Stories from across the border

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Review …

By: Jatin Desai

Sarvat Hasin’s second book You Can’t Go Home Again is unique in many ways. She was born in London and grew up in Karachi. Through seven short interlinked stories she narrates in detail the lives of a group of teenagers of Karachi. Through them, she talks about the lives and aspirations of the teenagers of new Pakistan.

The book begins with a group of teenagers in a Karachi high school preparing for a school play on a production of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible — and one goes missing. The incidence sets off ripple through their already fraught education in lust and witches, and over the years the young men and women grow up together and apart haunted by both home and djinns. The six students — Shireen, Naila, Karim, Rehan, Sabah and Maliha — are from the elite class and children of shipping magnates, army officials, diplomats etc. These students enjoy life, drive to cafes. They discuss their future. But, when discussion comes to religion they immediately changed the subject. Over the next few stories, these teenagers are grown into men and women. The author chronicles the lives of them over the several years and their relations.

In the world of Hasin’s contemporary seekers, young rakes move between Murree (popular hill station of Pakistan) and New York and women own the magic of their inexplicable passions; a failed opera star forms a poignant truce of a marriage with an unlikely man who has his own scars; and churayls are a persistent spectre in the most modern of lives.

The first story, Dark Room is about their school days. They were enjoying one evening at Karachi beach and their discussion turns into djinns and churrails. Naila talks about churrials. Rehan says, “I mean it’s all nonsense. We’re too old to keep buying that shit.” He continues, “Naila, someday you’ll have to stop believing everything you’re told.” Karim laughs and says, “Calm down, Naila. I just think maybe I’m agnostic or something. It’s not a big deal.” They are studying in a prestigious school but at the same time the old ideas of djinns and churrails continue with most of them.

The small stories are interconnected. When one of their friends disappeared, a silence descends on the group. Nobody knows whether he was kidnapped or ran away? He returns after a week with odd red marks around his neck. One of them says if this is how they are punishing people than any one of us could be next. By saying this author highlights the issue of disappeared persons in Pakistan. It is an issue. The issue of disappeared people one can find in most of the developing countries. It is of such a magnitude that people and especially youth are compelled to remain silent on the issue.

To some extent, Hasin’s book gives us some idea of what young Pakistani, though from elite class and from financial capital, thinks. They face conservatism at home but love to live their life the way they want to, once they are outside.


Title: You can’t go home again

Author: Sarvat Hasin

Publisher: Penguin

Price: Rs. 499

Pages: 166

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