The Purana Qila Stories
The Dust Beneath Her Feet
A Change in the Weather
by Shaheen Ashraf-Ahmed
Some stories rest in the margins.
Some are always just past the rim of our glasses, and we turn pages, squinting, trying to improve our view.
The Purana Qila Stories: The Dust Beneath Her Feet and A Change in the Weather, by Shaheen Ashraf-Ahmed are pearl-like, almost glowing from their own light, suggesting, but not telling all they’ve seen.
Purana Qila is the oldest known structure in Delhi, and it was also the locus of Muslim refugees trying to leave India and move into the newly formed state of Pakistan during the Partition. The stories themselves are refugees. In some instances, the fleeing is physical and divisive; in others, the flight is ideological or emotional. Ashraf-Ahmed asks us not only from what do we run, but towards what, and with whom?
Each story laps the ankles of one man and the people associated with him. They are fluid in time and geography and point of view, moving shamelessly like memory. Ashraf-Ahmed pushes at the notions of honor and loyalty, shifting points of view and time. Roti-like, they wrap around the binding decisions of common men, containing bites of lives. The dish, however, remains largely outside of one’s hands.
‘If the eggs spoil in their shells, it is because of something we did.’ Safiyah tells her daughters, as she tries to navigate the whims of her husband, his employer, and the increasing danger of being an unprotected individual in 1947. The Dust Beneath Her Feet is an observation of those who may only react to the decisions of others. The action, the movement, in the story is all committed by second-tier characters. Thus, the novella itself describes the margins of activity, the consequences of being in someone else’s shade.
The prose is tight and delicate, each phrase carefully tuned. It is musical in tempo and cadence. It is powerful in its restraint and discretion.
A Change in the Weather brings our hero into closer view. Only a point of reference in The Dust Beneath Her Feet, in A Change in the Weather, Imran is presented to us for evaluation, after he has out lived his potential. The narrative presents us with his choices during the decades since The Dust Beneath Her Feet , and we are left to determine if he chose properly or poorly.
Both stories are available through amazon. They are extraordinary, and worthwhile. Shaheen Ashraf-Ahmed’s blog is http://coinsinthewell.wordpress.com.
This review first appeared on irevuo.com, Friday Reads.