Title: Scatter Here is Too Great
Author: Bilal Tanweer
Genre: Fiction, Contemporary, Short Stories
This book is a collection of short stories, of ordinary people from Karachi. Each of these stories converge at a bomb blast that took place at Cantt Station. The blast was all that made it to the headlines, these smaller stories that changed the lives of those ordinary people forever, stayed in the imaginary confines of this book.
True Stories are fragments. Anything longer is a lie, a fabrication.
Mr. Tanweer has an exceptional command over prose, his scene depictions are one of the best I have ever read. Somewhere in one of the chapters, he penned down the feeling of drowning at sea; the prose was so well-written, it had me choking. He frequently mentions the Arabian Sea, that shares a coastline with Karachi. His characters treat is as refuge from the chaotic city.
The sea, you see, feels good for only a few days, but then it starts suffocating you. You first escape to the sea to escape yourself, but after a while that’s all you find there. City is better that way. There are too many lanes and alleys. You never run into yourself there.
For such a well-written book I have given a the 3-ish star rating. Because this book left me with a feeling of hopelessness. There was no light at the end of the tunnel! I have read some sad books but there is always some hope at the end or somehow things fall into place. This book completely lacked that ending! It mentions on the cover, this book is a blood soaked love letter to Karachi, in my opinion the “Love” part was missing it was more of a recollection of a crises situation. Another thing I found confusing was the absence of introductions for the characters, for a short story it took me two pages to figure out from whose perspective is the story being told.
For me the most memorable characters for me were Asmaa a girl who likes to tell stories and Akbar, an ambulance driver. Average Karachitte families are pretty conservative where girls still can’t publicly interact with boys, dating is a far-cry! Asmaa faces the wrath of the neighborhood fueled by her grandmother who discovers her involvement with a boy in her building. All the stories Asmaa ever told told were tragic, and so was hers. Akbar is an ambulance driver, who two days before his wedding has a severe PTSD. It gets triggered by the blast where he had to pick up corpses. The impact was such that Akbar becomes a cabbage mentally, incapable of holding another job or relationship. It made me realize that doctors/nurse handling emergencies or ambulance drivers need to have nerves of steel to save lives of complete strangers. They destroy basic human feelings in order to do their jobs properly, it must take herculean strength!
I would recommend this book at anyone who lives in Karachi or is familiar with the courage and hope the people here are capable of exhibiting. It is too negative for someone looking for an introduction to the city. Yes there is street crime and there have been occasional bomb-blasts too. But things have started looking up, starting with making the streets a safe place.
Karachi has her wounds, there are people who will push you in a queue at the passport office and there are people who would give random strangers cold water on the streets, you just need to choose where to look!