Book Review: Love in Chakiwara and Other Misadventures

Updated: Dec 24, 2016, 13:21 IST | Dipanjan Sinha

Love in Chakiwara and other misadventures makes you long for a place and people you have never met

Bilal Tanweer
Bilal Tanweer

Magic has left our cities. So has it left the stories of our cities, which were once flushed with people who floated with the waves of change that had engulfed the world during and after the Wars. It was a time of raw wounds of immeasurable depths, a time to believe in dreams of a better world and a time when the fantastic and the everyday often met casually at street corners to have chai.

It perhaps is only in this world that a scientist could invent a love meter with the right mix of spiritual and scientific influences like a physician does in Love In Chakiwara and Other Misadventures (Picador) by Muhammad Khalid Akhtar.

Akhtar was fascinated by Chakiwara, a Karachi neighbourhood, which he experienced in the 1960s. And he in turn thrilled the Urdu reading world with the Chakiwara he created. Akhtar speaks through the narrator, Iqbal Hussain Changezi in the very beginning where the narrator says, “In these times of sluggish markets and general indifference to literature, I don’t think any sane publisher will even touch it (the narrator’s account) with a bargepole. I don’t care...” Market for literature has not been any better since but creators of great literature have often had the same thoughts and audacity. And thankfully, like them, he didn’t care too, to end up creating a work that Faiz Ahmed Faiz has called the greatest novel in the Urdu language.

Akhtar’s Chakiwara is a world where a mysterious Chinese dentist recalls how he left China during the Maoist revolution with the hint of having done something dubious; a comedian with considerable success in Mumbai is unemployed there and sinister; a novelist of mass fame whines a lot and depends on the narrator to pay his bills, and women are mostly flirting and often described as “chubby” by the narrator in praise. All of this and more grips you tighter and tighter, and as you sink into Akhtar’s witty and unpredictable prose translated into English by author and translator Bilal Tanweer.

Tanweer mentions in his note that Alastair Reid in his preface to Pablo Neruda’s Extravagaria says, “Translation is a mysterious alchemy — some poems survive it to become poems in another language, but others refuse to live in any language but their own.”

Love in Chakiwara has certainly become a wonderful novel in this rebirth, which will take the English reader to the world of post-independence Karachi and introduce them to its characters, possibly in one of the evening gatherings in Changezi’s bakery.

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