Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Noon by Aatish Taseer: Book review

For those familiar with Aatish Taseer’s previous works (Stranger to History and The Templegoers), the material that the undoubtedly talented young author deals with in the mysteriously titled ‘Noon’ will seem all too recognizable. Being the original midnight’s child, so to speak (what with being the son of slain Pakistani politician Salman Taseer and Indian journo Tavleen Singh and all), he is perhaps well equipped to deal with a novel about the elite of both countries. And to do this he once again mines his own life for experiences which come across as all too real. The book’s protagonist, Rehan Tabassum, the authors all too real alterego, deals with a theft in his rich Indian step-dad’s farmhouse in Delhi and then as he moves to Pakistan to meet his real father, meets his many relatives and gets drawn into the morally murky and politically unstable world of his biological father’s family. The book peeks almost voyeuristically into these households in an episodic fashion, rather than in a sweeping continuous narrative, and it is with this tool that he manages to create evocative and poignant imagery.

The episode at the Delhi farmhouse clearly takes a dig at the great ‘India Shining’ story and examines the uneasy class issues that Indian society still grapples with. It also looks at the way the domestic help in the country are treated, and how the rich would prefer that they were almost invisible. Taseer puts Rehan smack bang in the middle of a domestic robbery and then gives the reader a ring side view of investigation. The cops have their class and regional prejudices, and Rehan has his. It is also here that Rehan grudgingly claims to look upon the suspected servants as humans for the first time, with aspirations and dreams of their own. He finds the whole affair, replete with corruption, complicity and violence, hard to deal with and looks for early closure. Clearly, as Rehan thinks, “I had not considered it important to think hard about India”.

The story then cuts to Rehan’s time spent with his half brother in Pakistan. The men grow close to each other as Rehan gets a crash course in family politics, courtesy the great big Tabassum household. The elite in Pakistan have also failed their country, much like their Indian counterparts, and prefer to live cocooned and conspiracy theory ridden lives, ensconcing themselves from the increasing fundamentalism that is slowly and surely taking hold. Rehan’s half brother spends most of his time trying to prove his worth to their father while trying to avoid being blackmailed with a stolen sex tape. This somehow results in a kidnapping and a hushed up release and is eerily similar to the real life kidnapping of Shahbaz Taseer, the author’s own half brother. The book explores the complete breakdown in the social contract between the privileged and the others and how the elite in India and Pakistan remain largely alike in their uncaring aloofness, despite the two countries themselves taking seemingly different paths. Casual brutalities are still commonplace, and the rich are the prime perpetrators.

The book reads well, avoids being laborious and Taseer shows a maturity of hand that is beyond his years. However, one wishes he had set his novel outside the sphere of his personal life, which has been an open book, literally, since he laid it all out in his memoirs. Even his first novel ‘The Temple-goers’ also seemed drawn from his private life. His own life clearly seems to be his comfort zone and it is about time he stepped out of it. Another book with a similar setting could easily run the risk of alienating hitherto impressed readers who perhaps will no longer be interested in a fourth biography.


This article first appeared in the November 2011 issue of KINDLE.