No Matter What You Write, Write With Your Heart

Review of Ammi – Letters to a Democratic Mother; Saeed Akhtar Mirza; Tranquebar 2008; Rs 295; pp 385

– Shana Susan Ninan

There might not be exactly a thousand tales in Saeed Mirza’s debut novel, Ammi – Letters to a Democratic Mother, but it sure did remind me of reading A Thousand and One Nights. Stories from his parents’ and grandparents’ lives, his own dilemmas and desires, and tales from contemporary life take the form of dialogues, narrations and soliloquies in this story.

Exquisitely crafted like a Persian carpet, the words flow into the readers heart like fine woven silk threads. Easy to understand, but thought-provoking when intended. The book spans various generations, countries and communities. It comes right up to post 9/11 when a lot of questions about Muslims and Muslim heritage were brought up, with some still left unanswered.

The imposing black and white photo on the cover serves as a gentle reminder that Ammi, Saeed’s mother is the centre of the novel. And, rightly so – the letter written to her is very strong in its tone, guided by the author’s relationship with her. Her belief in democracy and things modern is the faith from which she drew strength. Her lack of knowledge of fluent English and Mirza’s shortfall in the Urdu language are really not benchmarks in deciding who is more modern or not.

National Film Award winning screenwriter and director Mirza has deftly used various forms such as short story, lyrics, couplets, travelogue, memoir and diatribe to bring history to life. Mirza himself refers to this book as a “tossed salad”. Here’s a part of a particular story I enjoyed reading:

Who were these people opposing the war? They were Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, Taoists, Buddhists, Jains, Atheists, Communists, Animists and Anarchists. …never before in the history of the world had so many people, believing in so many different philosophies and faiths, come together on a common platform. …they were the majority of the people of the world. They were people like you Ammi. They were people who never made the headlines but reach out to each other beyond the divide of race, language, religion and culture.   

Some tales reassure our faith in mankind and humanity, some pose questions in our minds, some prod us to find answers to queries, while some encourage us to continue believing in values and morals we have acquired over the years, as individuals and as families, and then as communities and nations.

The books ends with an interestingly-written screenplay by Mirza himself – as you draw to its close, you’re reminded of many instances in the novel itself.

VN:F [1.9.20_1166]
Rating: 6.8/10 (8 votes cast)
No Matter What You Write, Write With Your Heart, 6.8 out of 10 based on 8 ratings

enjoyed this post? share with others:

twitter stumble upon digg

This entry was posted on Friday, June 8th, 2012 at 12:22 pm and is filed under Fiction, History, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

leave a comment