In ‘Between Clay and Dust,’ Little Difference Between India and Pakistan

April 12, 2012, 6:09 AM

 New York Times – India
Musharraf Ali Farooqi’s second novel, “Between Clay and Dust,” technically takes place in a town in post-partition Pakistan, but you might not realize that when reading the book — and that’s what the author intended.

“I didn’t want to portray the boundaries of any particular nation-state, either Pakistan or India,” said Mr. Farooqi, who just made his first trip to India from his home in Karachi to promote the book. “This is not a novel about a country; this is a novel about a culture which is shared between countries.”

The book explores the lives of two characters, a pahalwan, or wrestler, and a courtesan, both dependent on ways of life that were destroyed by independence, both nearing the end of their lives in a city that is rapidly deteriorating. Aleph Publishing, the company started by David Davidar, is launching the book at a New Delhi party this evening.

Mr. Farooqi’s insistence on a fluid sense of place in his fiction might reflect the itinerant patterns of his own life — his parents were born in India and migrated to Pakistan after independence, where he was born. He left Pakistan in 1994 for Toronto, and recently moved back to Karachi. He writes in English, and even admits that he thinks in English, but Urdu was his first language. He also translates Urdu literature, which he says has added depth to his writing.

“The lives of these characters are lives that are expressed in a language which is not English,” he said. “So it was important to me to capture the cadence of the original language, to have a kind of parallel expression for that in English, without it sounding odd.”

Though Mr. Farooqi travels back to Karachi on Sunday, he is open to his next location, even hinting that he would be happy to settle in Delhi in the future.

“My parents were both born in India, so it’s my parent’s home,” he said. “And how could it be anything but that for me?”


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