I do not say that God does not exist, I am just saying, be careful of what you hear on the street.
~ Omar Zafarullah, A Hundred Journeys – Stories of My Fatherland
As I tried to make sense of A Hundred Journeys – Stories of My Fatherland, authored by Omar Zafarullah, a Pakistani writer, I realised that the word ‘careful’ sort of defined the book for me. The blurb describes the book as a part memoir and part manual for living, and that precisely what it is – a hotchpotch of memories and an instruction manual on how to live and survive trouble-free in Pakistan. And this gyaan is very carefully dispersed, so much so that at times, there’s more meaning in what the reader gleans from in between the lines than what has been actually written. At many places, the writer is careful about the flow of thoughts lest he is perceived as treasonous, and this leaves the reader with the feeling that something has been left unsaid mid-sentence.
Before I delve deeper into the book, here’s how the book blurb describes it.
I write because I need you to know what I cannot say. I write about the past, about family, about country, because they all speak to me about my father…’
Addressed to Hyder, his son, Omar Zafarullah’s A Hundred Journeys is part memoir and part manual for living. With the help of his family’s personal history, the author attempts to explain Pakistan to Hyder, a narrative which is intensely personal but deeply political too.
The journey begins in the early 1900s when the family migrates from Ropar (in India’s Punjab) to Gojra (in Pakistan’s Punjab) in search of a better future. The book is filled with inspiring characters—Zafarullah’s great-grandmother, Maaji, a woman with an iron will who challenged patriarchy in her efforts to take the family out of the throes of poverty; his highly respected doctor–grandfather whose perseverance turned around the fortunes of his family; his friend Khawaja Imran who helped him bounce back from a failed business and many others. With instructions on how to jump a busy intersection, to the travails of setting up a business and on to the advent of the War on Terror that has shaken the core of the country, this book portrays everyday life in Pakistan with an immediacy that is poignant and striking.
My two cents:
I picked up A Hundred Journeys – Stories of My Fatherland on a whim, intrigued by the book title and the blurb, which hinted about a journey from a corner of India’s Punjab to a relatively unknown corner of Pakistan’s Punjab. There appeared in the blurb, a promise of heart-warming stories and anecdotes of grit, determination, and large-heartedness that Punjabis are known for. But these anecdotes are quite few and far between in the book, which mostly talks about tips on living safely in Pakistan.
Described as part memoir and part manual for living, A Hundred Journeys – Stories of My Fatherland is addressed to the author’s son Hyder, and is meant to be a guide to help him understand not just his family roots but also those of his country, Pakistan. Replete with personal family history and musings on Pakistan’s history and political ideology, the book gives Hyder lots of tips and instructions, on lessons of life, on how to set up a business, how to deal with girls and love and then on to the advent of the war on terror. While reading the book, I wondered why the author has not addressed the book to his daughter, Maya? Does she not need the same tips and instructions? A hint of patriarchy may be, despite the author talking about the need for educating girls and encouraging their contribution to the society.
At many places in the book, the point being explained is put across in vague words, as I mentioned at the beginning of the review. It’s as if the author is afraid of being frank about his thoughts on political issues and as a result, a lot of political talk is written in veiled words and almost come across as incoherent ramblings. Also, there is a lot to and fro going on between different timelines and this further mars the reading experience.
There is a whole chapter where the author guides his son on how to deal with an emergency such as a kidnapping, in case he (the author) gets abducted ever, based on his personal experience of negotiating his kidnapped father-in-law’s release from the kidnappers. And this is the most interesting part of the book.
Overall, I found A Hundred Journeys – Stories of My Fatherland, a tedious read, one that did not live up to my expectations. The two stars I have given this book are for the story of maaji, the author’s great-grandmother who bravely leads the family in dire circumstances, challenges patriarchy and helps them rise above poverty.
More about the book
Author: Omar Zafarullah
Publisher: Rupa Publishers
Genre: Political Non-Fiction
Price: Rs. 295
ISBN : 978-81-291-4739-4
GiniSpeaks Ratings: 2/5