|CURRENT ISSUE DECEMBER 20, 2004|
|SOCIETY & THE ARTS: BOOKS|
|The Noble Chores |
An everyday tale of love and lust unfolds amid the old world charm of Hyderabad and its inimitable aristocratic lifestyle
|By Dilip Bobb|
Never judge a book by its jacket blurb. The contents seldom live up to the adjective-laced hype. Aminuddin Khan's A Shift in the Wind is marketed as a book about "the lives and loves of Indian aristocracy", which immediately raises visions of palaces redolent of harems, intrigue, glamour, excess and sexual scandals. Sadly, the book involves just one extramarital affair and many of the events and their consequences could have taken place in any liberal middle- or upper-class Indian home. There is, however, an unmistakable sense that much of this novel is autobiographical in nature. The author was born in Hyderabad, the setting for the book, to descendants of erstwhile nobility, received a privileged education and had an upbringing that allows for a stamp of authenticity in the plot and the writing.
Set in the Hyderabad of the 1950s and '60s, the story unfolds via a series of narrative voices, basically people who the main protagonist Zafar is involved with- his own family, the married woman he has an affair with, the one he eventually marries and his in-laws. The chorus of narrative voices gets discordant at times but never to the extent of losing the plot altogether. The author has simple but elegant style that makes for easy reading and the story of Zafar's life and those around him, strike a familiar chord. Landed Muslim aristocracy has a unique style, and lifestyle, that is appealing for the richness of its Nawabi customs, culture, grace and language, and this is something the author captures with commendable accuracy.
Where the plot is weak is in describing the social and political changes that took place immediately after Independence and affected the lives and lifestyles of Hyderabad's nobility and their privileged position in the city's society. He skims over this aspect, as if in a hurry to get to the meat of the story, Zafar's life and loves.
The plot is commonplace enough, revolving around Zafar's sole sexual indiscretion with a married woman who refuses to leave her aged but distinguished husband and the tendrils of fate that continue to loosely bind them together even though he subsequently finds love and happiness with the daughter of an erstwhile nobleman. The author's sporadic attempts to give the plot sufficient philosophical underpinnings do not always work-at times, it can get too simplistic-yet his effort to separate love and lust and intersperse tragedy with joy, however cliched, conveys an everyday realism that will resonate with most readers.
This is the author's second novel and despite some obvious literary flaws and a jerky, abrupt narrative style, it manages to hold the reader's attention for most of the time. It is not gripping stuff, nor does it carry deep, philosophical parables about society, life, love and human failing. Those elements are all extant in the plot but this is a simple tale, simply told and sometimes that works. The sex is underplayed, as are the traumas and tragedies, which only adds to the authenticity. Khan is a sensible writer as opposed to an overly sensitive one, and by staying within his self-imposed literary limits, A Shift in the Wind brings with it a zephyr of freshness.
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