ISBN print: 978-0-9952223-0-4
No. of pages: 243
Pre-publication: 14 November 2016
Song Of Gulzarina is Tariq Mehmood’s third and most recent adult novel after Hand On The Sun and While There Is Light. Also included in the author’s repertoire of published books are two novels for children: You’re Not Proper, and Courageous Ali And The Heartless King.
In his new book, Song Of Gulzarina, published by Daraja Press, Tariq Mehmood tells the story of Saleem Khan, a young Pakistani teacher who, in the mid 1960s travels to England. The culture shock he experiences upon arrival is only the first of many surprises awaiting him in his new life,
“I wanted to laugh when I saw all the white people at Heathrow airport. They weren’t white but pink, and had such different coloured hair and eyes. As I came out of the arrivals lounge, I cringed when I saw a woman, with hair the colour of fire, letting a dog lick her face.” (page 16)
Unlike most of his pals, Saleem Khan – excited and full of wonderful expectations – can read and write, and he speaks good English! He immediately stands out as a leader among his peers, the go-to-guy of sorts. Long days working in cold mills, of being mistreated as sub-humans, start to chip away from a once bright outlook. Some years later, family responsibilities lure him back to his homeland, and with this unfolds a series of experiences that would plunge Khan into an intense journey that plays out in both Britain and his beloved Pakistan.
In the meantime, Saleem Khan has fallen in love with a ‘goree’, yes, a white woman, while the girl of his childhood waits patiently in the village. Both women are committed to him, he is committed to a cause. What particularly interests me as I read on, is how men and women see the world through two different prisms. Khan sees the world through commitment to loyal bonds and societal responsibilities, while the women in his life, both at home and abroad, are more dialed into personal and core family needs. Saleem Khan is a man who will soon have to face the consequences of what happens when love and immediate family fail to take center stage, while answering community’s call takes priority. Broken pieces will refuse to fit in later years, and the only thing left is to make the ultimate move, one that is encapsulated in a song by Gulzarina – beautiful, mysterious.
To the reader, Song of Gulzarina opens up a compelling new world – of a people who feel deeply, and express themselves deeply; a people of profound spirituality and close ties. The book is a culture-centered recount of life in which men and women from the South Asian region (including Afghanistan) emerge as actual human beings, not just figures in news stories about wars, airstrikes and landmines. Song of Gulzarina takes the reader into rural communities where bombs dropped from the skies by foreign fighter jets shatter lives and set up loved ones for a surreal reality; where duty calls and men of honor are sucked into dream-like commitments.
Author Tariq Mehmood pieces together the story in a plot that challenges the reader’s mind. It is obvious that the author is a critical thinker and is inviting the reader to go with him on a larger than life journey of wow-worthy twists and turns – some sinister, others relatable – tinged with high doses of nostalgia. The book is rich in content and detail; you have to submerge yourself in it completely to appreciate the story. You may not realize it while reading, but at the end you are gripped.. . and left wondering, “what the hell just hit me?”
Song of Gulzarina is a highly impressionable book, for it speaks directly and powerfully to the humanness of the reader. Song Of Gulzarina is an absolute worthy read.