Book Review: Fiction/ The Blind Man’s Garden by Nadeem Aslam, Vintage Books/Random House, 415pp; Rs550 (Hardback)
Like his preceding work, The Wasted Vigil, Nadeem Aslam’s fourth novel-The Blind Man’s Garden, follows difficult overtures with the recent history. However, this new book has much bigger geo-strategic and humane canvas, as it draws the ground realities of war torn Afghanistan-Pakistan regions through immaculate sensibility and with unprecedented authenticity. The better strength of the book comes through Nadeem’s relying on his natural impulses rather submerging with the unmanageable amount of views on new world order, which runs on the notorious design of neo-imperialism.
This extraordinary war novel has merit to be listed with the best of literary fiction, the beautiful prose and momentous details of tragic lives completely justify the rating. Nadeem portrays the grimness of social conditions in Pakistan that is an end result of collusion between its army and terrorism. Such circumstances make lives too vulnerable and fragile to be lost. Radicals clearly want war-they push youth for Jihad and subsequently slaughtering by Talibanis or Americans.
Otherwise a brutal scenario, the prevailing starkness of Pakistan makes it super-normal. The insiders’ views are of participants or sufferer and outsiders’ views come with shocking uniformity. They temper with the sentimental inner core and leave the chances of noticing the innocence, which is another sort of violence in high order. This novel walks forth with aiming to deconstruct the stereotypical narratives on these difficult terrains, came into fashion and later developed as trend in the world of post 9/11.
The Blind Man’s Garden searches the obscure lives; those were forced to be part of the communal war, started with the US’s sudden realisation in 2001 that the world is no longer safe as it used to be for its own sake. The disastrous presumption lead a war not against the ’terror’ but to dismantle the figure and soul of unfortunate terrains in Afghnaistan and Pakistan. It affected all but as the war supported by the state managed financial capital, it stops treating live in equally precious terms, so mostly we know the fabricated sensational stories about the war. Seldom we know, what could be an ordinary point of view in hyper time like this?
The novel sets in a small town of Pakistan named, Heer. Jeo and Mikal are foster brothers, the former received success with academics and love and later failed, hence tracked the opposite path. Joe died in Afghanistan while helping civilians and Mikal offered him a helping hand in warzone and later in family matters. Joe’s widow gets hope of new life and Mikal the reason for life through channelizing the things properly in difficult circumstances. The last few pages of the book, which ends in positive configuration depicts the unusual normalcy of uneasy time.
Rohan, their blind father, who is the owner of a garden in backyard and unrelenting misfortunes without bound appears haunted by the premature death of his progressive wife, and on his mistakes made on the name of narrow religious convictions. Ironically, the blind man’s late wife personifies the life in their garden, which he can feel but not see any longer. In oblivion, he remembers her for secular and humane approaches. Rohan recalls his great-grandfather was in the service of British Empire during the mutiny of 1857 and now the changed equation after 9/11 makes him feeling betrayed.
The narration of loss is poignant and gets deeply expressed in symbolism. The loss of Rohan’s sight or losing loved ones comes outside the primary construct in same way. The turmoil of war goes long way and says lot in his helplessness to keep things on normal. Until the novel ends with magic realism effects, it shows the struggle for basic from commoners in Pakistan. Nadeem shows well the pathetic state of big democratic ideas in Pakistan, which is plagued through wrong leadership and choices of internationalism. Before 1980’s, this country was going better than India in economic terms, socio-culturally too, situation was not bad.
The final years of cold war politics ruined Afghanistan first, and to Pakistan subsequently. The Blind Man’s Garden unveils on many occasions, the ghost of Pakistan’s shadow democracy, which neither respect citizenship nor the dignity of human life. Beyond politics, these all ideas seem on wane. But still these are functional and making perceptions blurred for any changes. A new generation of Pakistani writers is doing amazingly well, for them ‘the cruel distance of geography’ hardly matters.
Nadeem Aslam’s The Blind Man’s Garden is a remarkable reading of the existing situation in Af-Pak region. It has quality of pure literary fiction, and strikingly without cornering the wider strategic odds. With inclusion of harsh living scenes, this novel gives uncomfort but never allows to drive for disorientation-as not only Pakistan, but the whole South Asia region is problem ridden in one or other ways, so a compiler like Nadeem will have engaged time in future too!
-Atul K Thakur
(Published in The Kashmir Walla on March 11,2013)