Sunday, February 17, 2013

The world would be a lesser place without these books and movies.

Iranian movie: Border Cafe
If you want to understand how 'benign' masculine protection turns into insidious control of the feminine, how social structures ultimately protect the economic interests of the patriarchy, why women's issues have no boundaries, how dry, difficult and dense political science can be conveyed effectively through cinematic art, why Iranian movies occupy a special place in my heart, then you have to see this (not-so-recent) movie, 'Border Cafe'. Story-telling at its best.

'The Wandering Falcon' by Jamil Ahmad.
This book is a precious gift to this world!  I wasn't aware that I could find common grounds and identify with some of the simple yet richly complex characters from the Pakistan-Afghanistan-Iran border region, but I do.  I don't think anyone could have resisted being in the shoes of any of Ahmad's characters.  Such is the power of his stories and story-telling ability. 

The language--lyrical; the writing style--beautifully brief; the writer's heart--always tangible.

Please pick it up if you haven't read it, but don't look for reviews online.  All the ones I found give away too much of the book' structure and details of the story.  Reviewers who cannot write reviews without spoilers in every sentence need to be left wandering in the desolate lands of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.  You need to enter the world depicted in this book without knowing anything about it.    

The story of Ahmad's book seeing the light of day is a story in its own right.

Our Lady of Alice Bhatti by Mohammed Hanif
What a stark and audaciously biting novel about human strengths vs. vulnerabilities. This book is testament to Hanif's ability to turn tragedy into comedy for just as long as it takes you to swallow the bitter truth about nations and humanity. The deeper message about the limitations of all semblance of order in this universe (especially the hospital universe), however, lingers on long past you put down the book. I respect that he bravely took digs at stingy Caucasian nuns willing to let brown people starve. I love that his absentee fathers can write soulful petitions when necessary. I agree that tender love lasts only as long as viciousness, with or without reason, stays away. I am not quite sure why we rushed through the last scene abruptly or the timeline of what exactly happened above the hospital roof, but, perhaps, short, swift novel ending is metaphor for how quickly everything comes to a close if you are an Alice Bhatti in this world.

There are numerous themes in this book -- class, caste, religion, misogyny, poverty, marginalization, sickness, hospital management, physicians, professionalism or lack thereof among physicians, police power -- but the ones I picked out in the previous paragraph are not necessarily in order of importance or coverage in the book. Above all, the book is about how unconnected women learn to survive, live, thrive in a patriarchal society. If they make it past survival, that is.

The book is not all raw and stark; there are layers of nuance. And you will come to know a bit more about a little known demographic -- Pakistani Christians from the sweeper class/caste.

'In This World' directed by Michael Winterbottom
Last but not the least, watch this docudrama that will leave you with an idea of the tenacity and maturity that some children have as a result of being born on the other side of the fence.  

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