In the mysterious lanes of Pakistan

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In the mysterious lanes of Pakistan

Sunday, 26 March 2017 | AVANTIKA BOSE

In the mysterious lanes of Pakistan

Nobody Killed Her

Author- Sabyn Javeri

Publisher- Harper Collins, Rs499

This is a must-read political whodunnit. Through this book, the author subtly tries to convey the message that in the end, ‘the love of power’ always wins over ‘the power of love’; that power is an addiction — to which once you get addicted, it’s nearly impossible to get de-addicted, writes AVANTIKA BOSE

Politics, murder, homosexuality, gender equality — these topics individually are enough to grab anyone’s attention. And Sabyn Javeri in her novel Nobody Killed Her, very intelligently has interwoven all these subjects and presented it to her readers in the form of a captivating story.

Javeri’s novel made it to Huffington Post’s ‘list of books we can’t wait to read in 2017’. Javeri was born in Pakistan and now lives between london and Karachi where she teaches creative writing at university level. A graduate of the University of Oxford, she has a PhD from the University of leicester. Her short stories have been published in several reputed literary journals and in award-winning anthologies and creative writing textbooks. She has also received the Oxonian Review Short Story Award and was shortlisted for the first Tibor Jones Award. This is her first novel.

Nobody Killed Her is a political thriller inspired very loosely by actual events. Pakistan sinks deep into mourning as news of former Prime Minister Rani Shah’s assassination arrives. Intelligence agencies, opposition leaders, the army top brass, her closest relatives — all seem to be shifting in their chairs even as special investigative teams gear up to file a report. Conspiracy theories abound for there were many who stood to gain if she pulled out of the imminent elections. The needle of suspicion points most immediately to Madam Shah’s close confidante Nazneen Khan, who was seen sitting right beside her in the convoy and, oddly, escaped the bomb blast unscathed. Javeri’s tale of intense friendship between two ambitious women unfolds in a country steeped in fanaticism and patriarchy. This is dark noir meets pacy courtroom drama.

Each chapter in this novel starts with a conversation taking place in a courtroom between the Prosecutor (Mr Omar), Counsel (Mr Hamidi), Defendant (Ms Nazneen Khan). Whatever question is asked by the Prosecutor the Defendant, Nazneen aka Nazo goes back in time and tells the reader everything that happened, thus making it in the form of a story rather than the monotonous conversation format. The whole story and all the events occurring in it are seen through the eyes of Nazo and throughout the story she’s always using ‘you’ to refer to Rani as if she is speaking directly with her.

Throughout the novel the reader’s attitude towards Nazo keeps oscillating between her being the murderer of Rani Shah to her being absolutely innocent. Sometimes it feels as if she did commit the deed as she’s planning the worst things against Rani, though she insists that it’s for Rani’s own good, to benefit their agenda and for the greater good of the country. Other times, it seems totally impossible given her crazy devotion towards Rani Shah. Her schizophrenic behaviour towards Rani totally confuses the readers. However, there are other characters such as Rani’s husband, the army, the opposition, the Jihadists who also have a motive to kill Rani. This is a headscratcher novel in which the readers are constantly wondering who the killer is with the needle of suspicion pointing almost towards everyone, which sort of makes the title apt.

In an interview Javeri had said, “My novel has two main female characters. One is Rani who is loosely inspired by strong empowered women like Benazir Bhutto, Indira Gandhi, Perween Rehman and Aung San Suu Kyi who really fought for their beliefs. The other character is Nazo, who embodies the controversial side of power.” She had said that in Nazo, she intended to have “an anti-heroine who rose from the ashes like Mayawati, was dangerous and cunning like the Palestinian terrorist/liberator leila Khalid, and had Jayalalithaa’s beauty and ruthless ambition.” Javeri wanted to build female characters that were headstrong and unapologetic and thought and acted differently other than what was expected of them.

Maybe it’s the bold attitude of both the women, the special bond they share, or how the book reveals the harsh reality of all the injustices that women have to suffer that makes this book so engrossing. The story is narrated through the perspective of someone who being so close to all the power, glitz and glamour, and money that comes with belonging to high status political family, yet for the narrator, Nazo who is just a mere servant girl, all this is so far away and this gives the story an edge. like Aamer Hussein states in the blurbs, “This long-awaited debut is a bold, candid exploration of how power and ambition corrupt ideals and distort the most intimate relationships”. The book shows how it’s easy for someone to achieve something if they come from a privileged background, however the same thing for a person not coming from a high status family wouldn’t even dare to dream of. The book also very intelligently speaks about all the issues in Pakistan’s political machinery. This novel opens up various topics of discussion from women empowerment, to homosexuality, to domestic abuse and to the dirtiness in politics. The author also tries to convey through her book very subtly that in the end ‘the love of power’ always wins over ‘the power of love’, that power is an addiction — to which once you get addicted it’s nearly impossible to get de-addicted.

The revelation of the murderer leaves the readers dumbstruck and in awe. No one could’ve ever guessed it. This just shows what a prolific writer Javeri is. It’s a must read political thriller. The ending is so shocking that it sent a shiver down my spine and left me wide-eyed for at least a few seconds. I guess this is what sets this book apart from the rest. This whodunnit is about power, love, betrayal, loyalty, obsession, deception and exile.

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