Kamila Shamsie is amongst Pakistan’s most celebrated authors as well as the most accomplished ones. Almost every novel in her impressive bibliography is a treat to read. The contents of her books linger on with the reader even after the book is finished.
Kamila Shamsie’s writing style is such that one could identify it without even reading the name of the author. Here are eight examples of how you can tell you are reading a Kamila Shamsie novel:
1) Distressed characters
Everyone around you is a philosopher in distress. People have matured so much that they’ve totally done away with the small-talk. No one asks you painful questions about the weather or your future plans anymore.
They have all the time in the world for dwelling upon topics such as love, life, poetry, psychology and nature. They never let a moment pass by without stamping it with a hefty quote. Even 13-year-olds seem to be going on 30 – their conversations demanding most of us lesser mortals to attend kindergarten again.
2) Everyone is rich and has powerful connections
You’re rich for sure. You probably belong to the elite class and have at least two big fish in your immediate family. Even if you’re not, you’re somehow connected to the people in highest order or know someone who is. Think colonial masters, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) agents, popular politicians or social butterflies.
Opulent bungalows, lush cars (Mercedes is just the basic) and sprawling parks are more often than not indispensable to your life. Also, your parents are not just cool but interesting as well. They keep throwing upscale parties at the drop of a hat and half the city is invited.
3) Everyone quotes William Shakespeare in their daily conversations
Beautiful words and flawless expression form the gist of your life. There are clouds of literary supremacy hovering above your head and they often drench you in showers of fantastic words. The air is redolent of the same composition. It’s Shakespeare all over again, just a lot more digestible and moulded to the desi taste.
4) Extremely intense relationships
Relationships in your life form the crux of everything, which probably holds true for real life too. But in Kamila Shamsie’s world, people don’t just act as social space fillers – unlike real life, where most of the people are only alive to carry out this basic function. You garner a deep connection with everyone – so much so that it’s surreal.
With no moral brigade or old hags around the corner to judge you, you seldom tend to define your relationships. You share something beautiful with these people and never rush to tag it as a socially acceptable title.
5) History is the most exciting subject
History is no more the dreary subject you often flunked in high school. It’s alive and kicking. The only thing more relevant to you than your present is the shadows of the past lurking upon it. The history timeline is a continuum.
Mostly you’d only have to contend with blasts of the recent past like the War of Independence, Partition, atomic explosions, fall of Dhaka and the Karachi operation. There’s always a probability of things which happened before Jesus was born to appear out of the blue and take the driver’s seat in your life.
6) Human suffering defines your life
Tragedy and loss are a recurring theme in your life. And it’s never the petty tragedies our television channels are so obsessed with. World-changing and soul-stirring incidents shape your life. You’ve been a witness to these masterpieces of human suffering and it has seeped into your being. This gives you character, it puts you on a human pedestal; escalated and disconnected from most. But more importantly, you’re not a tragedy queen like Meena Kumari, which adds to you as a person, in appreciable ways of course.
7) Passion is the order of the day
Everyone around you is extremely passionate. Ferocious ambition has replaced the typical indecisiveness and your surroundings are cognisant of what they want from life. It might be a flair for languages, an irritating yet all-surpassing hobby of drawing maps, a need to dwell on architecture and history or an undying love for cricket. There’s never a dull moment. Others ambitions are overwhelming to the point of infectiveness.
8) Your city is your life
The definition of home might transcend beyond the geographical nitty-gritty, but the sense of place is solid. The city is essential to your life. All its streets, its stories, its sights, its sounds and of course the smells, define you. Or maybe the place is actually the main character and you’re just an appendage working to attenuate its storyline.
Gladly, you aren’t living in some fictional city, which is typical of literature and too simplistic to be true. In Kamila Shamsie’s novels you know and identify with these cities. Yours is never an easy equation with the city, but just about the most important one.