Sunday times exclusive extract

Sahil Tabassum once said to me, ‘I like a book to have a beginning, a middle and an end.’ I thought to myself…mine cannot be that kind of book. The gaps in my life were too many, the threads too few. Though there was little to string life together, the tendency was still to appear as whole before the world…

A mistake, I now feel… For what we cannot know is as much a part of us as what we do know. People, like places, must learn to live with their absences… This story came to me during a final visit to my father’s country. I was tempted to abandon it, for the material is strange and distressing, the tale without moral…But it made its way onto the page.

One morning in May, when the sun was already high over the tarmac, I stepped off the plane in Port bin Qasim. Even deep inland, where the airport stood, surrounded by pale hard land, there was the briny breath of the sea. Overhead, casting the ominous shapes of birds of prey, were the frayed crowns of palm trees. There was in this play of short shadows and flickering wind-blown sunlight a noontime menace.

And about the young man, who appeared with a board that bore the name ‘Rehan Tabassum’, there was ·the scent of guns, dollars and drugs. He knew me immediately…

‘My God, saab,’ he said, extending a sunburned hand. ‘You are Mr Sahil exact. Even more than your brothers, you look like him.’ His eyes were very black; his lips had a chiseled prominence…ideal for the expression of amusement; and, though there was not a trace of it now, cruelty.

He was wounded by my initial lack of recognition. ‘You don’t know who I am?’ he said, ‘Mirwaiz! From the train in Kashmir? The year after the earthquake? Don’t you remember?’ ‘Mirwaiz, my God! I don’t be1ieve it.’…All I could do was congratulate him. And he…congratulated me in turn. ‘What for?’

‘For your re-entry into the family, of course.’

Rs 499, published by Harper Collins India, releasing on August 16, 2011

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