Remarkable book finally arrives in Islamabad.
“The Wandering Falcon”, a remarkable short novel (180 pages), is now in the book shops of Islamabad.
Published by Penguin/Hamish Hamilton, it has already been launched in Delhi and Lahore, and was launched in Islamabad on Saturday. Hardback, nice jacket design and the face of Jamil Ahmad, the author, on the inside flap at the back: the book is priced at Rs750.
The book is a collection of nine very readable Baloch tribal stories woven into a novel that cannot be accomplished without a strong creative urge. And Jamil has it. The stories are accurately plotted, sensitively detailed and characterised. Chapter 1 of this novel (Sins of the Mother) appeared as a short story in Granta last autumn.
I read this book some thirty years ago when it was a manuscript. Returning from the US, Jamil showed it to me in London, where I was then based. His wife, a Bavarian, had typed the manuscript from Jamil’s long hand on a manual type writer. The idea was to find a publisher.
I went through it one night in a single go because it was so absorbing. It was imaginative, well-written and evoked a sense of the tribal romance. I was very impressed and confident that there would be no problem finding a publisher for it. Next morning I told Jamil (who was staying with us at Chesham Place) what I thought.
Former civil servant Altaf Gauhar had settled in London to head Agha Hasan Abidi’s Third World Foundation. My interaction with the foundation was frequent, so I spoke to Judith Vidal-Hall, a member of AG’s staff. She saw the manuscript and spoke to Jill, a literary agent.
Jill too was excited about the work. They arranged several meetings for Jamil in different places. Everybody was impressed. Sometimes they would suggest minor changes, something all literary agents do — no big deal. There were lunches, coffees, pub meetings and long discussions, but no one was hitting the bull’s eye: everybody thought the novel was great but had no publisher on hand. This was deeply frustrating.
I have known Jamil for a long time. We served in the frontier government together in the sixties and the seventies in different places, always remaining in touch. In due course of time I was posted to London and Jamil to Kabul.
When he came back, he was posted as Chief Secretary of Balochistan, making him the administrative head of the entire province. But in Quetta Jamil fell out on an issue of principle with the military governor, a relative of Ziaul Haq, resigned and never looked back. Jamil is the only civil servant I know who owns no real estate and continues to live in a small rented portion of a house in Islamabad today.
When he resigned, Jamil had no one to go back to except his father, a retired Justice of the High Court in Lahore. For a time he drifted, and when he came to London in 1983 with the Falcon manuscript, he was looking for a new career and Helga, his Bavarian wife, a committed environmentalist and an outstanding judge of people, was pushing him to become a writer. But it did not happen — very frustrating for Helga and friends like me.
Years went by, Jamil worked as a consultant with the World Bank and other international financial institutions from time to time. He is a private person, reads voraciously and, but for an occasional visit to the card room, stays to himself and his family.
Last year, thanks to Jamil’s brother Javed, Penguin India heard about the old, battered, typewritten manuscript that we had seen and tried to promote. They were thrilled to read it. And finally, we have the book, a rich contribution to international literature. After Islamabad, its launch in London is scheduled for end June and the US this fall.
This book is available at Liberty Books