Attia Hosain weaves a beautiful, intricate story about an influential Muslim family with characters having an uneven blend of black, white and grey shades in their temperament, their personalities making them very real and easy to identify with. While reading this book I found myself on a roller coaster ride experiencing a myriad of emotions ranging from a claustrophobic feeling of restriction, indecisiveness, rebellion, the feeling of excitement and goose bumps-on-your-skin on meeting "the right one" , of anger, of resentment, of helplessness. But the predominant feeling which lasted even after I was done with the book was a deep deep sense of longing for the years gone by, for the hometown left behind, for the friends who were once my lifeline but are no more there with me because of varied reasons: change of place, change of interests, change in mindset, change in priorities, a melancholy loss for those dear ones who left half way in this journey called life for heavenly abode. This book, especially the last few pages in the story made me ache for my roots, for my childhood, for the moments left behind, for the time so so lost from my hands forever that I had almost started crying.. And not the ladylike soft sobs but those huge loud cries with hiccups and running nose, all combined together..
I actually told Niraj after finishing this book, " How I wish I could go back in time, if, only for a day!!" , and the look he gave me were a thousand answers in itself!!
Laila, the main protagonist is the orphaned daughter of a distinguished Muslim family of Talukdars. Keeping her father's last wishes in mind, Laila is given western education but she observes purdah like her aunts and cousins at home. She is being brought up in an ultra conservative setup but all this changes when BabaJan, her grandfather passes away and she goes to live with her uncle Hamid who though claims to be liberal, is infact very dominating and controlling. Laila gets exposed to the outer world through her new friends when she starts going to university. Here she comes across young men and women who are anti- government (British government) and are actively involved in the Independence movement which is slowly gaining momentum. But Laila, herself is not able to commit herself either as pro British or anti- British as she finds herself continually fighting ( within herself) for her own independence against societal rules and dogmas. She is finally able to break the shackles of tradition and honour and duty when she goes against her family to marry Ameer, who though a Muslim is not a part of their social strata. Laila imagines a life of " happily ever after" with Ameer but life, as we know loves to shock us and put us in unusual situations when we least expect any change! And so it happens with Laila. Her life as she had always known takes a complete turn in the height of India's fight for freedom, partition of India into Pakistan and India and the need to ascertain one's rightful place whether as a Muslim in India or uprooting oneself and going to Pakistan to build a new life and a new nation.
This is a story which is almost like a memoir based on Hosain's personal experiences, growing up in an influential albeit a conservative muslim household prior to independence.
The story tends to be a bit depressing at times and it is also a tad bit slow in some portions but overall its worth a read. Reading this book takes you back to a time which our grandparents talk fondly about, it talks about customs and traditions which are rarely seen today and talks of love which was , is and always will be the feeling which makes us strong emotionally and mentally and gives us wings to fly to our rightful abode!!!