It was the title of the book and the author’s name that made me want to read it. Musharraf Ali Farooqi is a name well known for his translations of Urdu classics, The Adventures of Amir Hamza (2007,Modern Library) and the first book of a projected 24-volume magical fantasy epic, Hoshruba (2009, Urdu Project/Random House India). He is also the author of children books. The title ‘Between Clay and Dust‘ has a natural pull to it perhaps because it reminds one of what we are made of and what we will turn to at the end of life. The cover of the book draws equal attention.
Initially the story didn’t get my full attention until I got the part where Tamami prepares for his first wrestling challenge with a wresting giant of his time. This was the high point in the story for me. This is where Tamami’s personality comes forward, we see him as an individual and not as Ustad Ramzi sees him. The details of his preparation for the fight, the diet and tough exercise regime, people looking forward to it all set a stage for what has to come. The author was able to build a subtle amount of suspense as to what will follow, who will eventually win the most crucial fight. Will Tamami be able to prove his worth in his brother’s eyes, who is a living legend, carrying his clan’s pride. It is then that the story seems to move a little faster. This is also the point where things change, where actions lead to reactions.
We get to meet Gohar Jan, a tawaif (prostitute) out of her prime years, drifting away with the passing time but only through Ustad Ramzi. There are moments when we see Gohar Jan’s character with some insight to life when she tries to console the wrestler for the difficult times. But it feels that we don’t see her as much as the reader would want to. The tragedy of her life unfolds towards the end of the novel, the harsh stand of the society as they try to oust the likes of Gohar Jan.
But I will say this much, the book could be easily put down, and the cover reminded that it has to be finished to know what comes of the two people who value their art more than anything and have dedicated their lives for the art that seems to be fading away in the post partition land. At certain points in the story I felt that perhaps the character of Tamami was overshadowed by that of Ustad Ramzi hence making it a little difficult for the reader to understand what Tamami wants.
Last but not the least the book was about relationships that both Gohar Jan and Ustad Ramzi failed to develop with the people in their lives. It showed us that human relations are perhaps the most difficult to understand. It a tale narrating one man’s lack of trust in his own blood, and another’s lack of commitment to build that trust.
Between Clay and Dust is overall a decent book that explores human relations and focuses on characteristics that we all can relate to. How far the writer has succeeded in effectively telling the narrative will be for the readers to form an opinion about.
originally published here