Book Review: Loneliness, Death and the Sunset of Jemari
By Fazal Baloch
Jemari ay Rokapt ( The sunset of Jemari)
By Munir Ahmed Badeeni
New College Publications Quetta
111 Pages. Rs. 200
Balochi literature has not had a fiction writer as prolific as Munir Ahmed Badini, who, in the span of the last six years, has penned down around one hundred Balochi novels. At times, he even amazingly out-paces his readers who hardly devour one novel whereas he comes up with a few others. He has truly, expanded the horizons of Balochi novel which, if we put Munir’s novels aside, still ranks as the ill-represented genre of Balochi fiction.
Jemari ay Rokapt (the Sunset of Jemari) is one of his latest novels. Jemari, today known as Jewani, is one of the ancient coastal towns of Mekran, widely famous for its mesmerizing sunset. The novel is based on a real story.
During the Second World War at the allied base established in the then Jemari, the wife of an anonymous British general used to write her diary which she titled “the Sunset of Jemari”.
Details about the lady and the contents of her dairy are still enveloped in the dust of mystery as people’s knowledge about the diary doesn’t go beyond superficial information. Nonetheless, a few people, according to Mr. Badini, have gone through the pages of the diary which now lies in the possession of the Library of Congress in the United States. But, the writer does not stand among those people. Thus, after failing to learn substantially about the lady and the contents of her diary, he interestingly switched to reproducing the diary in the form of this engaging novel to satisfy his own curiosity.
Assigning the lady a fictitious title “Mrs. Doris Leing”, he draws out her sketch as a beautiful and charming woman who frequently sits alone on the patio of her room, chronicles her memories while gazing at the hypnotizing sunset. The writer gets profoundly absorbed in his own drawn out, yet stunning figure of Mrs. Leing and drunk from the sights of her beautiful body. He develops such a great fascination for the lady that in many stages he begins to feel the apparent union of the sun and the sea through the eyes of Mrs. Leing.
In other words he devolved his own being and emerged as Mrs. Doris Leing hunched on a diary scribbling her memories. The writer has transformed a presumed scene into reality in such an absorbing manner that at times we even forget that we are reading a novel. Rather it appears we are flipping through the pages of the original diary which in a flash takes us to the allied base where we meet soldiers, their somewhat wearied wives, occasionally dancing in the ballroom in the midst of dark and dreary clouds of the second world war.
Mrs. Doris Leing appears as a forlorn lady overwhelmed by the mix feelings of dislocation and emptiness of her lap. The latter has almost beset her peace of mind. She wishes that she had a baby to fill her loneliness with beautiful colors of her chuckles and chortles. But she doesn’t share this wish to her husband because she knows that he would probably get vexed with the idea of having a baby. It is the last thing he has always strangely avoided. Contrarily, she loves to see her tummy getting bulged out like other pregnant women. She wishes to experience the labor pain. She reckons a woman stands incomplete as long as her lap lays empty. In the absence of her husband she caresses her tummy with love as if it contains a baby. Even sometimes, she gets undressed and pretends to perform the rituals of delivering a baby. In the mean time the news of Hiroshima getting bombed by the US shocked Mrs. Leing not because she has any sympathy for the masses that lost their lives in this carnage but because she now believes the land of Hiroshima has also turned infertile like herself. The term “infertility” is what makes her feel the immense pain of Hiroshima.
Most of the women appeared in this novel, be it Mrs. Doris Leing, Mrs. Lucy, or, Miss. Margreta all seemed to be plagued by intense loneliness and homesickness. As most of the times, their husbands stay outside, they appeared like inmates in a solitary confinement. To fill their time they have switched themselves to activities like writing diaries and weaving jerseys. In a subtle way, the writer has elucidated that how hard was the life of soldiers’ wives in a foreign land during the colonial era.
The protagonist of this novel, Chakar who is the narrator of the tale as well, is an odd fellow. He has always attracted by the beauty of women, yet he never dare expresses what he feels for them just for the morbid fear that they may give him a cold shoulder. In his imaginations he always devours their bodies but when it comes to reality he even can’t properly utter a few words to them leave alone expressing love. It appears that he always expects from women to express to him what he can’t.
Fear is one of the pervading themes of Munir Badini’s writings. In most of his short stories his characters are frightened of death in one way or the other. And this novel is no different at all. The protagonist of this novel is too frustrated by death. Writing the presumed diary of the lady is an attempt to divert his attention from the preoccupying thoughts of death. He thinks that by reproducing what the lady has supposedly chronicled in her diary may instill in him a new vigor of life. But here too he couldn’t escape the occurrence of death. The news of appearance of five dead bodies of expatriates on the sea shore and the joint suicide of his old colleagues, Abida and Shakir who were involved in a UN sponsored project on the endangered species of green turtles, further land him in a psychological turmoil. He starts analyzing the concept of death through various philosophical parameters and dedicates four pages on his analysis which irritates the readers a bit. But, overall, the Sunset of Jemari is a quite engaging read from a seasoned writer.
Fazal Baloch is a regular contributor to The Baloch Hal whose writings mainly focus on Balochi language literature. To read more of his work, please click here
Published in The Baloch Hal on January 20, 2013