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I'd write more, like you said I should. If only, there was more to me.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007


Vikram Seth found it in a trunk full of letters and immortalised the tale of his Uncle and Aunt in Two Lives. Hanif Kureishi found it in a corner of his study. It wasn't letters, rather "a shabby old green folder containing a manuscript," that was penned by his father.

It was this manuscript that starts Kureishi's journey of reading his father, his life, his past and the moments they shared, remembered and forgot. It all comes back to him with his father's life.

Shannoo Kureishi, whose life like that of so many others changes with the partition. His early years in Poona, the journey to London, his father's diplomatic career with the Pakistani Embassy. His love for cricket, his dreams and hopes of being a writer:

"My father who was a civil servant in the Pakistan Embassy in London, wrote novels, stories, and stage and radio plays all his adult life. I think he completed at least four novels, stories, and stage and radio plays all his adult life. I think he completed at least four novels, though all were turned down by numerous publishers and agents, which was traumatic for our family, who took the rejection personally."

That takes you to Shanoo's manuscript An Indian Adolescence discovered by Hanif's agent. It's been eleven years since his father died and the he is now 50. Possibly an age when perspectives change.

The key character in the unpublished manuscript is Shani, the book is set in Bombay and Poona, there are sibling rivalries, infatuations, loves won and lost, it's almost like a part of his father's life is relived through these pages.

What makes the book such an amazing read is the way Kureishi deftly weaves Shani's life with Shanoo's and his. One minute you are transported to Poona, then to Ahmedabad, then on to the long sea journey from India to London. There isn't much of a structure, in fact it's hard to even categorise the book's genre, but that's where its charm lies. As Kureishi tells us:

"I think I am writing this book in the way he wrote his, as a sort of collage, hoping the thing holds together, divided and split though it may be, like any mind. Many of the young writers I teach worry about the structure of their work, but I tell them at the beginning the form of a piece is almost always the least interesting thing about it."

Reading My Ear at His Heart is proof of that. It's hard to leave the pages unturned in this subtle work of remembrance. It's enough to get you rummaging into the text of your own family history, starting with that forgotten box in Nani's house.