The Wish Maker by Ali Sethi

The Wish Maker, Ali Sethi’s debut novel was written when he was only twenty three. But his writing style and his words show much maturity. The novel begins with the arrival of Zaki Shirazi who had been away in an American college. He is picked up at Lahore airport by his grandmother’s servant and driver to attend the wedding of his cousin, Samar Api. He returns to his family of women and realises that he’s an outsider now and many things had changed. At home as he meets his male cousins, Isa and Moosa and waits for the bride, his beloved cousin Samar Api, the story moves to his boyhood and covers three generations. In his descriptions of the three generations, he not only talks about his family but also of upheavals in the political strata of Pakistan. Zaki had lost his father, Sami Shirazi a pilot before his birth only. He is named after and raised by his mother, Zakia Shirazi who runs a feminist magazine. Zakia is a modern and a liberal woman. Before starting her own magazine she worked for other magazines and wrote articles. Her articles were vociferous about the issues she felt strongly for and nothing could stop her from raising her voice. Along with her other professional and liberal friends, she protests against the dismissal of Benazir Bhutto. Even in her pregnancy she doesn’t shy away from participating in rallies against the dismissal, much to the chagrin of her mother-in-law. Daadi, Zaki’s grandmother is a conservative woman who also demands that every other woman of the household must also follow conservatism expected from a woman. Hence, she is always at logger heads with Zakia who is a break away type of a woman. Daadi has a maidservant, Naseem who belongs to the oppressed class. Encouraged by Zakia to start her own stitching business, she gives away the money to her gambling husband and shatters her dreams of a flourishing business. It is almost funny to read Naseem’s description of Saudia Arab after she comes back from hajj, “Everything they have; KFC, McDonalds, anything at all, you name it and they have it.” Zaki shares a very amiable and a close relationship with his cousin, Samar Api who is the daughter of Daadi’s younger sister, Chhoti. She was sent to live with them so that she could have a better chance at life rather than living in the village. Samar is a smart girl and her life changes when she friends a girl called Tara Tanvir in her class. She loves to read magazines and fancies Amitabh Bachchan. Her only wish is that one day her Amitabh will come. She exercises with Jane Fonda Workout video. She falls in love with a guy who creates a scandal that changes her life and forces her to separate from Zaki while he is holidaying in Spain Zaki’s other cousins Isa and Moosa, in boyhood teach him about smoking, drinking, adult movies and ‘mastipation’. They are the sons of Daadi’s daughters, Suri and Hukmi. Later they befriend Samar and her friend Tara Tanvir who also introduces them to her cousins from America. While they dine at Pizza Hut, Samar goes to meet her boyfriend. While Zaki is the narrator of the story, it’s the women of the story who prove to be central characters and around whom the story revolves. While Zaki had his wish fulfilled and went to study in an American college, the women of the household could not do much about their wishes. The Islamization Laws of the early 1980’s made it even more difficult for the women to have a bright future. Though Zaki is unlike other men of his fraternity; he respects Samar Api’s wishes and desires, keeps her secrets, helps her climb the wall, accompanies her so that she can meet her boyfriend and is distressed when he has to leave for Spain. He doesn’t want to leave Samar alone as he knows that she is suffering and nursing a heart ache. At few times, he feels that he is a burden on his mother and the cause for her not remarrying. The author also manages to give us a glimpse of the upheavals caused during the partition in 1947. When Daadi was a little girl, her friend and next door neighbour, a Hindu girl Amrita is forced to flee because of the violence between Hindus and Muslims. Zakia’s father also emigrated from India and was forced to live in a refugee camp in Pakistan. To his utter disbelief, all his degrees proved to be of no value. It is a book about love and family and it is easy to relate to various aspects to it. Moreover, it gives a closer and a detailed look of Pakistan. However, the problem with the book is that the author jumps from one character to the other without following any specific storyline. The language is very flowery; while it is interesting to read such language and prose, it also becomes tedious at places. Nonetheless, Ali Sethi’s debut novel is fresh, intimate and worth a read!

Shikha Tandon

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