Sunday, September 20, 2009

Review - The Hakawati by Rabih Alameddnine

They say never judge a book by its cover but that is what I did when i picked this book from the library. I was in a rush to catch the afternoon train to Hyderabad from Yeshwantpur, and I still had to press my clothes, do some biscuit/bread shopping ( YSR had died the day before in the chopper crash and I was preparing for a bandh - thankfully things were peaceful there ).

In the train someone sitting opposite me was reading a Sidney Sheldon - don't remember what book it was. He broke the ice by saying fat book and we chatted about other things.

And the book was very interesting. In ancient times when Baghdad, Persia were thriving - there was a profession called "Hakawati" - the story teller. He used to entertain the Kings and nobility - since they did not have Tata Sky and 24 hour news channels.

The book has 3 stories running in parallel. The one is about the author himself starting from how his Grandfather became a Hakawati, about the pigeon fights, the music instrument
Oud, the Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt wars in the background and childhood years..

The 2nd story is quite bizarre. It is about the dark world, demons and their interaction with the living, poets, bards, wit and all that. It starts with the Emir dispatching his slave Fatima to meet a wizard/witch in another city faraway to find out how he can be blessed with a boy. He has 12 girls..but he has no one to take over his kingdom.

The 3rd story is actually one within the 2nd story - the slave gets back after an adventure ( where she dies and falls in love with the demon and is reborn ) and tells the King that he should narrate a story of bravery to his wife so she can give birth to a boy. So the Emir narrates a story and this is the 3rd one.

There are so many stories within each story - the whole book is a riot. Its like TV. It is late, your eyes are tired but you just cannot switch off the TV. I gave up reading this book a few times after I got back from Hyderabad and thought will return the book.

But simply couldn't, once I started reading I would want to read a few more pages to find out what happens to that Babylar - the hero of the 3rd story who is a slave and rises to become the king or Othman - a cunning thief who becomes a loyal friend and bodyguard of Babylar, or Othman's wife - Layla a reformed lady dove !

And the author employs all the Hakwati tricks. He will leave the story at a very nice "cliffhanger" and move on to the next story, and I will look forward to how it turns out.

After reading this book I really wish the middle east countries resolve all their disputes and go back to enjoying life with no wars. They have so much tradition and culture and they should cherish it and not let it die. I want to visit them some day and gaze at their mosques and minarets, taste their tea and lamb, listen to oud and arabic songs, read their poems and stories.

Hmm..wish world becomes a better place...and not something I read and imagine in books..