NEW DELHI: Taha Kehar was born nearly 44 years after Partition but he revisited that era tracing Pakistan's personal trajectory through war and uncertainty to come out with his debut novel.
"Of Rift and Rivalry" is Hanif Khan's journey through life subsuming the history of Pakistan, the country whose creation he as a young man had passionately believed in.
His tempestuous marriage to Anita Waterhouse, daughter of a wealthy Englishman in Karachi, ahead of Partition and the creation of Pakistan, their attempts to deceive and hurt each other, and the consequences of all this for the next two generations - this is what the book, published by Palimpsest, talks about.
"Be it a story of love or an allegorical representation of the past, 'Of Rift and Rivalry' is essentially about a family's struggle to survive the onslaught of history. The outcome isn't entirely favourable, but it resonates through time and leaves an imprint on relationships," Kehar told PTI.
Asked if it was difficult for him to re-construct the pre-Partition days going by the fact that he was born much later, he says, "I was born nearly 44 years after Partition. In those four decades, two generations had come and gone since Pakistan's creation. My generation was far more detached from the prejudice and insecurities surrounding Indo-Pak relations.
"The cricket pitch was the only place where the rivalry between both countries emerged. Otherwise, the Line of Control didn’t prevent Bollywood, Star Plus and other phenomena from seeping into our side of the border."
Kehar says Partition, for him, wasn't just the division of a country, but an "experience that shaped the course of people's lives".
"Of Rift and Rivalry began" its journey in 2009 at a creative writing workshop in Karachi.
"Participants were asked to describe a conversation between two siblings at a restaurant. During that session, I found the perfect take-off point for the narrative and spent the next three years spinning a yarn around this interaction between the two brothers," the author says.
At first, Kehar wanted to highlight the negative impact of sibling rivalry, marital discord and the cracks that emerge in a family due a long-standing rift.
"However, as time went by and the book was etched into my heart and mind, I recognised a few trends in my writing.
Firstly, I was, consciously and subconsciously, writing about Karachi - its sights, sounds and flavours - which had been my home for many years.
"Secondly, I was frequently drawing upon historical events and repeatedly trying to use politics as the fulcrum for the dilemmas and challenges the characters faced. However, I didn't go out of my way to change these trends in my writing.
As a result, the book became the story of a family that was inextricably linked with the impact of Partition," he says.
Some of the events in the novel are propelled by real-life incidents.
"The romance between Anita and Hanif was ideally based on the relationship between my own grandparents, who hailed a similar background but couldn't sustain the pressures of matrimony. However, Anita and Hanif are different.
"Unlike my grandparents, they inhabit two different worlds which put their marriage in jeopardy. Through their marital problems, I wanted to show how Partition had a deep-seated personal impact and altered relationships," he says.
According to Kehar, Hanif's character was a bit difficult to conceive as he has a "powerful presence" through the long years in which the story is set.
"I had to imagine him as a young man courting a 'gori', a father who loves his daughter and a grandfather who prefers to remain aloof. Since his character changed many hats throughout the story, I had to ensure that he didn't become just another lovelorn hero who lacks depth. Hanif had to reflect the politics and contradictions of his time and I didn't want him to turn into a caricature," he says.
In dealing with the chapters the author mentions a particular day and month of a particular year. Asked if there was a reason behind this, he says, "History is incomplete without dates. By specifying a particular day, month and year, I wanted to depict how the passing of can alter the course of people's live in strange and unpredictable ways." PTI