Book Review: SHEHR-E-ZAAT (By Umera Ahmed)

Introduction

Shehr-e-Zaat is one of those nooks that marry spirituality with popular fiction seamlessly. Umera Ahmed is a well-known name in the popular women fiction writing horizon and this is one of her best works. I stand corrected, all her work is great.

Author Profile

Umera Ahmed is one of the most widely-read and popular Urdu fiction novelist and screenplay writer of this era.
She completed her Masters in English Literature from Murray College, Sialkot. Later she became an English language lecturer for the students of O and A levels at Army Public College, Sialkot. However she left the job a few years back in order to devote her full attention to writing.
She began her writing career in 1998 at a quite young age. Her initial stories were published in monthly urdu digests and later came out in the form of books. She has written about 16 books , comprising of complete novels and compilations of short stories. However it was her novel “Peer-e-Kaamil (S.A.W.W)” which became her identity.

Synopsis

Shehr-e-Zaat (English: City of Self) revolves around the beautiful day-dreamer Falak; the only child to very rich parents. Falak is a student of fine arts who makes the sculpture of the man of her dreams and falls head over heels in love when she finds the breathing manifestation of it in Salman. But the more Falak tries to get to know Salman better, the more he distances himself from her until he finally succumbs to her wishes – but to what avail?
The heart of the story is about spiritual awakening. A sharp contrast is drawn between the Sufi concepts of ishq-e-haqeeqi, the love of a human for God, and ishq-e-majazi, the love of a human for another human.
Shehr-e-Zaat was first published in Khawateen Digest. It, along with five other unrelated stories were then compiled and published in book form as a collection under the title Main Ne Khuwabon Ka Shajar Dekha Hai. It was also published in one of early editions of Meri Zaat Zarra-e-Benishan .

Characters

Sher Afgan

One of the top industrialist in Pakistan.

Maimoona Sher Afgan

Sher Afgan’s wife

Falak Sher Afgan

The only child of Sher Afgan. She’s epitome of beauty and perfection. She’s self aware and self absorbed. Until, she meets a man who doesn’t even remember her after one meeting.

Salman Ansar

A 30-ish man, he has done Masters with economics major and looks after his family’s ceramic factory business.

Tabanda Salman

Salman Ansar’s lady love. She is the complete contrast of Falak, and yet, Salman falls in love with her.

Rushna

Falak’s friend

Mariyam

Falak’s friend, she suggests that Salman’s behavioral changes may be attributed to his interest in some other woman. Boy, she was right.

Plot Summary

The story begins as Falak is getting ready to go to a party, a party where Salman Ansar, the man of her dreams would also be present. She takes the first move and asks him out even though he is seemingly uninterested at first. They date and soon get engaged.

Sher Afgan wants Salman to join his business. Angered by the offer, Salman is willing to call off the engagement. Falak cannot imagine living without him, so she ensures that nothing should irk Salman lest he leaves her.

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After three years of engagement, they get married.

On a trip to Raavi, Falak and Ansar run into a majzoob who talks about Kul and Zaat. Of course, Falak ignored his words and him.

Three more years pass, and Salman begins to change. Falak seeks help from her friend Mariyam. Mariyam suggests the possibility that Salman may be interested in someone else. After several attempts to change things for better, none of which work out, she confronts him.

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She tries to find fault in herself. There are pages that describe every ounce of beauty she has, and she begins to question herself. However, after meeting Tabanda, she is shocked. Tabanda isn’t beautiful by any standard. She’s a plain looking girl and Salman fell for her despite being married to a modern day Cleopatra.

The heartache makes her think, reconsider all her life.

I will stop referencing the text now, lest I share the entire book. Thanks to Pak society, by the way, for sharing the PDF.

Falak transforms into a different person. She is oblivious to the worldly matters, her looks, Salman’s whereabouts. All she cares about is Allah.

I know, it is a bit more than summary, but no amount of my words can explain the magic that Shehr-e-Zaat.

Review

The first feeling when you read this is – intense, extreme, severe, fierce, and other synonyms.

The characters are extremely beautiful and rich. They belong to the extreme end of religious and spiritual spectrum. Both Salman and Falak are Muslim by name.

Falak is fiercely arrogant – nobody can ignore me, he cannot leave me, I don’t need to pray.

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She falls totally, madly, deeply in love with Salman. It doesn’t end there. She transforms herself to appease Salman. Her likes, dislikes, the food she eats, the colours she wear; she changes everything for him.

The introspection is severe and the realization is sudden, a bit too sudden. I mean, I understand that Allah can choose to bring you on the right path in any moment. However, Salman marrying Tabanda and Falak’s quest for Zaat, is a bit too sudden.

However, whatever she has said, is true to every word and I agree wholeheartedly. Umera has explained, in the simplest yet effective words, that women, especially girls, shouldn’t change the way they are for a man. A man is nothing and the quest of pleasing a man can gain nothing, especially if you’re ignoring Allah for pleasing Allah’s mortal creature.

I have read this one again to review and I liked her writing even more. The novel was published in Pakeeza Aanchal in episodic form. That’s when I first read it. It was one of the rare novels that dare to venture into spiritual realm and did a great job of impacting young and impressionable minds, in a positive way.

On a side note

I didn’t watch the drama. Mohib’s makeup is too much and he looks like a girl; Mahira didn’t fit my imagination of Falak and a cursory glance at some scenes didn’t entice me much. Mahira’s dialogue delivery didn’t match my expectations. She is beautiful, and a terrific entertainer as a host and guest on shows; but in my not-so-humble opinion, her acting is very one-dimensional. No offence.

Shabana Mukhtar

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