Although ungenerous readers might term this book barely a step above a beach read, Skyfall is a commendable debut novel by -

Saba Karim Khan, whose academic and professional interests boast a notable set of experiences, including a degree in social anthropology from the University of Oxford and working at the New York University Abu Dhabi.

It is evident that Saba engages in labour of love when it comes to putting her creative work before us   -the book is nothing if not sincere and versatile in its incorporation of diverse topics. But having said that, even a more lackadaisical reader than I would realize that there is just too much going on in this novel.

On some levels, it is a fairly straightforward bildungsroman about the daughter of an avaricious madressah manager and his - ironically - dignified prostitute wife.

The heroine, Rania, is a product of the famous Heera Mandi district in Lahore, and luckier than her darker-skinned sister Ujala, in that her fair complexion bestows a certain level desirability on her.

With it comes protection from the social evils her mother had to grapple with most of her life. Rania is trained in music, and even acquires a makeshift education of sorts because of the efforts of her mother, who yearns for both her daughters to have a better life than her own. Moreover, her father is careful not to shackle her into prostitution, since he hopes he can force her into lucrative marriage.

Enter Asheer, an intelligent and sensitive filmmaker belonging to a Hindu family who justifiably wins Rania's heart by appreciating that, behind her underprivileged exterior, lie genuine talent and an indomitable spirit.

The romance achieves momentum rapidly and, contrary to most of those found in South Asian regional literature these days, is not destined for a tragic end. 

But, alas, that maybe the only truly happy and refreshing aspect of the book,

Rania's father's treatment of his wife and elder daughter [Ujala is five years her sister's senior] is nothing short of despicable, emotionally sadistic and often violent. What is worse is that society generally turns a blind eye to what he does.

Rania's evil father eventually gets his comeuppance because he is foolhardy enough to board a paedophilic criminal, though I found the almost unabashedly negative portrayals of madressahs in the novel to be distasteful - like all social centres, they do contain both good and bad apples.

But that is not before his overweening sense of hypocritical self-righteousness has sickened the heroine to the point where she claims, truthfully, that her natural feelings of love as due to a paternal parent have been irrevocably poisoned by necessary hatred.

The plot of the book is fast paced and makes for easy, interesting reading.

The World Students Society thanks author Nadya Chishty Mujahid, an assistant professor of social science and liberal arts at the Institute of Business Administration, Karachi.


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