The India Tribune (June 28, 2009)
Dominique Lapierre’s City of Joy, a blockbuster that touched millions of hearts all over the world, celebrates its 20th anniversary. Vikas Swarup’s Q & A, the book which put India once again on the world map (if not directly, indirectly through its screen adaptation Slumdog Millionaire) is still reeling under the Oscar fever. Rumour is rife about Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle assembling his Slumdog team to make a new film on Mumbai and he has already bought the rights of Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found by Suketu Mehta for the purpose. A book, which The Economist has described as stories of slum dwellers, dancing girls, hit men and poets, all of whom have come to Bombay to make it big. The reviewer calls it an outstanding tale of the exhilarating city told in a clear but non-judgmental voice and going by the fact that Boyle has picked it up, one can believe it to be true.
What is the connection between the three? Slums of course! And just when we thought we had enough of slums, came along Fidali’s Way by George Mastras — a thriller, a travelogue and a novel, all rolled into one.
The story unfolds through the main protagonist, Nicholas Sunder, a hot shot American lawyer, who gives up a flourishing career to go backpacking in search of that illusive ‘something’. He finds it too, at Gilkamosh, a remote village in Kashmir at the cost of his identity, his career and his country.
The plot takes us first to Peshawar, the North-West Frontier Province in Pakistan, with a scene of interrogation as the Pak police finds the body of a young French woman, Yevette DePomery, the travel companion of Nick. Trouble brews for Nick and after finding himself in a cell with two petty smugglers Ghulam and Fidali (who is actually Fida Ali), he finds himself on a journey full of suspense, danger and soul-rendering experiences that keeps a reader’s interest hooked till the last page.
Fidali’s Way, which is actually a smuggler’s route from Afghanistan-Pakistan border to Kashmir through Hindukush via Siachen, Kargil and Krugan describes the route with interesting details one would not find in any geography book. One can see these details coming from the author’s personal experiences, a man who gave up practicing law to wander around the globe, specially trekking in the Himalayas, Karakoram and the Hindukush.
But one would be wrong if one strikes it off as just a travel experience. Nick’s journey through the rough terrain comes with Islamic philosophy, which transcends Fidali’s physical route into a spiritual one, and thereby takes the readers on a journey of love compassion, courage and despair.
In Gilkamosh, where Nick’s journey culminates, we meet two other main characters — Ayesha and Kazim. Both, full of idealism and conviction, follow their true calling that puts a full stop to their blossoming love. Ayesha becomes the much-loved village doctor and Kazim, a dreaded mujaheedin.
Intertwining the fates of these three main characters, Mastras gives us a glimpse of the Islamic culture and hopes and aspiration of the people of Kashmir and thus dissipates a few misconceptions, which one generally associates with the community.
Thus Mastras’ unbiased and non-preachy tune comes as a positive step towards bridging the gap between Islam and the West and at the same time is a befitting answer to the ruthlessness of the fundamental forces working in this complex region.
The India Tribune, Parbina Rashid, June 28, 2009