Publisher: Penguin Books
Pub date: Oct 2009
Source: Personal copy
The beginning of this year was wonderful for me book-wise. Five Queen’s Road was part of the reason this year had started off on a great reading note.
Dina Lal refuses to move from Lahore during the Partition. He is a true-blue Lahori and will not be chased from his beloved city. In 1947, when the British are leaving India and Pakistan, he buys a palatial house from the Englishman who lived there, despite his wife’s misgivings. He finally admits the danger he’s putting his family in, but the only concession he makes is to convert to Islam. He also rents a part of the house to widower Amir Shah and his family in the hope that the presence of a Muslim family will deter any trouble-makers.
The two families develop a strange relationship over the years. 10 years after the Partition, Amir Shah’s son, Javid marries Irene who comes to visit. Scarred by her memories of World War II, Irene establishes a relationship with her new family in Lahore where the household had undergone some puzzling changes.
This is a beautifully written, layered story that is a family saga, historical comment and much more.
We see the events surrounding the Partition from different viewpoints – the British who are leaving India, Muslims and Hindus in what became a new country, Pakistan, almost overnight. We also get to see Pakistan (specifically Lahore) through the eyes of Javid’s wife Irene.
Irene is perplexed by the strange arrangement the two families have – Amir Shah and Dina Lal are always at loggerheads and it’s unclear to her who owns the house. The once beautifully maintained mansion with the expansive gardens slowly gives way to a car shop and settlements on the premises. The two men – Amir Shah and Dina Lal – refuse to speak to each other, causing a lot of bad feeling between them to the advantage of the encroachers.
The house, Five Queen’s Road, is almost a character in the story and we see it changing shape as the political and social climate of the city changes. It also changes as the relationship between the two families changes. The story studies the idea of nationality and belonging and religious beliefs in the context of the violence that surrounded Lahore at the time of Partition. It also explores the idea of human connection that transcends religion, nationality and background. Irene’s growing fondness for her father-in-law and her happiness at having found a father and Javid’s friendship with Dina Lal relationships that I enjoyed reading about.
I loved everything about the book – the story, treatment, language, the characters.
Anyone interested in the Partition and Pakistani literature should definitely read Five Queen’s Road. Even if this is not your area of interest, read for an insightful look into human nature and for the sheer lyrical poetry of Sorayya Khan’s writing.
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