Friday, March 2, 2012

Noon: Aatish Taseer: A review

Any in depth analysis of Aatish Taseer's books would be quite incomplete, in fact, impossible without having an insight into his life and what shaped him and his words. He was born of Tavleen Singh, one of India's leading lournalists of the 80-s and 90-s, and Salman Taseer, a Pakistani businessman and politician. His parents didnt get married. Salman Taseer had a house in London where Tavleen Singh stayed with her son until she decided to return to India and start afresh.
Hence here is what Aatish grew up with, without a father figure, with his mothers overbearing loud garrulous family wherein he was accepted but where he always felt alienated, the odd one out. Also by faith he was Muslim, and he was growing up in a Sikh environment, with Hindu influence all around him. He went to London to study but returned to India to write and I suppose "find himself".

All his three books are heavily autobiographical. Hence giving that strange idea when you read gossip columns without names- you know some of it fictional but other things are true and cant really tell how much. Therefore that voyeuristic pleasure gives an added element to reading him.
All his books run into the next one quite seamlessly. You can read one or you can read them all. The voice is mature and yet the under lying angst is palpable through his telling.

"Noon" is about Rehan Tabassum, the 'other' Taseer, with the same background. It shows him travelling to Pakistan to meet his estranged father because he is 'curious' about him. Here he comes in contact with his fathers family, cousins, uncles, and falls bang in the middle of a power struggle where his half brother is fighting his uncle for the attention of his father.
It also shows him in his writing setting in Delhi, is a very domestic situation which bares the underbelly of petty Delhi crime and the role of the police. In the farmhouse where he is staying that season from his break in London, two laptops and a safe with jewels get stolen, and the servants, till then all trusted long time folks with families, come into the firing line of the Delhi police.
There is no plot as such, the narrative is broken and the book is written like separate stories. What it does though, is that it brings out the society of both countries in all its stark reality. For Rehan is only a high class son of influential people in both countries... yet he talks about people who come in contact with this class, and are not part of it, the servants, the sycophants, the homosexual partner who can be used and thrown... totally a 'sex, lies and videotape' situation, literally.
But none of the characters really gain any flesh throughout the story, not his father, nor his step father, nor his mother, or grandmother, hot the servants, or the gay characters. In fact one can never really know how he feels about any of these characters- does he sympathise with them? Especially his step father- I never really understood how Rehan wants his step father to be known- for he treats the man with varying degrees of respect through his narrative. In fact the character of Rehan himself is not clear. What is his role in the storied events. Surely even in his Pakistan experiences, he plays a very important role which leads to the climax of the story. But it seems very suspiciously like he is trying to remove himself from the events, like a hovering angel figure, not really part of the mess on the land. In fact sometimes it seems the voice of Rehan is too mature, too demure, too all-knowing to be comfortable.
One can hope that he will slowly lose his leaning toward heavy autobiography and tell different kinds of stories (he definitely has the range of experience for it), but for now, one can look forward to the next installment of insight into society, politics, sociology, power play and fanaticism in his two lands.