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A clash of worldviews

Her story A socialite in Karachi confronts the feudal demons of her land

books Updated: Oct 15, 2010 22:12 IST
Kushalrani Gulab

Beautiful From This Angle
Maha Khan Phillips
Penguin
n R250 n pp 240

It’s chick lit. Good lord, no, it’s far from chick lit. It’s very funny. Oh yeah? Then how come it makes you shudder? It’s vastly different from the kind of novel we’ve come to expect from Pakistani writers. No, it’s just the same. You want to whack the heroine, she’s so annoying. You want to hug her and take her away to a place where life is less traumatic than where she is now. You laugh at the way the media is portrayed in the book. You wince because it seems so familiar. You send up a silent prayer of thanks to whoever is responsible for where you live. You know that, if you weren’t so deliberately blind, where you live is actually quite similar to where this book is set.

That’s a lot of internal argument for a novel that’s only 232 pages long, but you can’t read Pakistani writer Maha Khan Phillips’s Beautiful From This Angle without putting it down every few pages to struggle with yourself. The blurb makes it seem simple; so does the first chapter. Then, everything explodes.

So, here’s Amynah Farooqui, a 24-year-old Page 3-type chick who writes a column called ‘Party Queen on the Scene’ for a magazine in Karachi. She’s rich, her parents have separate love lives, she drinks, smokes, does coke (not the soft drink), picks up lovers whenever she feels like, is friends with a TV producer who’s making a reality show featuring British celebrities called ‘Who Wants to Be a Terrorist?’, and is writing an Oppressed Woman’s Novel, about a British Pakistani girl whose father forcibly marries her to a cousin in the homeland — a man who beats her, incarcerates her and kills her dog, Fifi.

Life, for Amynah, is good.

Then one of Amynah’s two best friends, Mumtaz, daughter of a jailed drug baron, decides to make documentaries on women’s issues and hauls in Amynah and their other close friend, Henna, a girl who does everything her feudal father tells her to. Together, they tell the story of Nilofer, a village girl and Henna’s childhood friend, and her life with a sadistic husband.

But when the documentary wins international awards at the same time that the celebrity winner-turned-Islamist radical of ‘Who Wants to Be a Terrorist?’ is captured on Henna’s feudal land, everyone learns that their expectations from the documentary were completely different from what actually occurs.

Beautiful From This Angle has its flaws. It’s a jumpy sort of book — reading it is like watching a poorly-edited film. You want to whack Amynah and everyone else in the book. But it’s funny, though savage, and in the end, interesting. And I mean that in the best possible way.