Rs 499 n pp 240
The title of Aatish Taseer's latest novel, Noon, does not say as much as The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas or The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Essentially a story of Rehan Tabassum, a London-born love child of a Pakistani businessman and an Indian lawyer, one may have to leapfrog the chapters, venture deep into the narrative and read — and re-read — between the lines to put Noon in perspective.
But that, too, is not devoid of obstructions. For example, how do you drown in a storyline that isn't even deep enough to float? Or, how much novelty can you expect in book after book with similar storylines and characters?
Like Aatish and Aakash of Taseer's earlier novel, The Temple-Goers, Rehan is a typical 21st century babalog, simultaneously trying to fit into and fall out of his social standing in an India he knows little about. We see many shades of Rehan in the four sections that are spread over a little over two decades (1989-2011). In the first, 'The Last Rites', Rehan the fatherless child becomes the reason for the constant pettifogging between his mother and granny.
The craving for emotional security which he is denied in his formative years resurfaces in 2005, when dealing with servants to find the culprit of a burglary Rehan realises that "to be morally superior in India was to feel physically weak and insecure". Once out of the 'madness' of Delhi, he looks forward to the "air-conditioned bookshops and iced-coffees, of summer schools and internships" in Zurich, where his "soul would purify". While unifying with his father's family in Port bin Qasim, Pakistan, in the last chapter, the Tabassum in Rehan, confronted with the politics and in-fighting in the family, suddenly becomes aware that "people, like places, must learn to live with their absences".
Like Aatish of The Temple Goers, Rehan of Noon magnifies the doubts of Aatish the author — which increasingly remind you of his various articles in different news magazines. Be it an attack by the right-wingers on Rehan's half-brother Isphandiyar Tabassum in the last section (Aatish's half-brother Shahbaz Taseer was abducted in Pakistan recently) or a conscious attempt at finding isolation in an India "whose worst nature was hidden from itself", it's not the first time we are reading about this 'outsider's' view from the 'inside'.
Rehan's search for identity thrives on a myopic introspection of the self as well as the world as seen from a pedestal built upon social and economic privileges. But the charge against complicity, a "poison", that decimates the "hope of finer feeling" loses its shock value thanks to repetition. Never mind that it comes wrapped in a prose that's elegant and intricate at best and, at worst, pretentious. And it's then that you realise that you aren't getting as much as an articulate and gifted storyteller like Aatish is capable of giving.