Annie Zaidi/ Fiction Fantasy
[★-lost me ★★-average ★★★-worth a read ★★★★-excellent ★★★★★-amazing]
Gulab tests the limits that our mind sets upon a ghost’s powers. If you see her as a woman clinging to life, there is not much to fear. Yet: what if she wants to return to your life? And what makes you think you can make her leave?
It is a warm, muggy summer’s day. Nikunj is in a Muslim cemetery to attend Saira’s burial. Saira, the long-lost love he has been looking for since the earthquake, even through all the years of his marriage, never sure what he would do if he found her. But what are Usman and Parmod doing at her grave? Who are these women – Gulab, Mumtaz – that lay claim to his Saira’s resting place? This is a love story. But what sort of relationship can you have with a dead person, and what sort of future? Ghosts don’t grow old. Or have children. We know that, don’t we? But how do we know? If they can walk through walls and reclaim a body for themselves, perhaps they can cover that body with scars. Or stretch marks. In the afterlife, possibilities stretch into infinity. Why would they not grow bored of one man, one life?
What sort of relationship can you have with a dead person? A fantasy, a horror story, you say. But is it a horror story when the only horror is losing the love of your life for fifteen years and discovering that she lived parallel lives with two other men, a wife to one and a mistress to another? A mystery story, where the only mystery is why, if you loved her so much, could you not see her even though she could see you? Why she decided to depart from your life and enter someone else’s, even though you loved her for twenty years and waited for her to come back to you? Meet Nikunj Seth’s girlfriend Saira Hasnain, Usman’s wife Gulab and Parmod’s wife Mumtaz Saira Singh, who are the same person. Nikunj gets a telegram from an unknown Hasnain for a funeral announcement; which spirals into a male ego war of who is buried in that grave. The headstone says Saira Hasnain with the year 1990. Usman claims his wife Gulab, who loves roses, was buried there the day before and the headstone is someone’s idea of a joke. Parmod, on the other hand, says his wife Mumtaz, who loves bela and chameli, and died in 1998 is buried there. Nikunj is lost and all he wants is to find his beloved’s grave, pay his last respects to her with his bouquet of rajnigandha, or tuberose, which he always knew were her favorite. But who is Rani who keeps appearing mysteriously at the grave, and calmly states that Saira loved petunias and cornflowers and bright flowers with delicate structures. And how does Rani know Saira and every single detail of the lives of the three men? Annie Zaidi speaks of the lives of the middle-class, the May sun, interracial love, friendship, religion, and the unquenchable thirst a man can have for a woman. She makes her characters speak in the Indian English of using present continuous in every sentence. Gulab also dwells on the otherworldly themes of shadows, out-of-the-body experiences and paranormal sightings. Add to that Yasmin Zaidi’s wonderful illustrations to this novella. This book is a must read.