– ‘The Magic Of Wor(l)ds’ blog is a hobby, reviews and other bookish stuff on this site are done for free. –
Today I’m on the ‘The Inside City’ blogtour, organised by Random Things Tours.
To promote Anita Mir her book I have an excerpt, but b
About the Author :
Anita was born in Lahore, Pakistan and came to England when she was four. She grew up in County Durham and Wales, and it was only when she moved to Lahore with her family in her late teens that it hit her that mornings weren’t supposed to be pitch black. Pakistan was a shock. And she stayed in shock. Is perhaps still in shock. But it was also love at first sight. Lahore Lahore hai/ Lahore is Lahore. Yep. Another thing that doesn’t quite translate.
Straight out of university, she applied for a job at a newspaper and for some strange reason, got it. Most of her work there was on human rights issues, particularly those pertaining to religious minorities and women. Her lighter pieces she wrote under a pseudonym, which, seven years later, her boss told her she’d spelt wrong.
From journalism, she ambled into development work. The best of her development work was when she was privileged to head two emergency programmes.
Anita kept on coming back to England then to Pakistan then…and one day (still plan-less), just stuck it out in London.
She writes fiction and plays, has had two shorts on (The Space and Soho), been longlisted for several prizes (The Bruntwood, the Soho/Verity Bargate, the Old Vic 12), and had a short story published this year in ‘New Welsh Review’. She likes hearing her director friends tell her, ‘Any minute, you’re going to break through’. In her more reflective moments, of which there are now few, she wonders what she’s supposed to break through to. And if, when she does, she’ll like it.
Anita lives in the un-trendy part of East London and when not teaching, can be found playing basketball with her boy, or else, pouring over Lego instructions with the zeal of someone who’s going to grow up to be a YouTube star.
• Paperback: 368 pages
• Publisher: Unbound Digital (21 Mar. 2019)
• Language: English
• ISBN-10: 1789650089
• ISBN-13: 978-178965008
There are ancient walled cities all across the world. This story begins in Lahore s walled, or inside city, as it is called in Urdu, in what was then India.
It s fear, Khurshid thought, just fear. Unwatched, her face was grim.
Barefoot, she walked to the wall of her rooftop courtyard and looked out at the city she had, in just three months, begun to love: a bulking city ever teetering upwards, with its twelve giant gates which closed each night, keeping them safe, from predators and marauders, and Dar said, bad dreams, but he d smiled, so she d known he was joking, only not what he meant.
A pir (seer) predicts great things for a soon to be born born boy, Awais. The year is 1919 – the year of the Jallianwala Bagh (Amritsar) Massacre where anywhere from 379-1,000 unsuspecting peaceful protestors were killed by armed British troops. Politics is everywhere and on every tongue. Will the British go? Will they be booted out? And what will happen to India, then?
But Khurshid, Awais s mother, cares nothing for all that. Her dreams are not of nationhood; they centre on her boy who will give, she s sure, her life the meaning and beauty she s craved for so very long. As they wait for the future to unfold, no-one notices how different Khurshid s youngest daughter, Maryam, is. But then her secret is outed. Maryam has a superb gift for Maths.
Though she doesn t want to think it, Khurshid begins to wonder if the pir (seer) had been right about the house but wrong about whom the gift of greatness was meant for. She checks herself but the idea grows and grows. She tries to teach Awais her burning overpowering hate. But Maryam is one of Awais s two great loves. He can t believe what his mother says. He can t hate Maryam. Or, he wonders, can he?
Awais other great love is the inside city, which through a chance encounter, he has started to explore and to map. When Partition, brutal and horrendous, takes place in 1947, it is Awais knowledge of the inside city that will save lives. But will it be enough to save his family as well?
MARCH 1928, THE INSIDE CITY, LAHORE, INDIA
Despite the fact that their three-storeyed house had so many rooms, as a family the Dars lived, like almost everyone else they knew, in the rooftop courtyard, summer and winter, day and night. Adjoining the courtyard was the narrow kitchen with its mesh door, in its top left-hand corner a gaping hole through which flies and mosquitoes smothered in and out all summer long, and the corridor that led to the family bedrooms and to the stairs down to the other rooms: the round room – the best room; the guest room; and rooms which had become a dumping ground and which no one ever really entered now. The stairs also led to the front door. Early on this Sunday morning the whole family except Dar Sahib was at home.
At his mother’s bidding, Awais moved the charpoy into the sun. She sat down again. Pulling her feet up, she sighed, content. His sisters Batool and Tanveer flitted in and out of the courtyard, their heads together, as close as twins. Batool picked up little Maryam, who’d been lying beside him. Just him and his mother now.
Tanveer called to their mother. Slowly,she got up. Awais bent his head, waited. When he was sure she was gone he skidded down the worn brick stairs, stood on his toes to open the latch of the front door. There he was, away from her eyes, outside on the streets. He looked back up at the house. His father had told him the story, of how when he’d got married he’d had the brick front painted white, which many people had quietly said was showy and not so quietly said was a waste of money and time. What paint there was left was now yellow, like paper which tea had spoilt.
Raj, his neighbour, poking his head through an open shutter, called down. Awais grinned. They talked using their hands.
The Dars’ was one of three houses ringed together. Many years ago, Awais’s father had had a quarrel with Raj’s father, and though the families’ courtyards were only separated by a two-inch wall and each family saw and heard exactly what the other family did, they weren’t on speaking terms. The women and children played along, the men not suspecting a thing.
‘Raj!’ called his mother and he ducked back inside.
Brighter now. As the corner house, the Dars’ house had, as his father proudly and repeatedly said, the best of the light.
The street vendors began to emerge, shouting their trade. A short man, his eyes sour, carrying sticks of green and yellow candyfloss shaped into hookahs, birds; a boy pushing forward his cart, stopping to spin his wheel – ‘Sharpen your knives!’; a man with near-blue lips selling coloured ice drinks.
Awais put a hand in his pocket, fingering his two coins.
Click, click. He looked up, smiling, expecting Raj to have reappeared. Awais’s gaze ran across all the shutters of Raj’s house then turned to his own.The kitchen shutter was open. His mother? He stood there adamant, growing surly. The kitchen shutter rattled to the slow-rising breeze. He peered harder but couldn’t see her. He began to run. Run through the narrow streets, swerving past the vegetable and fruit carts, the languorous movement of people for whom time was indefinite.
He began to cough – the sound of metal scraping on stone. He couldn’t stop. No, he thought, not again. He bent double and waited till it was over, his body harrowed and hurting. He straightened. Awais was tall; he looked more eleven than eight.
Ahead of him the road was blocked. Two Englishmen, dressed in civilian clothes, so not officials, were surrounded by an array of strange devices – a rod holding up what looked like a giant protractor, a measuring tape, and, most interestingly for Awais, a tripod on which was fixed some kind of telescope. The men were taking it in turns to look through the telescope contraption and observe something. Awais so wished he could see through their machine. Maybe if he asked? He felt his face flush. He knew he never would. They were English and he’d never spoken to an Englishman in his life.
The younger of the two men, as tall, thought Awais, as two men put together, picked up the measuring tape and, bending down, began measuring the road. After a little while, he returned to the man who was clearly in charge and said something. Awais caught only a stray word or two. The older man, with his thick ginger moustache and short beard that had gone awry, opened his notebook and began to write. The other man respectfully stepped back, waited. Looking up, he spied Awais; through pointy teeth, the sound of a whistle. The older man looked up, frowned.
‘That boy’s watching us,’ said the younger. The older man turned to Awais, stared.
‘What if…?’ continued the younger.
The older man cut him off. ‘To them it’s all gobbledegook. Indians don’t have a scientific bone in their bodies. Now be quiet while I finish this.’
And with that, his head bent again to his notebook.
The younger man turned his back petulantly on Awais.
Leaning against a closed shop-shutter, not too far away, someone else was watching the English officials – Awais was now convinced that’s what they were. In his hand the man clasped a long stick of sugarcane, which he bit into when he remembered, hardly chewing, spitting the debris out like a small mat of hay. When Awais approached, the man looked at him with blood–veined sleepy eyes.
‘Bhai Sahib,’ said Awais. The man tugged at his lunghi, tucking a loosened end of the cloth back at his waist. He then pulled himself up to honour the address. ‘Do you know what they’re doing?’
‘Mapping,’ said the man. He held out his hand, offering Awais a bite of his sugarcane. Awais shook his head. He turned again to look at the two Englishmen. The younger was crouching, searching in his bag fors omething. His face full of confusion, Awais turned to the sugarcane man.
‘Why?’ he asked.
The man bit his sugarcane, chewed, then spat to his other side.
‘Why?’ asked Awais again, thinking he hadn’t been heard.
The man laughed, a braying sound. ‘They’re English,’ he said.
The two Englishmen picked up their equipment and moved on. What are they mapping? Awais thought. And why?
The Magic Of Wor(l)ds