Title of the Book: The Blind Lady’s Descendants
Author: Anees Salim
Publishers: Tranquebar Press
I start this review with a confession. I know the author of this novel in person. And that is why for last one year I have been resisting the temptation of reviewing any of his books for the obvious reasons. But, I can’t anymore. In 2013, when I put my money on Vanity Bagh for The Hindu Fiction Prize, for a fleeting second I doubted my literary judgment. Maybe, because of my friendship with the author, I loved his novel. But, the jury of the Hindu Fiction Prize vindicated my choice, and I felt happy and relieved. Now, I can confidently say Anees Salim is one of the fresh literary voices that continue to surprise us. Don’t believe me! Please read his latest literary offering ‘The Blind Lady’s Descendant.’
Strewn with the dark humour and written in a lyrical style, the novel is crafted in form of a very long suicide note of its protagonist, Amar Hamsa. If you read it closely, you discover that it is an intimate portrayal of human life. You also find that it is also a poetry and philosophical treatise on the complexity of our existence. The book not only tells us a unique story with universal appeal but also alters our perception towards everyday things in our surroundings. It raises a lot of necessary questions about the futility of rituals and the hollowness of religious dogmas. The book also investigates the darker sides of human psyche. Delving in to the idea of family and kinship, it tells us how, at times, the relationship and familial bonding become shackles of our life.
Born into a dysfunctional family, Amar Hamsa develops a depressive attitude towards life from very tender age, thanks to their incessantly (but silently) warring parents. He begins to look at his life with doubts, not knowing exactly what he wants from his existence in this transient world. He also doesn’t know what exactly the cause of his miseries is or what would make him happy. The sadness he has been imbibing for many years has now become a part of his persona which he doesn't want to shrug off or simply he can’t get rid of it. But, all these characteristics don’t make Amar a boring or uninteresting character because his sense of humour is still intact. It is another thing that his sense of humour has a darker shade and a philosophical angle. And his cynical remarks about religion and its rituals make an interesting read. Amar’s abilities to observe things keenly make him discover many dark family secrets and those add into his sufferings and push him towards the threshold of destruction. Then, a death happens in his family and that send him to a road of no return.
In addition to Amar Hamsa, all other characters, including minor ones, are also dealt deftly. From Amar’s parents, Asma and Hamsa, to his three siblings, Sophiya, Akmal and Jasira, they all come alive on the pages of this novel. Even the inanimate objects play important roles in taking the narratives forward. The bungalow where Amar and his family live, for instance, emanates desolation and pessimism from its crumbling façade hinting what lies ahead for the readers. The writer uses similes and metaphors with the exactness of a good cook using salt while preparing his favourite broth. The cook knows that a pinch more or a pinch less will spoil his dish.
The Blind Lady’s Descendants is a perfect follow up novel after the award winning Vanity Bagh. In fact, it is even better than the previous one.
[Originally published in The Dhauli Review]