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Between Clay And Dust Hardcover – May 17, 2012
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“Musharraf Ali Farooqi is the angel of history. The storm called progress is blowing him into the future. It is piling wreckage at his feet, but there is so much to be done between clay and dust: As this marvelous novel shows, language is to be practiced with the rigor of style; gesture supported by graciousness; ordinary life to be rescued by ritual; and nostalgia distilled into knowledge.”
—Amitava Kumar, author of Lunch with a Bigot and A Matter of Rats
“A crisp and elegiac novel….Farooqi’s atmospheric prose is spare and lucid.”
—Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
“The book works like an ache in the heart, evoking cultures and values that, while not necessarily perfect, represented something larger than the self; their replacements, by contrast, are small and mean…. The pages come alive with the grunts of the trainee pehelwans and capture the last echoes of Gohar Jan’s sitar. A story that purports to be about decay resounds with the stuff of life. This is a book to be savoured like a fine single malt.”
“Set in a decaying inner city after the partition of India, Between Clay and Dust is an elegiac but unromanticised evocation of a dying culture. The tragedy of a champion wrestler, challenged by his younger brother and befriended by an ageing courtesan, has a mythic resonance, as the characters’ ethical codes collide with the values of a new world. Farooqi’s tale is more moving for the spareness and restraint with which it is told.”
—2012 Man Asian Literary Prize finalist citation
“Much of the action of Between Clay And Dust alternates between sporting arenas and women’s rooms, in spaces which we tend to think of as repositories of our memories, rather than our histories. Perhaps this accounts for the power of this small, spare book, a novel which fulfils the most novelistic of purposes—to refract history through the prism of memory, and to tell us its secrets and doubts. Farooqi traces the unravelling of their world with near-uncanny attentiveness…. Farooqi’s writing is too wise and too elegant to make this a romance instead of a tragedy. As in Syed’s poem, we are left with the notion that every history is underwritten by the minute, private failures of human beings.”
—Wall Street Journal
“A thoughtful and emotionally articulate story about people whose lives are changing beyond their control…. Farooqi’s treatment of all his characters is sensitive and subtle.”
—International New York Times
“Musharraf Ali Farooqi has written a wonderful, quiet novel about how traditions and lives can decline into unmeaning…. This is a quietly affecting book, with a profound understanding of tragedy: that what happens to us is as much a function of how we respond to events as the events themselves.”
—The Sunday Guardian
“Farooqi’s spare, tightly honed prose and the quiet unfurling of the plot resembles the seamless movements of a dance, in which sudden implosions of violence and unexpected denouements are reflected by a change in the dancer’s steps but are contained within the fluidity of the whole. This sense of physicality and grace is enhanced by a narrative where much is suggested through gesture and nuance. At the same time, Farooqi’s eye for detail vividly brings to life the two main protagonists and their respective establishments….Between Clay and Dust is a fine novel; it never loses tension nor wastes a word and, above all, it is replete with a spectacular imagery that recreates Ustad Ramzi and Gohar Jan’s dying world.”
“What’s remarkable about this novel navigating an older world encroached upon by a newer one, is that it doesn’t mourn the change as much as try to understand how to stay relevant and urge an awareness of our part in our personal tragedies and an acceptance of our fatal flaws.
Between Clay and Dust glides on understated, soulful prose, an English that feels almost like Urdu in its sensibility, for it captures the cadence of a culture in decline in post-Partition India and Pakistan, specifically, the Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb of the Subcontinent: a shared, plural composite culture and the refinement of pleasure and the arts, of which courtesans and wrestlers are perhaps its most enduring, romantic and graceful ciphers. Farooqi’s restrained prose that creates a certain lushness and heightened mood, is surely drawn from the eclipsed traditions of the kotha and akhara that it distills so wonderfully and with such dignity.”
—Asian Review of Books
“As far as intimate epics – that beloved but apt oxymoron of reviewese – go, Between Clay and Dust is intimate enough to pass for a whisper in the middle of pillow talk between two lovers. And yet its richness in capturing a culture at the moment of expiry is the stuff of epics…. Timelessness, sorrow, and so much emotional delicacy.”
—Quill and Quire, Starred Review --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
From the Back Cover
Ustad Ramzi was once the greatest wrestler in the land, famed for his strength and unmatched technique. Young apprentices flocked to his akhara to learn his craft, fans adored him, and rival wrestling clans feared his resolve that would never admit defeat. The courtesan Gohar Jan was just as renowned. Celebrated throughout the country for her beauty and the power of her singing, her kotha was thronged by nobles, rich men, and infatuated admirers.
Musharraf Ali Farooqi’s latest novel presents these extraordinary characters in the twilight of their lives. Their skills are no longer what they once were, new challengers to their eminence have risen, and the adoring crowds and followers are long gone. An immense catastrophe has laid waste to the country; its new inheritors have no time for the old ways. Stripped of their resources and their old powers, Ustad Ramzi and Gohar Jan must face their greatest challenge yet. Powerful and haunting, Between Clay and Dust is a triumph of storytelling and a poignant exploration of love, honour, redemption, and the strength that great souls find to go on when all is lost.
Available for the first time in Canada, Between Clay and Dust was a finalist for the Man Asian Literary Prize.--This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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"Between Clay and Dust" by Musharraf Ali Farooqi is one such book. I had received it earlier, however just got the time about a week ago to read and devour it. "Between Clay and Dust" is about the times gone by and arts that do not matter anymore. The story could be set in any time period. The author does not mention or give an indication of when the story begins and where is it set, which is what I liked a lot about the book. It is left to the reader to make sense of it.
The two art forms that the book is centered on are wrestling (the traditional way of the akhara and of clan and honour) and the singing and dancing girls and the wonders of the kotha (nautch girls more like it). The two protagonists of the book are Ustad Ramzi, the renowned and non-disputable wrestling champion of all time, and Gohar Jan, the courtesan of her times. Both their cultures and so-called heritage are dying and they can do nothing about it. They however somehow uncannily find solace in each other, which is not of a sexual kind (since the Ustad is celibate) but something that is beyond - of the understanding of loss.
On one hand we meet Tamami, Ustad Ramzi's younger brother who wants to be what Ustad is and tries very hard to gain his approval as a wrestler and somehow fails all the time. On the other, Farooqi takes us to the courtesan's way of life and the daily routine of the kotha. What I loved is the way this book is written. The language is simple and yet you can watch the book almost unraveling itself piece by piece in front of you.
The emotions of the characters are beautifully expressed - from Ustad's anguish and yearning to hold on to what remains to Gohar Jan's submission to the closure of the kotha and Tamami's persistent ways (right or wrong) to seek his brother's approval, each of them are traversing in their own orbits - as lonely as the other.
For me the book could have been set right after partition, either in Pakistan or India or maybe even in recent times. As I said earlier, that is but only left to speculation, which I love. The writing is fluid and got to me straight at the heart. Somehow the "beauty of resignation" was what came to mind as I read the book and maybe that is how I would like to describe the book.
"Between Clay and Dust" is a heartbreaking and marvelous book. Something to take you back in time and probably introspect a little of how things used to be and how they are.
Gohar Jan was an extremely accomplished singer and sitar player. She now has her own kotha (training academy) where girls receive instruction in the arts of musical entertainment. It was the largest and most famed kotha in the land. So serious was the discipline that if girls fell in love, they had to choose to leave the academy or to leave their romance. Gohar Jan herself had never married, remaining committed solely to her art.
Ustad Ramzi makes regular visits to Gohar Jan’s academy, where he could “understand how music could quieten the aggressive humours of his soul.” He passes on custodianship of his academy to his brother, Tamami, 20 years his junior. But the academy soon falls into disarray.
Gohar Jan’s academy is losing its high-class appeal too – it smells of dampness, the carpets are musty, dust is gathering, fewer people are attending, and the music rooms are quiet. She retains her faithful long-time servant, Banday Ali, even though he is addicted to opium. Malka, 23 years old – whom Banday Ali found as a baby left on the academy’s doorstep, and raised by Gohar Jan when the orphanage could not take her – wanted to stay at the academy. Malka was pretty but she grew up to be “cold and reserved” – and Gohar Jan had never allowed her to perform. Gohar Jan encourages Malka to become Hayat’s bride and leave the academy, which she shuts down. Now Gohar Jan has to come to terms with solitude without Malka and her clients.
Ustad Ramzi has a bout with his younger brother. Tamami feels as if his strength has been proven when he defeats Ustad. Now the hero of the academy, Tamami competes in further wrestling matches despite his constant joint pain. He takes drugs to relieve the agony, but his match with Imama brings unintended consequences.
Gohar Jan is surprised when Ustad Ramzi visits the academy – hadn’t he heard that it had closed? There was no-one to perform for him. Not wanting to send Ustad Ramzi away, Gohar Jan picks up the sitar and plays.
The area where they live is re-zoned into a commercial district, and investors are interested in Ustad Ramzi’s and Gohar Jan’s properties. They are now both retired, and are both faced with a major decision – to sell their training academies (their homes) or not.
Farooqi’s novel is about the shift in the lives of two once-famed individuals, now in their ‘twilight’ years: the shift from fame to obscurity, and authority to loss of power. Their skills are no longer sought after or valued, just as the old government before Partition gives way to a new regime, with major changes and restructuring.
Bare writing depicts bare emotions. Restrained writing depicts the restrained and disciplined lives of Ustad and Gohar. Farooqi explores themes such as avoiding humiliation, retaining integrity and identity, and the realization of the two characters that their strength of body and discipline are declining. The writing is poignant, sad, and wistful. With interesting characters and themes, this is a powerful story simply told. Highly recommended.