Ayesha is a journalist with the Daily News, writing up disaster timelines, applying for other jobs when she gets a chance and desperately hoping to get out of Pakistan. Her best friend Saad is a banker in Dubai, making big money, sleeping with hot women and partying like there’s no tomorrow. Her closest friend in Karachi is Zara with her Natalie Imbruglia haircut and her ability to keep up with gossip even while breaking news. There is Ali, the smarmy reporter who makes her want to hurl. And Kamran, the standard issue editor/owner of the paper and her boss, who makes Hitler look like a pussy.
There are moments in the story when you want to shake Ayesha up for constantly being in a flap, always being a victim. She can’t stand up to the boss, gets walked all over by friends, never has enough money and at times loses your sympathy. And then the Gods smile down on her and James, the American correspondent appears on the scene and things begin to look up. He’s gorgeous, fun, and totally into her. It’s almost too good to be true.
If you’ve worked in a news office (and I have) you slip into the story like a comfy old teeshirt. The deadlines, the bylines, the endless cups of tea and cigarettes as you rush from bomb blast to fashion show without a moment to wash the dust off your face, the credit stealing colleagues, the unhealthy meals at the Press Club, the list is endless.
Imtiaz’s choice of subject gives you a better introduction to Pakistan than most others could, simply because it puts you in the vantage position of being up close and personal with the political and socio-economic situation. It shows you the Birkin toting ladies who lunch, along with the regular bomb blasts on the other end of the spectrum. This is no surprise to the Indian reader. No different from poverty stricken pavement dwellers who get run over by drunken drivers in foreign SUVs. It’s a reminder that life on the other side of the border isn’t different to this side at all. Chili chips, Murree beer, bun kebab, are the subtle reminders that you’re not in a newsroom in Delhi.
The book does have its Bridget Jones moments and Imtiaz’s writing is pacey and witty, but it has too much of a political undertone to be dismissed as chicklit. “The remnants of Pakistan’s history—including a series of posters documenting Nawaz Sharif’s hairline—receding, transplant, and back to receding—are found on the press club walls. [...] it’s a reminder of where journalism has gone terribly wrong in recent times, with press unions cozying up to politicians for free plots rather than actually doing any advocacy work.”
She weaves into the narrative, the anti-Shia sentiment, mugging as a common occurrence, prohibition and bootlegging, terror attacks. These are no longer just bottom of the page news items from across the border but real events, affecting real people and the spirit of the Pakistani people as they reinvent and refashion their lives to work around them. All done without the least bit of wallowing in self-pity, with even a hefty dose of humour, including a fashion show with models dressed as suicide bombers!
The denouement comes a little too late and too fast to be satisfying, making it seem like an afterthought. Politics and humour seem more her forte than romance. All in all a quick, fun read that is not as light as you might imagine, rather like a protein shake. Over and done with really fast, but keeps you satisfied, full and with plenty to mull over and digest for a long while after.