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Maps of lost lovers
Aslam expressed the complexities of religion, and culture in a very fascinating manner. How our customs contaminate our perspectives and judgment and make us so malicious. Chanda's brothers killed Jugnu and Chanda because they were living in a relationship without being married to each other and that is against Islam law. But look at the irony that brothers found justice to their by brutally killing them and saving the honor of their family!
Map for lost lovers....
Aslam explained in this devastating love story of how customs, culture, and religion seals one's ability of true judgment, these boundaries cripples one's reasons and logic because it is prohibited and people are scared to be cast out.
“Shamas stands in the open door and watches the earth, the magnet that it is, pulling snowflakes out of the sky towards itself.”
Maps for a lost generation
This is how the beautiful story of Shamas, Jugnnu, Chanda, Kaukab and few other people unfolds in the book, “Maps for Lost Lovers” by Nadeem Aslam. It’s not just a book, it’s life itself, it’s love itself. It’s like those tears you cried at night for lost loves, like the warmth of sun on your face the first day of summer after long, cold winters…
I don’t even know how to began telling about this story. It’s flowing with tiny little stories, beautifully detailed, making them appear like legends, like myth. And Love; it is love that stands apart from all the injustice, the hatred, the ignorance in the book. At every page, in every line and every word, you breathe in the fragrance of love. Love never leaves your consciousness, even when its beaten to death in the form of the Muslim girl who committed the crime of loving a Hindu boy.
And when she dies, her lover doesn’t weep, does not kill himself; he leaves a letter in her grave, which is brutally torn apart by the relatives of the girl…
“You, who have gone gathering the flowers of death,
My heart’s not I, I cannot teach my heart:
It cries when I forget.”
And the dawn shows the torn letter floating on the lake, like love shredded to pieces but still alive… the more they curb it, the more powerful it seems.
Every line is hauntingly beautiful, every character’s life makes you want to weep bitterly.
Be it Kaukab, who in her ignorance and her strict adherence to the laws of Islam, loses her family, her children…but your heart will go out even to her because you really cannot blame someone who is doing things she believes are considered right by her God...
Be it Jugnu (the appropriately named moth-collector whose hands always glowed because of radium) and Chanda, the happy, crazed lovers who die because of their love and then as ghosts, haunt the tiny community of Pakistani immigrants in England.
Be it Shamas, the man forever in search of love; he who wrote poems for his fiancé, Kaukab, which she embroidered on her wedding dress; He who could not touch his wife after a certain age as she considered it inappropriate afher becoming a grandmother; he who falls in love with Suraya, and fears that he will die with her name on his lips, roaming the city madly, hopelessly – and he does just that…
Or Suraya, who has come to England, looking for a suitable temporary husband; she who is fighting fates; she whose husband divorced her under the influence of alcohol and now, to reunite with him and her son, she’ll have to endure another marriage, sleep with another man and then go back to her husband… she who is scared to realize even in her thoughts that she loves Shamas, scared because it is against allah to feel of such things for a man other than her husband…
There’s so much more I can write but I would rather have you read it.
Reading this book for me was like eating a bowl of 'gulaab jaamans'* after a two day fast; sinfully pleasurable, drowning in sheera, oozing forth warmth and sticky sweetness, intensely gratifying in its every mouthful; but at the same time exhausting and devastating in its after effects.
Seriously speaking, from what I understand, it took Nadeem Aslam more than eleven years to bring this story to life; and it shows. Every sentence, every word in this novel bears witness to the painstaking effort that he has put into writing this literal work of art. I can't recall of any emerging modern day English author of Pakistani origin who has produced a work of fiction of this quality before.
‘Maps for Lost Lovers’ attempts to take a close look at the lives, beliefs and ideas etched in the minds of the Pakistani immigrant community in the UK. It brings together a cast of powerful, thought provoking, but ultimately doomed characters, who, through their well intentioned but misguided beliefs and actions end up destroying not only their own lives, but also the lives of those nearest and dearest to them. From the ultra orthodox Kaukab to the gentle Shamas to the damned Suraya, Nadeem Aslam has gone to great lengths to develop and capture the nuances and subtleties of his creations, whose lonely souls, trapped in internal conflict, seem to drift in eternal exile through the ruthless Dasht-e-Tanhai, The Desert of Loneliness (physically an immigrant town situated somewhere in the bleak English midlands). While the main theme of the story revolves around an honour killing, the book attempts to explore several other complex issues including racism, religion, fidelity, sex and of course isolation.
The author’s rich, lush and poetic style of writing makes this a must read. Nadeem's inspiration appears to stem from the deep personal turmoil, confusion and ultimately rebellion that he must have experienced growing up as part of a conservative lower middle class Pakistani émigré family in the UK. This personal experience, mixed with a style of writing influenced heavily by Eastern/ Persian poetry and prose, make for a beautiful, but tragic read. Through this book I believe Nadeem voices the perspective of, and expresses the confusion and social persecution suffered by, the lost generation of British born children of Pakistani labour class immigrants of the 1970's. Torn between the conflicting ideals of the world they were growing up in and the time warped moralities imposed by their isolated families, the children of this generation have had the misfortune of experiencing a massive identity crisis, which even today is making its uneasy presence felt across the UK, and in some ways across the world.
I would gladly have given this book five stars had it not been for the relentless attack that Nadeem launches on Pakistani immigrants and Islam. The persistent Pakistani and Islam bashing is not only detracting from the main story, but also at times quite exaggerated and factually incorrect (I have never before heard of people exhaling thrice to ward off the devil, or reciting religious verses before ejaculating). Such extreme mind sets are very much the exception rather than the norm, contrary to what has been portrayed in the book. The writer’s personal bias is far too evident, and adds a hint of immaturity to a work that is otherwise captivating, and at times haunting, in its exquisite detail and beauty. Nadeem also employs an overwhelming amount of metaphor as a part of his expression. Some may find this to be integral and indispensable to the whole ‘feel’ of the novel, while others may find it nauseating (I fortunately am amongst the first group).
In any case, I would recommend 'Maps for Lost Lovers' to all who may be interested in reading it, and especially to the Pakistani community living in both Britain and in Pakistan itself; there is a need to address the social and psychological issues explored in its theme, and the resolution of these issues can only originate from within the community. It is also refreshing to discover that in this commercialized, disposable, ‘to go’ world there are still people dedicated so utterly, completely and passionately to their chosen vocation. I would strongly encourage Pakistanis and all else to support talented and dedicated individuals like Nadeem Aslam by going out and buying a copy of ‘Maps for Lost Lovers’ at their first ‘instante’.
* If you haven’t eaten these, you haven’t been born yet