My father was particularly fond of stories from the long epic fantasy, Tilism Hoshruba. In these stories about evil sorcerers and good tricksters, when a sorcerer was killed, his head would split open and a bird sprung out announcing the sorcerer’s name and the murderer’s name one by one. ‘In this city, a part of us dies each day, and a bird springs out of our open skulls each day announcing our death and the addresses of our murderers,’ he said to me once while were taking a walk on the beach, ‘but nobody listens. The air is thick with the chorus of these birds of death. Listen.’
My father imagined the world and each object as part of continuous stories. In his stories the universe answered his questions, the past was visible and the future illuminated. Things had reasons and they all connected.
But unlike my father, when I looked back into the past, all I saw was pitch black darkness and heard unnamed voices trying to override each other in their attempts to reach me–and I felt indifferent to all of them. That’s when I concluded that my father’s way of imagining the universe was naive, simplistic, and wrong, just plain wrong. He was wrong about the world. The world and its stories did not continue or cohere. We were all just broken parts and so were our stories. True stories are fragments. Anything longer is a lie, a fabrication.
Bilal Tanweer’s debut novel, The Scatter Here is Too Great, is set in Karachi, Pakistan. It is a string of perspectives about a bomb blast at a station in the heart of the city. A situation not unfamiliar to this seaside town. It is the telling that is so special. The English used is so sophisticated and yet, remarkably, it seems to captures the cadences of Urdu, the language that is spoken locally. While reading the novel you can hear it, without it disrupting or distracting the reader from the story. The details in the story, the gentle but powerful manner in which the characters are created, slowly and steadily, they leave a lasting impression. Notably the description of the breakdown nineteen-year-old Akbar is moving. He is the younger brother of the narrator, three days away from his wedding but was the ambulance driver at the scene of the bomb blast and was horrified by what he saw. The story comes together despite the chaos — in the city and in the lives that are turned topsy-turvy. It is as if the author is writing about the events in Karachi as an insider with an outsider’s perspective. He is an insider since he writes sensitively, with empathy, a bit of emotion and an understanding but has the detachment to write it as an outsider. No wonder it took him eight years to write this slim novel.
A novel worth reading.
Bilal Tanweer The Scatter Here is Too Great Random House India, Delhi, 2013. Hb. pp. 204 Rs. 350