Take a peek into Pakistan's elite society blowing itself up with In the Company of Strangers
Awais Khan scratches the shimmering surface of this society to bring his readers face to face with a world that is both at odds with itself and at crossroads with the Islamists.
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Many, not just in India, but also the farther East and West of the world, see Pakistan as the land of bearded, Islamic hardmen and repressed, veiled women, where bombs explode by the minute. But Pakistan is also the land of women in short skirts and clean-shaven men with gelled hair.
They include the bold atheists and play-safe agnostics. They also include the believers who bump and grind on dance floors with abandon in company, and then go on guilt trips in solitude. Bombs explode in their worlds too.
Awais Khan's In the Company of Strangers is a tale of Pakistan's elite society letting its hair down as bombs blow up and rich places come down. Resplendent one minute, rubble the other.
The book is suitably titled to describe a world where people barely know each other. They meet often, very often. They party hard. They party together. And yet they don't know each other. With the entry fee for such parties alone higher than what most Pakistanis earn in a month, they are strangers to the larger Pakistani population too.
Khan allows his readers a sneak peek into the secrets and lies of Pakistan's high society. He scratches the shimmering surface of this society to bring his readers face to face with a world that is both at odds with itself and at crossroads with the Islamists.
Pakistan portrayed itself as a progressive Islamic nation for a couple of decades after its creation in 1947. But conservatism began sweeping the country during the military dictatorship of General Mohammad Zia ul-Haq in the 1980s under a drive to Islamise the state.
Many toed the line willingly, many not so willingly, and then a small section chose to defy. This defiance was seldom open, but it was no secret.
Khan presents the sordid side of the Pakistani elite society. As a storyteller, he sure has the freedom to tell his story his way — the sordid way. His narration is nevertheless gripping.
Khan's book is a story centered around the modelling industry in Pakistan and the rich who can afford to hire a whole bunch of models to their parties, where alcohol flows and overflows, where people dance till they drop and where sex is easy to get and frivolous enough to forget.
Mona, a woman married to an abusive man Bilal, meets Ali, a much-sought-after model, in this woke world, whose wokeness is matched only by its hypocrisy.
Sparks fly. Lines are crossed (a subjective deduction, of course). Conscience stirred and sent to sleep. All this while bombs explode and people die.
Mona's closet has skeletons, she guards so strictly, they tumble out only in her dreams. Until she meets her friend Meera with whom she has had a painful parting of ways. Only Meera identifies Mona's closeted skeleton.
After all, she was there when Mona threw it in the closet.
Mona isn't the only one holding a secret. There are others too hidden in the pages of the book. They are unravelled slowly and gradually, keeping the suspense till the very end.
Ali has had to return to the decadent world of modelling against every grain in his soul. He would leave it, if only he found something that paid him at par. Battling their demons, Mona and Ali draw closer until they can no longer stay apart.
And then the bomb goes off as one from the elite circle chooses to blow himself up.