How to Fight Islamist Terror from the Missionary Position: Tabish Khair

Here comes a fresh novel from Tabish Khair called ‘How to Fight Islamist Terror from the Missionary Position’. Well this long sounding name might disarray you if you look at the first half of the title, and it might arouse a feeling of an entirely different kind when you come to the second half of it! If you are picking this book after reading his previous ‘The Thing about Thugs’, be assured that you are about to read yet another fantastic novel by Tabish Khair. Khair presents here a novel with a great sense of humor which deals with the complex contemporary religious scenario in the world.

Three men from the Indian subcontinent, a motley lot, share a house in the very orderly city Aarhus in Denmark. The three could not have been more different from one another - one being a Pakistani Muslim, another Indian Hindu, and the third an Indian Muslim. Very frequently it is seen that people from the subcontinent find it easier to develop camaraderie once they are outside their region of geographical origin. These three men develop a friendship and share important events in their respective lives while sharing a house with each other.

The protagonist, an unnamed Pakistani young man is recovering from a recent divorce. The separation is so recent that he is yet to find a house to live in. After scourging the big and small, expensive and cheap houses in and around Aarhus, he and his friend Ravi land up in Karim bhai’s flat. Karim bhai is a taxi driver by profession and importantly has two rooms to let. It is an improbable situation for the three because where Karim bhai is devout, the protagonist and Ravi have very little faith in any religious institution. But despite these glaring distinctions in their beliefs and lifestyle, they decide to share the house, and it is to their credit that they allow each other the space to live the way they find fit. When Karim bhai holds his Friday lectures on the Quran, Ravi takes a philosophic interest in them wanting to learn more, while our protagonist behaves kindly by keeping his non-believer’s thoughts to himself. Likewise Karim bhai does not interfere in the young men’s way of life, which he most likely sees as wayward and irreverent. A warm camaraderie begins. But unfortunately, the world in general does not operate with such harmony. Very soon the disturbing events in the outside world lay their dark shadows upon these men and threaten to shatter their friendship.  

Tabish Khair has written a very beautifully sublime story of love, faith and life. Though religion is an important theme in the novel, the overarching story is about life itself, the ordinariness and the extraordinariness of it. The characters are very much in love with life. And then there is love itself. Ravi wanting nothing but the best and the most fulfilling kind of love, and the protagonist satisfied with a glass half full keep gyrating within the realms of the disciplined Denmark.  

The novel is written in a deceptively light tone so that the discussions on heavy topics like faith and fanaticism come across in an offhand way almost carrying a tone of ridicule for the seriousness normally attached to these. Khair takes a look at Islam from different angles and speaks of the facets of the religion. He speaks of the thousands of years of culture and tradition that the religion represents and also worries over the fact that the religion is being utilized by fanatics as a basis for violence. In some regards, the novel brings to mind Howard Jacobson’s deep and inquiring novel ‘The Finkler Question’, but where ‘The Finkler Question’ tries to seek the differentiating factors of a religion and people,  ‘How to…’ brings to fore the inherent similarity between people and faiths. The easy preening at religion serves in peeling off the enigmatic aura from religion and making it possible to understand, laud and criticize it at a human level.

‘How to...’ is an outstanding novel, very entertaining and yet very sublime. I recommend this novel highly for the depth of its themes, the easy fluidity of the writing, and for its memorable characters.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this remarkable book.

This novel can be bought from Flipkart in India.

Book Source: Publisher

7 X 7 Link Award

Andrew has very kindly tagged me for the 7 by 7 Link award, and that gives me an opportunity to write my first meme ever! The rules are pretty interesting; I have to answer a few questions about myself and my blog. So here goes!

1: Tell everyone something about yourself that nobody knows.
Well, here’s something which not many of my blogger/ blog reader friends know about me. I am a programmer and I work as a Senior Software Engineer at the fantastic company Autodesk. I am currently working on a really exciting product, Inventor Fusion. It is one of the latest applications introduced for creating 3D models, and I have been part of its founding team, which makes me both happy and proud :)
2: Link to a post I think fits the following categories: 
I consider my review of Salman Rushdie’s book 'The Enchantress of Florence' as my most beautiful piece because the book itself is so beautiful! Added to it is the charm of the story unfolding in Mughal India and related by the wonderful words of Mr. Rushdie. I loved the book and loved to write a review for it. I think something of my enjoyment and adoration for the story and subject found its way into my review and lent it some of its charm. 
Most Helpful Piece
I don’t know which post I can list here unless I decide to link to all my posts :). I think book review blogs help in pointing readers towards interesting books, and in veering them away from some others. My blog posts can claim some small portion of being useful in this manner so my answer here is: all my posts!
The most popular post is of course my review for Julian Barnes’s wonderful novel ‘The Sense of an Ending’. The novel deservedly won the Booker prize in 2011, and the interest that the prize generated certainly contributed to the popularity of this post.  
Most Controversial Piece: The Sense of an Ending: Julian Barnes
Well, I have just realized that I haven’t been very controversial on my blog so far. I had no specific agenda while starting the blog and I devoted my time to read and write about those books that I liked. I can consider my post on ‘The Sense of an Ending’ here since it generated some interesting discussions over the novel’s ending.
Most Surprisingly Successful Piece: The Gods Themselves: Isaac Asimov
I think I will name my review of Asimov’s novel ‘The Gods Themselves’. Considering that the novel was written 40 years back, a lot has been written and said about it already. I felt that another review may not interest many, and yet, this post was visited often and was visited mainly though searches. This shows the immense power of Asimov’s novels which can captivate people decades after their being written.
Most Underrated Piece: The crock of gold: James Stephens
I had written about James Stephens’s novel ‘The crock of gold’, a novel I had really enjoyed and whose style had surprised and charmed me a lot. I would have loved it if more readers had given this excellent novel a try, but sadly this post was not seen by many. I hope linking it here might induce some readers to take up this magical Irish tale and discover its beauty.
Most Pride-worthy Piece: The Thing About Thugs: Tabish Khair
I am really happy about my review of Tabish Khair’s beautiful novel ‘The Thing About Thugs’. I am glad that many readers came to know about the novel through my post and decided to take it up. Another thing that really made me happy was that this post gave me an opportunity to communicate with Tabish Khair and discuss the novel with him. Mr Khair is a very talented and charming writer and I felt very pleased when this conversation confirmed that my understanding of some of the finer points of the novel was exactly as he had intended as a writer.   
3: Pass this on to 7 fellow bloggers.
Here are seven of my blogger friends whose blogs are always a source of knowledge and joy to me. I hope this meme gives us an opportunity to hear their thoughts as well!

Gillespie and I: Jane Harris

An old frail woman narrates a story from her past about a painter friend and about a very famous trial that she had been embroiled in. She sits at her desk, quietly penning down from her memory, while her two Finches chirp pleasantly from their beautifully carved cage. The story that this old woman, Harriet Baxter, is narrating is very much like that cage, pretty on the outside, but from inside an inescapable trap. Jane Harris, a very talented author weaves a highly captivating, complex tale of friendships and betrayals in ‘Gillespie and I’.

Harriet Baxter is an Englishwoman with a very kind heart. During her time living in Glasgow she saves Elspeth Gillespie’s life which initiates a friendship between the Gillespie family and Harriet. Soon she becomes a close friend of the family and her constant urge to help their betterment makes her very dear to them. Ned Gillespie, the artist and his wife Annie Gillespie become her particularly good friends. But all is not well with the Gillespie family. Ned and Annie’s seven year old daughter becomes wayward and uncontrollable and the relationship between Ned and Annie deteriorates. But the final blow comes with the disappearance of Rose, their younger daughter, and Harriet finds herself caught in the middle of this ordeal in an unexpected manner.  

Jane Harris is a very talented writer. The most striking aspect of this novel is the strength of its characters and its plot. Each individual is carved out in detail and the interrelationships between them are portrayed beautifully. The storyline, which seems like a simple and linear narrative in the beginning, slowly evolves into a complex and intriguing plot. The darkness in the story slips in unnoticed and increases by degrees. Harris’s enigmatic style of writing very skillfully brings out the facets of the sinister. The prose is simple yet beautiful and draws you into the story. Glasgow, where most of the story takes place, serves as an excellent setting. Harris speaks about the famous Glasgow exhibition and the various artists from around that time which adds to the charm of the novel.

I really loved reading ‘Gillespie and I’ and I will recommend it highly for its excellent plot and intriguing characters. It is a must for all lovers of the mystery genre.

‘Gillespie and I’ can be downloaded for Kindle or can be bought from Flipkart in India.

Book Source: Self