably creating powerful imagery. The narrative style is evocative and vividly observed. His stories starkly remind one of folklores, the kind one would hear from grandparents as a child, of stories that you want to be true, that leave you curious and are still awe-inspiring. His writing style also seems to be largely inspired from those tales, as he invites you to listen to those stories and travel to the world inhabited by them. Combining his experiences and observations, Ahmad adds his opinions to them metamorphosing them into thought-provoking stories.
These stories are a much-needed voice today as they raise some important questions. They try to evoke the hushed whispers and the side glances we have been sharing giving rise to baseless fears. This book, once again brings us back to the eternal question – Did man create religion or did religion create man? An extremely imperative question which needs to not only be answered but be understood by one and all. It wouldn’t be wrong to call this work a life-affirming lyrical prose with its underlying message.
Namrata is a lost wanderer who loves travelling the length and breadth of the world. She lives amidst sepia toned walls, fuchsia curtains, fairy lights and shelves full of books. When not buried between the pages of a book, she loves blowing soap bubbles. A published author she enjoys capturing the magic of life in her words and is always in pursuit of a new country and a new story. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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