'Go rap her carts.'
'Strap her cargo.'
'Crop rag hearts.'
'Chop Ra's garter.'
The first is what Karim from Kamila Shamsie's Kartography wanted to be. The others a rearrangement of the word that he and Raheen made up. Both are important to the story, I mean cartography and anagrams. The whole story is an anagram of sorts, you can dissect it in so many different ways, arranging and rearranging the parts, giving importance here, disregarding there, and every time coming up with something that makes some sense.
Yet, I have a feeling I didn't quite make the anagram that Kamila Shamsie really meant the story to be, and that makes total complete sense. If she meant a particular anagram that is. Perhaps the strength of the story lies in the fact that even though each anagram makes only some sense on it's own, together they all form a cohesive whole that gets the idea across.
Which idea anyways? There are so many. The blurb at the back made me start off by trying to read it as a love story. Clearly, I should have postponed my judgement. There were strains of adolescent love, of a friendship I could not find a parallel of in my own life, and the mysteries of the swapped fiances was enough to keep me hooked.
The story turned out to be more about Pakistan and it's heart of sorts Karachi. It was about the break up of the country. It put it more eloquently than ever, 'How can Pakistan still be when the whole is gone and we are left with a part?' I have never really read about the breakup outside of government prescribed textbooks. To see it enacted of sorts in fiction, to see people I could believe existed play out parts, was a chilling experience.
Statistics have a horrible way of distorting reality. They reduce people to numbers. Stories too distort reality, but in a different way. They don't reduce people to numbers, rather ignore most of them and speak to us of the lives of only a few. The good stories make us feel. Kartography made me feel. It made me feel the pressure people lived in, the loss of life and how it affected those who stayed on.
Then again, I could have felt more. For some reason or the other, Pakistani writers have a habit of writing about a class of people who don't exist. The ten thousand strong elites of the country, the ones who go to binge drinking parties, who travel back and forth across the world, who have 'contacts', who have millions hidden in their bank accounts, are lost to me among the teeming one eighty million strong that make up this country. In all my life, I haven't actually seen any of these people. Few of us ever do. They do exist. They exist in the sense that perhaps they do control the country. They really are richer than the rest of the country put together.
My question is, do they define Pakistan? Do they get to be the ones who we picture in our heads when we think of a Pakistani? How is the life of a typical Pakistani, and that of an 'elite'? Kamila Shamsie, Mohsin Hamid, Mohammad Hanif, food for thought?
The love story in Kartography came back in the later half. Inspiring as it was, I couldn't remove the nagging thought at the back of my mind, isn't this slightly overmuch melodramatic? Love is melodramatic. In the common lives around me, I see it everyday. To be human, love and drama always go together. Yet, there are always moments of sanity that seemed missing from Kartography. Perhaps, she glossed over those moments, in the same way she glossed over the one eighty million strong. I was sad. I wanted the anagram of love to touch me. I tried to draw parallels with my own life. Kamila Shamsie turned out to be a bad cartographer. Her map corresponded little with the reality of my life, and I was lost soon after the magic of adolescent love.
Three anagrams I saw I have mentioned here. I think the anagram of the break up of Pakistan would last with me the longest. The chills I felt down my spine, I know will stay for a long time. Pakistan is perhaps worse off then the times this story was written about. Kartography doesn't bog you down, it doesn't just make you sad. It gives you strength. By making you feel it, it hardens your resolve to fix it all. It never comes out and says it. I doubt if Kamila Shamsie had this in mind when she wrote it. Her words, unconsciously, anagram into this message too. We have suffered enough in the past on one occasion. Let there be no repeat, the anagram says. Fix it, it says.
Edit: My copy of Kartography was kindly provided by Mehr.