Haveli is a novel written by Pakistani author Zeenat Mahal. It’s a charming romance set in Pakistan in the 1970s. I was lamenting in my previous post about the lack of romance in todays books and lo and behold I get a true-blue romantic tale in my hands. It does remind me of the lovely Mills and Boons of yesteryears with it’s tall dark and handsome hero, a heroine with truck loads of attitude, beautiful descriptions of the place and people and a happy ending.
Chandni is the grand daughter of Zaitoon Begum, the widow of the last Nawab of Jalalabad. Chandni, refers to herself as C, since she hates her name, and to her grandmother as The Broad simply because of her intimidating presence and forceful manner. C’s mother died soon after giving birth, while her father (a man of questionable antecedents) had left the scene by then. C is home schooled and is completely under the mercy of her grandmother whom she loves to detest. Her ally is her half-brother Zafar whom she adores. When the story starts, C is twenty and determined to marry a much older widower, Kunwar Rohail Khanzada who also has a daughter. The poor chap is unaware of C’s intentions and has absolutely no interest in her. C is determinedly thinking up a military style plan of action to make him fall of her, one which even includes saris and itsy-bitsy blouses as a last resort. Enter the male protagonist Taimur, the son of a beloved family friend, who in C’s words is a perfect specimen of an Alpha Male with his impossibly good looks. She hates him at first sight. After all how can someone who looks so good be of any use ? Her hatred is compounded by the fact that Taimur seems to catch on to her ploys to trap Kunwar. C is further incensed when she realises that The Broad has intentions of getting her married to Taimur. This animosity sets the stage for some delicious sparring between the lead pair. I loved this aspect. After all what is a good romance without some antagonism between the protagonists ! The plot thickens when C’s long lost father whom she calls Nameless makes an appearance. He has brought along a supposedly eligible character for C to marry. Caught between her grandmother and her father, C doesn’t know whether she’s coming or going. Her emotions are already frayed by her growing attraction to the detested Alpha Male. How is a girl to manage all this by herself ? C tries her best to extricate herself with minimum damage to everyone concerned but ends up making the biggest mess possible. Being a romance everything gets solved and happiness reigns in the end.
Zeenat has put together a delightful array of characters. C is spunky with tons of attitude and a love of literature which leads to her naming people according to how they behave with her. Her names for Taimur changes with the situation and ranges from Heathcliff to Moriarty. A heroine with a love of literature ! My kind of girl 🙂 . Taimur is the typical Alpha Male and he doesn’t disappoint with his glittering eyes and strong demeanour. I secretly admired The Broad or Bi-Amma as C formally calls her. Living with the agony of her daughter’s death and not getting overwhelmed by it, bringing up her granddaughter, and running a big household at the same time is remarkable. The first chink in her forbidding personality appears when C’s father returns to take his daughter away and we get a glimpse of the fierce love Bi-Amma feels towards C. Protective Zafar, loving Baba and even the reticent Kunwar add to the story’s charm. My only reservation was that the end was slightly abrupt. The steady paced plot suddenly breaks into a gallop apparently in a tearing hurry to get to the finishing post.
Even though I was engrossed in the story throughout, at one level I was wondering at how similar life in Pakistan is to what we have here in India. If not for the geographical references it’s as if the story is set in India. It’s not so difficult to believe that we were countrymen at one time.
I cannot conclude this post without a huge thank you to Naheed Hassan of Indireads for contacting me and sending me the book for an impartial review. Naheed is an amazing lady who has taken up the tremendous responsibility of encouraging writers from South Asia. Indireads publishes only e-books. This month, in fact on Women’s Day, they have launched an initiative to promote women writers from South Asia, called She Reads South Asia. This is an effort to ‘discover, celebrate and discuss works by female South Asian writers’. They have come out with beautiful bookmarks also on this occasion. Do go ahead and check out this initiative on Facebook, and on twitter. This activity by Indireads is sure to give a much needed fillip to writing from this region.