Title: The Blind Lady’s Descendants
Author: Anees Salim
Publisher: Penguin India 2015
Price: Rs 399
A metaphorical blindness is part of most people’s lives. We fail to see many things and hence live partial lives. We make our lives as well as those of others miserable with our blindness. Anees Salim’s novel which won the Raymond & Crossword award for fiction in 2014 explores the role played by blindness in the lives of a few individuals most of whom belong to the family of Hamsa and Asma. The couple are not on talking terms for “eighteen years,” according to the mother. When Amar, the youngest son and narrator of the novel, points out that he is only sixteen, Asma reduces it to fifteen and then to ten years when Amar refers to the child that was born a few years after him though it did not survive.
Dark humour spills out of every page of the book. For example:
How reckless Akmal was! Sleeping with his mouth wide open right under a bunch of ripe jambus. Suppose a wind ruffled the tree, a jambu from the bunch dropped straight into his mouth and choked him before he could sit up and say his final prayer? Then Jasira’s marriage would have to be put off, by at least six months from the moment Akmal dropped dead.
The family has seen many a tragic event already. After all, bad luck is an invisible offspring of the Hamsa-Asma couple. One of the many tragedies is the suicide of the narrator’s uncle, Javi, the day the narrator was born. Amar, the narrator, turns out to be a natural descendant of Javi sharing many characteristics with him including a trace of insanity.
The novel is the autobiography of Amar who has reached the age of 26, at which his predecessor committed suicide. Amar is a half Muslim since he ran away when only half of his foreskin was sheared. As he grows up he loses faith altogether and declares himself an atheist.
The novel is about the usual conflicts faced by people: identity crisis, meaninglessness, fractured relationships, religious fundamentalism, etc. The blind lady of the title is Asma’s mother who is physically blind. But most other characters in the novel are metaphorically blind: unable to see beneath the surfaces of existence. The novelist succeeds in narrating the tale with ease and grace. The dark humour is the ideal buffer for all the absurdity that underlies the lives of the characters, the absurdity of life itself.