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