The book I never want to read
Nadeem Aslam has another book out. Oh bleep. I’m always reluctant to start a book by Nadeem Aslam. That’s because he writes incredibly sad books. They’re heart-wrenching. They’re so poignant that you can’t even cry. You just crumple up inside.
You just collapse into yourself because they remind you that you’re South Asian and being South Asian, you’re part of a certain way of life, and even though you live in what is arguably one of the least repressive South Asian countries, life is actually South Asian. And that’s not going to change, at least in your generation.
As a citizen of what is arguably the least repressed city in this country, I’d rather not remember that I’m a South Asian woman, subject at any time to the South Asian way of life.
I know it’s out there, but I’ve managed to create a bubble for myself that keeps it out.
But I also know the bubble is fragile. That every day something will happen or be said to remind me that as a South Asian woman, I really ought not to have a life. That knowledge is always at the back of my mind, a worry that will never go away.
It can’t go away: I was born in a country that’s in a region where no one sees anyone as a person. People are not people. A woman is not a person, she is defined by her gender and therefore must live a certain way. A man is not a person, he is defined by his gender and therefore must live a certain way.
A follower of any religion is not a person, she/he is defined by that religion and must live a certain way. A member of any caste is not a person, s/he is defined by that caste and must live a certain way.
There are no persons in South Asia. There are only defined categories of living things, out of which some individual living things try to emerge, but this seldom happens without violence and heartbreak.
That’s why I don’t like reading books by Nadeem Aslam. I’m a South Asian woman in South Asia, who’s intelligent and independent, but I’m living in a bubble and I’d rather not be reminded of it.
And he’s the only writer I’ve read in English who genuinely gets the South Asian culture across.
He’s a UK Pakistani (not born there, though) whose books are set in the UK, Pakistan and Afghanistan, but they could just as well be set in Bombay. India may be the least repressive country in the region, but that does not mean it’s not repressive.
As the Delhi gangrape case showed us when the media genuinely went after it and women started talking, there’s very little difference between India and Afghanistan.
So I never want to read a book by Nadeem Aslam. But I also can’t stop myself because he writes so well which is why I’ve read every book he’s ever written. Each one made me want to shoot myself because it hurt so much, but I couldn’t put it down.
It’s not nice to read books that make you want to shoot yourself, which is why, when I learn that Nadeem Aslam has a new book out, the only thing I can think is, oh bleep.
And then I proceed to buy it.