Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Reading between the lines

Halfway through Noon, the sophomore novel by Aatish Taseer, I was almost tempted to call it a post-modern joke. Many questions were unanswered: is this the fiction equivalent of a mockumentary where the writer’s memoir masquerades as fiction? Is this novel a parlour game for the Indian and Pakistani gentry, who are supposed to read between the lines and guess who’s who in reality? Will Aatish Taseer continue to mine his own past to write fiction?

A golden rule about enjoying a work of fiction as laid down by D H Lawrence is to “trust the novel, not the novelist”. Fair enough. It’s common knowledge that at some level every writer generously pilfers from his or her personal experiences. But Noon is cut with a different cloth: Taseer talks about his parents through Rehan Tabassum, a love child of Udaya Singh and Sahil Tabassum. Taseer had a not-so-idyllic childhood because his father Salman Taseer, a Pakistani politician who was assassinated earlier this year, never displayed any fatherly affection towards him. Rehan, too, has to deal with his father’s absence after Sahil deserts Udaya in London in the mid-80s.

I could have ignored these obvious similarities with Taseer’s personal life if Noon had been fiendishly compelling, which it mostly isn’t. Instead of exploring themes in some depth, the novel provides fleeting glimpses into various stages of young Rehan’s life. Right from his childhood in Delhi where an adoring grandmother takes care of him to a stint at his stepfather’s farmhouse to a visit to Sahil’s place in Pakistan, Taseer’s sharp gaze never overstays its welcome. Noon could be called a daring piece of fiction in as much as the writer chooses to leave many loose ends.

Full report here Business Standard

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