Fiction: Songs of Silence

Muneeza Shamsie: The quietness with which Hussein portrays turmoil and self-doubt adds to the power of his stories such as the tight, intricate and moving ‘Lady of the Lotus’. This multi-layered tale vividly recreates Karachi in the 1950s: its elegant parties, cultural evenings and soirees. Hussein interweaves brief jottings from the diaries of his gifted mother, Sabiha Ahmed Hussein, capturing her profound love for classical music and her singing lessons by famous maestros. The narrative is skilfully constructed through a series of vignettes in the first- and third-person, which weld past and present to great effect, to tell of creativity, self-expression, self-doubt and loss. A brief reference to her longing for rain — so rare in Karachi but so abundant in her native Malwa, India — imbues the story with a myriad of metaphors, including an intertextual engagement with the famous Malwa folk legend which gives Hussein’s story its name. Music as an innate expression of the human experience also runs through ‘The Hermitage’. Here, the loud joyful singing of a nun and the painful soaring voice of a monk, juxtaposed against the disciplined, traditional chanting of their colleagues at a monastery, release the abbott Siddhant’s suppressed memories. More here.

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