Even in the 21st century when slavery has been abolished, it exists in different forms; whether as East European escort girls or child labour in South Asia. Both India and Pakistan are dealing with the problem of bonded labour and it is not unusual to still hear of labourers being set free.
Harold M Bergsma’s Bonded chronicles the life of Masih, a poor Pakistani farmer. In order to escape the caste system, Masih has converted to Christianity but he cannot escape the vicious circle of poverty. His miseries continue as he is trapped in a debt bond by a cunning Muslim landowner, Mohammad Hakim. When Hakim dies, his son renews the bond and tricks Masih in to executing a new contract that enslaves his son to the owner of a carpet factory.
The story begins in an interesting way by introducing Haider, the son of Hakim. Haider has inherited his father’s fortune but he is not intelligent enough to understand the documents his father has left for him. His cousin, Chamak who can read and write, helps him. Chamak has been a sex slave as she was captured by her uncle’s enemies and escaped by murdering one of her tormentors. Yet Chamak is an optimist and dreams of starting her life anew. She is the most intriguing character in the novel but the author doesn’t use her much. The story focuses on Masih and his family.
But just as you begin to invest in the story and start sympathising with Masih, the story loses track and the book ends rather suddenly leaving the reader with a feeling of being cheated. It is almost as if the publisher has forgotten to add the last few chapters.
Bergsma had a thought provoking theme and attention-grabbing characters but squandered a good opportunity to tell a nice and engaging story. An attentive editor would never have allowed this to happen.