I recently got a chance to read اے غزالِ شب (Ay Ghazaal-e-Shab – O Gazelle of the Night), a novel by the acclaimed travel writer Mustansar Hussain Tarar, who is also a brilliant novelist. I absolutely loved the book. Even though I hardly get the time to read as much as I want to nowadays, this is a book I wanted to read. A few months ago, I found out that its English translation was about to be released titles “Lenin for Sale”. While translations undoubtedly play a critical role in the dissemination of great literature, I believe that if you possess even the slightest ability to read the book in its original language, then it’s almost always worth it. So, I began reading Ay Ghazaal-e-Shab. I won’t give too much away about the plot but what a beautifully written book.

This is the story of 4 different people who are tied together only by their deep sense of loss, regret and perhaps longing for days gone by. I didn’t really understand who to feel sorry for;  there was Zaheer who was constantly in the search of memories and remnants of his past that perhaps didn’t even exist or Gina, trying to find a future in a land her father had left behind ages ago. There are of course a number of characters so I won’t go into detail here but there were two themes throughout the novel that continued to bother me.

First, the basic idea of the story. Pakistanis who left their land for the communist ideology and migrated to different lands that stood for communism. As soon as the story begins, we come across these characters in today’s world when communism is no more, the soviet union has been abolished and yet they stayed on. Without a home to go back to and with the ideology they had migrated for abolished, they are merely existing almost as if drifting weightlessly in a vacuum without any sense of purpose or direction.

As this theme continued to run throughout the novel, one question that bothered me consistently was this: “When should one let go?” – At what point should one accept that it’s time to re-evaluate things or do we cling onto our beliefs not because of some external factor but simply because we have defined our very identity through that belief system – perspectives that we’ll meet in the novel as well.

Second, what defines “home”? If it’s a place then why is it that once certain people leave that area or community, that place can lose its meaning. and if it’s people then why do we long for places that we chose to abandon especially when there might be no one there to recognize us anymore. Perhaps it’s not black and white. It’s somewhere in the middle. Maybe it has more to do with memory, not just of the people who surrounded us but the memory we have of ourselves.

Bits and pieces of our ‘selves’ we have lost along the way. Yet remnants that light up, almost flicker when we are reminded of who we used to be – memories of being mischievous as a child when we meet our childhood friends. I think it’s just that. We want to be reminded of who we were in all those moments and places, people, colors, sounds, smells – they all come together to show us the various versions of ourselves. I, of course, do not know for sure but anyway, if you get a chance to read this gem, do not hesitate. Sharing the opening poem in English and Urdu below.

 

 

 

Gazelle of the Night 

by

Noon Meem Rashid

 

O gazelle of the night!

How do I quench your thirst?

Shall I show you the mirage in my heart?

The mirage that is a fearful magician

Deceiving the simple wayfarer

On the road from dawn to dusk

Born of a mirage, creator of mirages,

Assuming a thousand shapes

A lodestar at every step

All powerful, all consuming

In the wilderness of the imagination.

It has settled in my heart like a certainty

Possessed me entirely.

O gazelle of the night!

My past and present

My near and far

Have veiled themselves

From this troublemaker.

How do I lift the veil embroidered on my heart?

So I can look into my soul

Where there’s no fear or sorrow

Or flowing mirage.

O gazelle of the night!

 

Translated by Durdana Soomro for the translation of “Ay Ghazaal-e-Shab” titled “Lenin for Sale”

 

اے غزالِ شب

 

 

Ae Ghazaal-e-Shab