Gripping. Yes, it is. Every chapter has to be finished in one go, but you cannot read the whole book at once. It is not a one night read. It’s heavy. Easy to understand, but difficult to swallow. The harsh realities of women in the 21st-century country, ‘where movement of female body is prohibited’, Mehr Tarar encloses pity, fear, anger and disgust with every chapter.
The book is divided into five sections — 19 chapters — each focusing on a different angle of Pakistan or herself. Once you start reading it, you cannot put it down before the chapter is over. It gives so much of raw information that you feel like reading a crime thriller or watching one which you don’t want to lose your connection with. But once the chapter is over, taking up the next one is a difficult task. She gives raw details of not only the names, ages and professions of the culprits but also the names of the medicines used in the crime. While penning these stories down, she is the investigative journalist at her best. Simultaneously, the language decked up with figures of speech adds to the spice.
Section 1 begins with a technical account of Mumtaz Qadri’s hanging on February 29, 2016, for the assassination of Salmaan Taseer, the then governor of Punjab in Pakistan. It is a story of how religious extremist manipulate religion and commit crime in the name of blasphemy. The heart throbbing stories of The girl without a face and Who killed Qandeel Baloch? comprise the raw depiction of ‘proud’ murders. They tell in plain words how girls were victimised and the men were escaped by saying, “The family has been through enough agony, so let’s save the killer” and that the men killed the women for the honour of the family. The book also uses strong evident imagery when she calls females ‘disposable’.
The crimes cover grounds like misogyny, religious prejudices, blasphemy, honour killing, male superiority across Pakistan. In short, the book is a beautiful blend of crime pages and opinion pages in a leading national newspaper. The author has been successfully able to showcase the grim reality of modern Pakistan. She hit the right notes by conveying what Islam really means narrating how man-made laws and practices are failing Islam on a daily basis. She keeps her sentences short that increases the pace of the stories and the readers are glued to the book. The writing is bold and strong.
A negative side of Pakistan is presented in section 2 from the angle of stooping mentalities and senseless restrictions, the stuff that makes people liars, hide things from families, become dishonest to oneself. She ridicules the ‘accepted standards of morality’, and talks about how patriarchy treats women as ‘a piece of furniture’ or even nullify their legal authoritative existence, as she mentions numerous ‘open’ affairs men have while hiding their spouses under the hijab. This section also gives a crude idea of what happens to those women who try anything out of the way and if they are not killed.
Section 3, Remarkable Pakistanis, comprises of the interviews Mehr Tarar had conducted of those remarkable people, who have made an impact as extraordinary citizens of the nation. It includes a chapter on Muniba Mazari, who was made Pakistan’s first ‘Female Goodwill Ambassador’ by the UN. Syed Haider Gillani, a politician, who was kidnapped out of his motorcade of ten vehicles and fifty people, right during the elections, and returned after three years, safe, without any scratch on, or change in, his character makes the second chapter. Who can put the book down while reading it? The third interview in this section is with Said Shazia Mustaq, an education revolutionary, teaching those who are deprived of education.
Section 4, titled ‘Family and Friends’ actually commences the memoir, reminiscences of the author, where she begins with missing her mother; her love for her son, Musa; another incident which took away her mother; and her love for animals, especially the story of her pet dogs. All the loved ones in one section.
The last section has three reasons for India-Pakistan connection: Delhi, Amitabh Bachchan and politics. Tarar lists the points that differentiate and bring together the two sibling-countries. Bollywood, cricket, music, religion, terror attacks, borders are a few of them. She believes that there should be ‘an uninterrupted and uninterruptible composite dialogue’. In that regard, Tarar started asking one question — ‘How do you look at Pakistan-India relations in terms of making them better in future?’ to renowned people from both the countries and people out of the two countries, their answers to which are published in the last chapter.
The book is moving, well paced. It keeps your reading fast. Tarar does no bad mouthing about the people of her country or a person in particular. She accuses the mentality and social practices in the name of religion that has shaped adverse side of Pakistan. Those who take interest in non-fictitious dynamics of thriller, politics and inspiration, the book is worth every penny.