Book Review | Haalim | Nemrah Ahmed

Non review Rant

It has been ages since I reviewed the last episode of this novel and I have been meaning to review it, but couldn’t. The goal was to review it in 2019 but I failed.

There are various factors.

  1. Procrastination has become a second nature to me.
  2. It is no easy feat reviewing something so phenomenal. It was a thing on Facebook, if you know what I mean.
  3. The book is difficult to review, period.

So, this time, I am going to structure it a little differently.

Introduction

Haalim (The dreamer) is a time travel novel set in the modern-day Malaysia. Although it has a few scenes / chapters in Pakistan and Turkey.

Enough chit chat. Let’s get started.

Disclaimer

There may be a few spoilers. If you intend to read the novel; stop here, go away and read other stuff, like my books.

Characters

Haalim, relies more on characters and their settings than the story itself. We cannot begin the review before introducing these characters.

Time Travellers (both in 2016 Malaysia and 587 Malaka)

Taliya Murad aka Haalim aka Shahzadi Taasha

The protagonist. I like her so much, because she is everything that I wanted to be when I was a little girl. She is smart, she is slim, she knows how to dress, she can kill with her words, she is sharp, she is witty; and on and on.

But she is still human. She gets heartbroken, feels betrayed and occasionally doubts her friends. She is so cool. And also, hot.

Taliya is raised in an orphanage and her background is initially unknown. Perpetually hungry, she learns to steal and blackmail the warden when she is caught. We can say that her training to become the ultimate con artist started when she was very young.

She also spends a few years with a Pakistani family (to establish the Pakistani connection in the narrative).

Von Fateh Ramzal

Oh my my… If I wasn’t a Jihan Sikandar fan, I would have fallen for Fateh. But wait, Faris Ghazi is second in line, so never mind.

Fateh is a politician – the good politician. He is not just a politician. He is a leader.

Although he is very smart and righteous, we see him fall prey to the politics around him.

Of his many lines and paragraphs that are quotable, my favourite is simple.

“Ek larka aur larki dost ho sakte hain, lekin unn mein si kisi ek ko dusre se mohabbat ho jati hai.”

Or something to that effect.

Adam Bin Mohammad

The man who rises from self-doubt to the cool author. Super cool character. Also, he is a writer, so I obviously like him.

Zul-Kifli

Taliya’s mentor and guardian in present day. Raja Murad’s good friend in old Malaka.

2016 – Present Day Malaysia

Layana Sabri aka Daatin

The ever-loyal friend in need. One thing I like the best about her is that she is an avid reader. #metoo in the most innocent way, OKAY.

Asra (The Evil Queen)

Fateh’s wife. She’s merely a trophy wife on surface but there is a lot more that we find out as the story progresses. She runs art exhibitions. The one thing she seeks from her husband is his time and attention.

Ashar

Asra’s brother and his colleague in the same political party. He admires Fateh and is a true fan, until his father poisons his brain. Now, he is ambitious to be on the front line and become a politician and party chief, so he can run for prime minister.

Sofia Rehman

Current Prime Minister. Fateh has a lot of grudge against her, because she is the bad politician, if you know what I mean. She and her father have been in the government and they are corrupt AF.

Tango Mohammad Kamil

Taliya’s boss for brief period

Safeer

Taliya’s ex-husband

587 – Old Malaka

Raja Murad

Taliya’s father

Sultan Arsal Shah

The ruler of old Malaka

Malka Yon Sofu

Sultan’s wife. She’s from China and her loyalties are for her country.

Wang Li

Yon Sofu’s ally.

Abul Khair

One of the many rich men in Malaka. He plays a pivotal role in all the cons that Taliya carries out in older times.

Plot Summary

Come on, people. It cannot be summarized. There are 24 pdfs, each at least 80 pages long, small font and narrow margins. It is a lot of content. Okay, I will try to summarize but I am not promising anything. I will try and divide the story based on the era they are in – present and back in 587 AD. Yep, this novel involves time travel. Didn’t you know that already?

For episode wise reviews, check my other posts.

Review

First of all, congratulations to Nemrah for writing yet another brilliant piece of fiction. And thanks for making it available for free for millions of urdu readers.

This is the first novel of Nemrah which i read as it was being written. She is a master in the art of leaving the readers with cliffhangers.

Let me just list down my observations without tagging it with “liked” or “disliked”.

Timing

She timed it perfectly. Perfectly. She started to spread awareness about political strategies, the importance of elections, the intricacies of how a country is run. The election episode coincided with elections in Pakistan. Very well planned.

The timing of the election episode

It was a stroke of genius. She prepared and convinced her readers about the importance of voting. Then, Fateh’s election episode coincided with Pakistan’s elections.

The Imran Khan Angle

The whole steal the book from prime minister’s ex wife’s head, although morphed, was unmistakably a campaign for Imran Khan. Every little detail in the book by Sophia Rehman’s ex-stepmother was proved to be a fabricated lie. We can take a hint from there. Thank you!

Time travel

It was something I had never read in an Urdu novel. If I have, it must have been a very small and insignificant part, because I just don’t remember. Yet, it did not come as a shock. I mean, we have all read time travel stories, haven’t we?

Cross Over

In episode 17, Sofia Rehman tasks Taliya to steal the book her ex-step-mother has written. Ahmad Nizaam gives her reference of a guy who will help Taliya in her assignment in Egypt. That man is Jihan Sikandar, and this episode is a crossover between Haalim and Jannat Kay Pattay.

The readers I know, are not too happy about it, and other readers have noted their disappointment on author’s Facebook page. It was a new element for them, and some of them asked me to criticize this new twist.

I don’t see the crossover as a problem. A crossover is an element of popular fiction. As a fan of certain characters, I imagined them together in one story.

For those who have read Ibn-e-Safi, would remember that people I and requested him to bring Faridi and Imran in one book. He did that quite late in his writing journey and wrote “Zameen Ke Baadal”. The readers weren’t happy as they felt that it didn’t do justice to Imran. It was Faridi’s game. The novel was part of Jasoosi Duniya, and obviously it would tilt towards its own protagonist.

Nemrah did that without us asking. Were we hoping for it? Some of us might have. But let’s be prepared for a divided audience. Some would opine that Jihan is shown as a stronger conman. Some would say the same for Taliya.

Personally, being crazy about Jihan (who isn’t) I am delighted to have more of him.

‘Nemrah ke characters, Nemrah Ki Marzi’.

The release dates

Nemrah shares her episodes free on her Facebook page. I have said it time and again that it is commendable. Many readers like me would never buy the book and she is losing on a lot of customers. Yet, she gains a lot of fans and readers by sharing it for free. The drama about release dates changing, however, went overboard. This was the first (and definitely the last) time I was actively following an author’s page. Sometimes, I’d go through some comments as well. People would be angry, call her names and blah at her admin team. That was uncalled for. But, a writer knows whether or not the episode would be ready by the given date.

The episode that got released in Ramzan was ‘this is it’ for me. I remember refreshing the page a million times, okay maybe just ten times, on that day. Whether it was Sehr, iftar or during the office hours. It was then, that I realized that I am spending my time in something that is otherwise reserved for Ibadat and Zikr. I am not saying that she or her team did it on purpose. But the cliffhangers led to a lot of curiosity; the announcement of next episode fueled hopes and huge expectations. It inevitably resulted in anxiety and thereafter anger. Some visitors also accused her for using these tactics to get more traffic to her page. I don’t know. What good would that do to her? Does more traffic would mean more money? Does money even matter to her? She is making her book available for free, for crying out loud.

Teaching for life and beyond

Too many references

  • The three questions by Leo Tolstoy
  • Phoenix from Harry potter
  • Talia from sleeping beauty

(Too many) tutorial moments

Some were part of the narrative while others seemed forced. These sections were tutorial like and awfully done. Just awful and forced.

  • Importance of casting your vote
  • Believing in self
  • Nuances of sexual harassment
  • Money Laundering
  • Offshore companies
  • Alpha female

In the cross-over chapter, when there was talk about alpha female; I was so tired of it all.

It doesn’t feel like one story

At time, when I feel like honing my writing and storytelling skills, I read non-fiction books and various articles, blogs etc. For instance, what is a chapter, it’s ideal length, etc.

Most people say that a chapter should be a mini story in the bigger scheme of things. It has a start, mid and end. It tells you another story that takes the narrative forward.

Haalim took this too seriously. Each chapter followed a pattern, a template if you will.

  1. Introduce a new concept to the reader or reiterate an existing one (alpha female, ghost writing, importance of elections)
  2. Break their heart
  3. Surprise / shock them
  4. Impart a morale and/or Islamic lesson

Taliya Murad is Malaysian but also has a Pakistani connection.

It looks like the book also served as a campaign for Imran Khan’s Prime Ministerial campaign.

Cast you vote, don’t believe the book my ex-wife wrote. I think it was accommodated much later in the book. Or, perhaps, it was the plan all along.

Too many things going on at all point. If it was not for her super dramatic narration and shock value that each chapter offered, it would have fallen flat.

The drama (apart from the one happening in the story)

This is the first time I was reading Nemrah’s work as it got published. I have read all her other work after it was published, except Namal. I had to wait for the last episode.

Oh, the drama

With a new twist and surprise on every page and how her team engages with the readers, is amazing.

Final Words

Thanks, you for reading my review of Haalim. Let me know how you felt about the novel. You can comment, or email me.

Shabana Mukhtar

Advertisements

Your comments and opinion matter. Please leave a message. Cheers!