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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Book Review : ‘The Book of Gold Leaves' by Mirza Waheed

I cannot start this review, without mentioning the cover story. Gorgeously, rich yet subtle is the book’s cover, which turned out to be the author, Mirza Waheed’s great grandfather’s, a papier-mache artist’s work. His painting, ‘Book of Gold’ and this book, ‘The Book of Gold Leaves’ seem eternally linked.

Coming down to the book, ‘The Book of Gold Leaves’ which has been set in the 90s, where it traces the lives of two star crossed lovers, Faiz and Roohi. Faiz works as a papier-mache artist, thereby supporting a large Sunni family. Roohi is a pretty young Shia girl, who has just turned twenty and being a graduate, is busy avoiding all marriage talk. 

The novel, kind of reminded me of the film, ‘Haider’. Though not story wise, it became easier for me to imagine Shahid Kapoor and Shraddha Kapoor in place of the main protagonists as they and their famlies too, are torn by war in Kashmir.

Coming back the main story, we see Faiz talking through and through about his unfinished work of art and dreaming of finishing it. Roohi, who remains a constant dreamer herself, though hers takes on another route. She holds on to dreams of romance, and a man, who would sweep her away. It is not fate that they meet, but her headstrong ways, which compel them to meet in the end.

That is one story, but there is the other story, of a local high school, which has been taken over by the Indian army. Enter the school principal, Shanta Koul, and her loss of her love. She fights on and steadfastly holds on to her school, in spite of the army, on its grounds. She keeps arguing with Major Sumit Kumar, who understands but feels pressurised between his duty and his genuine need to get away, from it all.
Mirza Waheed
As Srinagar has to deal with the militants flowing in and out of the city, and says goodbye to its inhabitants, who do not feel safe, we see all their stories unfold. Faiz sees his nanny killed in from of his very eyes. Shocked by the whole process, and probably not understanding his grief and confusion, he ends up, joining hands with militants. But there too, Roohi and her memories do not leave him, as you can read in his letters. Roohi, who will do anything to be with him, writes to him, compelling him to return to her. Faiz finds that though he would be hailed as a hero in some parts of Srinagar, but he remains wanted by the army.

You also cannot miss the subplots of Roohi’s and Faiz’s families and the marriage between the Shia and Sunni households. And the militants and the army’s hand in all of this. 

One can read the confusion, which is a constant reminder in this novel. It remains firstly, a movie like love story, stuck between a war and politics. There is of course, the beauty of Kashmir, which the author feels for it, as he unwraps the words on to the pages. You can understand his sadness too. However, he probably weakened over the love story but it remains a wonderful story in parts.

The story in itself is one which questions, but leaves you in the lurch. And please do not miss the details about the collapsing houses and buildings and yet the romance of Srinagar, which only an artist of books could describe, as Mirza Waheed does.

Author: Mirza Waheed
Genre: Fiction
ISBN : 9780670087426
Publisher: Penguin Books India
Price: Rs 499 /-

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