All generations need a storyteller. Arshad is ours.
Like Sara and Daud, we grew up in an ecosystem in which we all suffered the worst defeat of our lives. We are a defeated generation. In a continuing struggle over how to live our lives, our armed guard had decided to unleash its uninhibited lust for power on us. They moved the arena of jungle warfare to our homes, barging into the sacred precincts of our four walls. They war-gamed to mess up with our minds. Unbeknown to us, they maneuvered to take away our minds, tinkered with logic, exterminated freedoms of speech, of ideas, of seeing, of hoping. They had resolved not to make the mistake of one mid-December at the beginning of a decade when an un-uniformed person walked over a whole lot of silenced guns and into a big chair. The counterattack then took them some seven years of painstaking convulsions before they had finally hanged the evil genius. They thought it was not necessary to kill us all. For most of us, they decided to break our bones, to stab us here and there, take away our limbs, turn us blind, maim us and cripple our thoughts. Instead of killing us of hunger, they opted to malnourish our generation, to paralyze our thoughts, retard our progression with poisoned nutrients. Relationships, places, references, metamorphosed as they released a deluge of obliviousness. There was no need to kill everyone, just capsize a generation on its head and pulverize their lifetime. They went for a massive transmutation of the day into night, truth into falsehood, hope into despair, and love into hatred.
And, then they relaxed. They had completed the coup d’état. All levers of power were in their control. They could pop in and out, be the dragon or choose other puppets, multiples of them, while the puppeteers held strings of control behind the stage. They created a new structure of power, tied a few million people to a tiktake with whiplash in their hands. They did not have to use it. They managed to program it into the deepest recesses of the unconscious hippodrome that our minds are.
They ensured that nothing would move as we entered a millennium of solitude with our memories lost. Our storyteller remembered. Like Jose Arcadio Buendia of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, he had figured out a way to beat the imposed loss of name and notion of things. He retained the way out of our collective semantic dementia. Sara had loved a little cute girl in an orange dupatta hanging around her shoulders signing sweet melodies of our time. She had also stayed connected to the tunes of the summer wine. This generation had to change her soprano later telling them that our day will come, a day when Sara and Daoud would be able to walk around and meet each other without a bunch of gundas breaking their doors and beating them to near-death.
Our tormentors had triggered another option, get out, move away, the farthest possible. In the midst of changing orientations, Arshad’s protagonists find refuge in an imperial capital, a center of extortion and exploitation turns into their place of refuge, nurturing space for hope and future, and the home of Sara’s only child. Ahmar’s news agency moves him to an undisclosed faraway land where they think he will be safe. The erstwhile imperial capital turned into a corner of the globe where relationships changed the basis for Arshad’s characters. Eternally lonesome souls located old partnerships of “humiliation,” and found love and friendship in each other. They also found the energy to consider some fundamental issues in life, like what constitutes relationships? What are relationships within our immediate circles and at a greater canvass of humanity? Daud and Sara had failed to strike relationships in an alien land. They had to find each other before they could reconnect to their inner selves and yet Daud opted to be a bit of a ceaseless stranger. Sara encounters an existential challenge at home. She had centered her life on a blood relationship, beginning inside the invisible hideout of her body, breathing with her in the open since the cutting off of the umbilical cord, and growing up in the warmth of her lap. Like her parents, she begins to lose her daughter who yearns for but remains in the dark about her male parent. Sammi imagines herself rootless and an underprivileged victim of the culture that had sheltered Sara and Daud. She has to figure out if hypothetical dissimilitude could scuttle her instinctive yearning for her first love. Ahmar faces a crisis in the most immediate relationships in the culture in which Arshad’s protagonists had originated.
Among the freedoms Arshad’s characters enjoyed in the imperial capital, there was the liberty to stay anchored in any faith. Sara and Daud had made choices in that environment which to several others of their compatriots remained problematic. Sara’s baby girl felt suffocated in the surroundings she had adopted, not only emotionally and personally but also in a transcendental civilizational framework. She challenges her mother’s choices in life and seeks to embrace reality in ways that diverge from her life experiences. Her mother had broken quite a few chains with her youthful sense of rebellion in a repressive social order. Her daughter discovers solace, sweetness, and affirmation in an opposite direction.
Arshad’s characters live the life that we dread and think the thoughts that scare us. They have stolen our names and enacted shades of life for us that we cannot see or do not want to see and negotiate. It is difficult to be them. They are living our life for us. They face their doubts and uncertainties. Sara struggles with the contours of her relationship with her daughter in the future as well as with scary thoughts about what drives her newfound passions. They think their thoughts. They get into situations we do not want to be in. They travel to forbidden destinations for us at the risk of their lives, abductions, solitary confinement in dingy dungeons, arrests, interrogations, investigations, and of course, more humiliations. They seek sustenance in their folklore and wonder how we get to be free from a desire to get there. In the lengthening distance between the two, they trap themselves into seeking recognition of their freedom from those who had enchained them in the first place. Freedom skipped their generation, but they are willing to sacrifice their lives to save one, a few, or many of us as the fear and terror the lust of control and power had unleashed on us now ramble through our streets, armed and mobile, and ready to eradicate all heathens.