Comfortably Numb

Sheila Kumar's Storehouse

Published on: 07/31/15 3:15 PM

Book review: The Scatter Here Is Too Great by Bilal Tanweer

The Scatter Here is Too Great by Bilal Tanweer (Random House India).

The book has a jacket that instantly compels you to pick it up, to take a closer look at the sepia-tinged picture of some kind of debris on a tarred road. But you have read the back cover and you know that the book is a paean to Karachi, a dirge to its violent history, and you also know what the debris in the picture is.

Then, the title. I ask you: can a reader, any reader, walk past a book titled `The Scatter Here Is Too Great`? I couldn`t, and not for a moment do I regret that.

But this DSC Prize longlisted book, the writer`s first , is a strange one. In Malayalam, there is a word, chova. Loosely translated, it means taste, feel. Throughout `Scatter…,` I got just a chova of what the book stood for. Nothing more, alas.

Tanweer uses one big bomb blast , one that goes of in the Cantonment area of Karachi to weave a set of interlinked short stories. There is much sadness and suffering in some of the stories, there is a resignation that is of the simmering kind, one that just may come to the surface and explode or implode at any time, there is the feisty belligerence of survivors, too.

Some stories like `To Live`, where a young boy sneaks out to meet his girlfriend in his mother`s old jalopy and then gets caught in the blast, tells more in all that it does not tell.

Strangely enough, all the violence of the bomb blasts is peripheral, even when it smears the windscreen of one character`s car with something bloody, even when it hurts two elderly women, kin to another character.

My favorite story was the one titled Turning to Stones, a young girl`s romantic trysts as seen and half-understood by her small brother.

Unfortunately, the scatter of strangely constructed sentences here is too great. A man is described wearing a shirt he has been re-ironing since the creation of Pakistan; `ha ha ha` someone crackles; a man`s left foot felt grinded from bearing all his weight; a boy tells us he turned into a swashbuckler (really? A pirate? `Dashing` would have served better here); there is a boy who touches a girl up in all the places; an afternoon is described as being a sore one; `Rectify your end!` shouts a newbie fanatic, totally without irony; someone else is just eyesight looking out from his head; a boy catches snatches of unwanted dialogue; a bully is full of untamed flare, and so on and on. After a bit, these awkward sentences start to get to you.

But then, there are compelling character sketches, too. A mother talks of her son saying he walked in the door without his soul in him. Elsewhere, a man stops to take a closer look at a shattered car windscreen. `I stood looking at the sharp clean webs around the bullet holes. A stunning violent, shockingly beautiful object — a crass memento of this city to mark this moment. Half the trick to surviving here was to learn to extricate yourself from all the invasive influences around you while keeping a calm appearance. The other half was to emanate some of those influences so that strangers would stay away. `

Here and there, the diamond at the core of the book shines through, momentarily and brightly.

And in the end, you really have to ask: How much does style and polish matter when the story is inherently one that can hold its own end up? The answer to that perhaps changes with every reader.

Bilal TanweerpakistanThe Scatter Here Is Too Great

Sheila Kumar • July 31, 2015

Previous Post

Next Post

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published / Required fields are marked *