clay-and-dustNovelist Musharraf Ali Farooqi is out with a new book called “Between Clay and Dust”, the drafts of which he laboured over for ten years.

The cover is intriguing enough on its own, showing a man covered in dust – making one wonder if he is caught in a dust storm or has just emerged from the earth.

However, the contents of the book throw light on the cover. The story revolves around a wrestler Ustad Ramzi and a courtesan Gohar Jan – both proud, ambitious and well-known in their heyday – who are now dealing with the struggles of growing old as they try to come to terms with modern times and the changes that Partition has brought to their unnamed town. The town is simply called the Inner City, leaving the reader to make his or her own decision about whether the book is based in India or Pakistan.

It is, in Farooqi’s own words, a story about “two people faced with similar challenges… one of them is able to make good choices within that situation and the other is not.” It is also “a love story, and a story about missed chances and redemption.” In words of renowned Indian film star Naseeruddin Shah:

“A privileged peek into the mind of the Pahalwan and Courtesan, the Subcontinent’s most intriguing symbols of romance. Storytelling at its best.”

The two main characters face dual challenge of losing their age and vigor, and the changing social norms. The prospect of diminishing relevance brings shattering consequences for them who were habitual to admirers from a wide social circle. Through these challenges Farooqi has constructed a penetrating study of human nature in terms of honor, love, redemption and strength. The book is worth reading for both its gripping story and its “spectacular imagery”.

Farooqi is a man of many talents; he also writes children’s’ books and is well-known for translating Dastan-e-Amir Hamza into Urdu. His earlier novel “The Story of a Widow” has been shortlisted for South Asian Literature Award 2010. “Dust” is already being critically acclaimed on both sides of the border for “telling a story fraught with emotionality” and telling it well.

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