Rang Mahal (A Palace of Colours) - A Novel By Tahir Aslam Gora

Tahir Aslam Gora

The most conspicuous and groundbreaking novel “Rang Mahal” (A Palace of Colours) appeared in Urdu in literary magazine “Aaj”, by a Canada based writer Tahir Aslam Gora. “Rang Mahal” is a riveting account of the lives of the Pakistani diaspora in Canada. Its diction is original, eloquent, absorbing and innovative. It has taken an Urdu fiction writer more than half a century, after Manto, to garner enough courage to express human sexuality in a popular idiom. It portrays the lives and psychological conflicts of Pakistanis based in Canada, with a rare insight into revealing glimpses of personal experiences. The story shuttles between the past and the present, bringing to life characters that follow their adopted country’s lifestyle alongside those whose insecurity in an alien world pushes them to seek refuge in extreme versions of religion. Unfortunately, the story ends rather abruptly but leaves enough room for a sequel. It is a blessing that religious zealots don’t read literary novels anymore, otherwise by now its publisher would have sought refuge in Canada along with Mr. Gora. –

Irfan Javed – A literary critic from The Friday Times, Lahore (Pakistan)

Tahir Aslam Gora (b. 1963)

Tahir is a prominent writer, novelist, poet, journalist, editor, translator, publisher and TV Host with over 30 years of experience in journalism and the world of Literature.

He is an author of five novels, three collections of short stories and three collections of poems in Urdu and Hindi languages. His three novels and a collection of poems have been translated and published in Hindi, Russian and Uzbek languages.

He is the recipient of Queen Diamond Jubilee Medal for his services to Multicultural Canadian Society.

He is also a founder of Multicultural TAG TV Channel. His shows in Urdu-Hindi languages got over 100 million views.


Rang Mahal {A Palace of Colours}

Urdu Novel by Tahir Aslam Gora
English Rendition: Eli Raza & Tahir Gora

 

Chapter 1

When suddenly, the dark, dense clouds began to rain like a thick splatter, the meandering roads of this big city looked like a valley wherein the headlights of the moving cars in a network of undulated roads appeared to be bright bulbs. The heavy rain and gale made the trees sway around the twirling roads, and they seemed to become a part of the traffic congestion. The lights of the sky touched the buildings behind the trees and lit up as the darkness of the clouds had awakened all the houses. While wandering around a meandering road, Shahzad glanced at a long queue of cars on the other side of the road, and he felt as if the roads of this city were like the veins spread in his body; the cars were like blood cells; the not to be seen flow of petrol was like the fast blood flow in his arteries. He parked his car in the parking lot of a plaza and sat there under a canopy outside of a cafe. The outside landscape and scenery were as beautiful as the attractive scenes he used to see in his dreams, but his heart did not feel the pleasure of any dream coming true. “America is so beautiful but why still does it not feel like back home”, he wondered.

Then he suddenly realized that he did not even remember Pakistan much. He did not remember those streets nor those chowks, nor did he remember the odor of the smoke emanating from the chimneys of the houses, nor did he feel the blowing dust coagulating on his lips or getting stuck in his throat. As he was engrossed in his observation that he no longer remembered Pakistan much, he started to recall the thought of a traffic jam at Lahore's Shahdarah Chowk. He began to think about the red dust that emerged from the brick kiln, that when mixed with brown soil caused the feces of buffaloes walking on the road--and of horses hitched to the wagon--to mingle with the black mud.

Shahzad did not even feel the desire to return to Pakistan. However, he could feel Pakistan. He could feel the gust of the wind, and the ambience of the mountainous regions embracing him, giving him utter exhilaration and tranquility. He began to recollect the thoughts about evenings in Nathia Gali where the mountains would look like they were in a state of sheer cheerfulness, beauty and joy. Places more beautiful than Nathia Gali in America couldn’t give him the same feeling, he thought. As the memory of those times came to his mind, he became overwhelmed with nostalgia. He used to walk on a narrow meandering street of foggy hill station Murry. While enjoying strolling in those foggy roads, he would also look at the bungalows of aristocrats on both sides with envious eyes. He loved the deep fog. He would feel as if he was not walking on the earth but flying with the wind and walking on the cloud as if he had escaped the impurity, smirch and darkness of this world. The thought of such pure and clean air made his nostrils swell with joy. While walking on these roads he would feel a sense of serenity and deep silence. He felt as though he could listen to the fog clouds whispering with each other, and he would relish the rhythmic music composed by wet droplets in fog. Wherever he went in the world--on whichever land he traveled, whichever weather he faced, wherever he would find the fog descending on the earth covering everything--he would feel as if he was in the fog's care and protection.

Shahzad started remembering a foggy winter night at Lahore Lakshmi Chowk. In that fog the 500-watt bulbs illuminated the large cauldrons, griddles and frying pans in the eateries which served mutton kadai, chicken chickpeas, kidneys and testicles curry that looked like beacons. How delighted he was to see so much fog on the streets of Lahore that night. The chefs at the kidneys and testicles eateries were hitting the pan with sharp slicers producing a shrill, constant and captivating rhythm.

Sitting under the canopy outside the cafe in a Chicago City Centre Plaza, he had finished his coffee and could not decide whether to have more.  He felt that the patter of the heavy rain on the canopy was reminiscent of the shrill rhythmic sound produced by the chefs at the kidneys and testicles eateries at Lakshmi Chowk. He was fond of the heavy rain too. Heavy rain accompanied by strong winds caused the trees to sway back and forth. In the car lights' illumination, the rainfall resembled a balloon light luminaire. He was lost in his deep thoughts and the evening had softly turned into night. This America: the world’s greatest superpower, has become a habitat for people across the world: the Chinese, Blacks, Russians, Arabs, Indians, Pakistanis, and Europeans. Everyone’s eyes are towards America, and everyone is looking up to it. Then at last he started to wonder why he didn't like these beautiful landscapes, the valley-like cities filled with wide highways and people, like the way he adored the mountainous region of Pakistan. “I think I prefer to dwell in the past,” he contemplated; or the huge constructions built here around valleys, mountains, trees, rivers, seas, and social life; everything seems artificial to him. His own perception of his nostalgia could be the reason that he had never felt a tremble in his heartstrings.

Shahzad would tell himself, “But I am an immigrant here.” Then he would think, who is not an immigrant here, everyone is an immigrant or a refugee here, even these Europeans are immigrants here. People traveled to this land from Germany, France, Ukraine, Belarus, India, China, Iran, Africa and all over the world. He kept pondering, “Is there someone who isn't an immigrant or a refugee on this land?” “Some are new immigrants, and some are from a few generations,” he sorts of established his thoughts.

Shahzad decided to go on a walk around his neighborhood on his day off from work. As soon as he entered the main road from his street, he realized that his residential area was quite vibrant and full of splendor. He got angry with himself that there was no need to wander off to far-flung areas to find a nice cafe since there were so many nice cafes in his own area. To cheer himself up and to brighten up his mood he went to a coffee house. He sat by the window adjacent to the footpath and from there, he could also see his apartment building. There was a chain of shops lined up as far as he could see. With the incessant flow of traffic on the roads and with the hustle-bustle of people everywhere, life appeared to be moving at a great speed as if he was watching a film.

While casting a glance out of the window at the pavement, black pitch road made of coal tar and the bricks of the shopping plaza in front of him he wondered, is this the same America that seems like a very magic land from Pakistan? It’s land, bricks, coal tar, sky and everything is the same as in Pakistan. Now he felt as if he had been living here since childhood. It seemed like these are the buildings where he was raised, these are the houses where he was cradled, and these are the same streets where he had played.

He glanced at the people sitting around. The Iranian owner of the coffee house was standing at the counter, a Filipino girl was working on the cash register, a Pakistani boy was seen making doughnuts in the kitchen, and some Chinese people were sitting around the tables. Two Sikh men along with two kids were sitting eating donuts and sipping tea in the far corner, in the other corner four white schoolgirls were smoking cigarettes under the pretense of having coffee. He was feeling at peace among these different kinds of people. He realized that he panicked when going to the Pakistani restaurants because in Pakistani restaurants he found people confused like him. Nevertheless, his craving for Pakistani bread and curries and kebabs would take him every other day to a Pakistani eatery. He used to think that he could separate himself from everything from Pakistan, but he could not separate himself from his language and his fondness for spicy food. While sitting in that coffee house, he was looking at the coffee houses on the other side of the road.  He was wondering if he would just get out of here and walk towards any of those coffee houses.

While smoking, he took out Salman Rushdie's novel Satanic Verses from his bag and started reading it. When the Islamic world screamed against this novel, he had tried hard to find it in Pakistan. Finally, with great difficulty, he had managed to borrow the novel, but he had to return it after two days as it was in great demand. Thus, he could only read the opening pages of it. One of the reasons that he did not go to work today was so that he could read this novel that he was unable to read for years. The moment he opened the book he looked around suddenly to make sure that no one was staring at him. He immediately wondered who cares here. The girls sitting at the next table would not be aware that such a novel exists. In their constant conversations, they did not go beyond repeating again and again "f**k you” and “f**king as**ole." Even the Sikh patrons did not seem to be concerned about anything in the coffee house. At the table where the Chinese customers were sitting, he knew that it was unlikely that they would know Rushdie's name. He laughed at the thought that only the Iranian owner of the coffee house or his Pakistani work or even would be aware of Rushdie' name. With the thought of hitting the novel on a Pakistani face, he closed the novel and tapped it lightly on his cheeks while smiling furtively. Then while turning the pages of the novel he looked at the Iranian owner of the coffee house, he did not seem to be supportive of the current religious government of Iran. The poor Pakistani boy was toiling in the kitchen just to earn 6 dollars per hour.  With great enthusiasm, he managed to finish the first fifty pages of the novel. He usually gets a bit tired after reading thirty-forty pages. He bookmarked the page he had read so far, closed the novel, and began to ponder that no matter how important and interesting the book is, he cannot read more than fifty-sixty pages in one go.  After closing the novel, he got lost in deep thoughts about the characters of Rushdie’s unique novel. 

At that time, he wished to see the angel Gabriel floating like a descending airplane in front of him on the road and everyone sitting inside the coffee house applauding with wonder. At that moment he felt as if whatever little layer of faith and religious devotion he had, had suddenly flown away from his mind. In the coffee house, he wanted to shout out that the people who consider the rest of humanity as infidels and worthy of hellfire are only oppressing themselves. He once again observed the diversity of the coffee shop patrons and reassured himself that he was in a safe place.

Shahzad contemplated the reality that had he been in Pakistan, he would have been declared an apostate simply for having such liberal thoughts and in Pakistani culture executing an apostate is considered a virtuous act. Images such as Blood, swords, beards, bullets, guns, jihad, turbans, martyrs, massacres, rewards and booty started appearing in his mind. “Singing is forbidden, dancing is forbidden, it is forbidden for a man to look at the face of a female stranger, forbidden for a woman to look at a male stranger (non-mahram), contempt for the Jews, aversion for the Christians, rebuke the Hindus” ….and he began to remember all the lessons of his textbook at once. In the meantime, he remembered a porn magazine that featured the Bible lying in the lap of a naked girl. She seemed like an innocent person who had been exonerated from her sins and the religious book was lying on her naked body as if everything else had been sanctified. He laughed at the word’s ‘sin’ and ‘religious books.’ He was surprised by how meaningless and absurd these terms seemed to him.

Shahzad came out of the coffee house and started walking on the roads aimlessly.  He was awestruck by how strange this world is that changes every minute. Pakistanis have their own ghettoes; they are scattered in different parts of this city. Their grocery stores, restaurants, and other places to fulfill the necessities of life, are found near their residential buildings. Most people preferred to live within their own circles. Those who mingled well with the Sikhs and other Indian groups had a yet different world. He had also visited many other areas of this city where he realized that for a while, he had escaped the mess and perplexity of his own community. There used to be a lot of arguments on religion and politics in the Pakistani community and if he visited the Indian people then there would be an exchange of artificial love. While living in the Pakistani community, he would always be mentally disturbed and in a state of constant dilemma. The only hobby of the editors and writers of the local Urdu newspapers was to prove that Pakistan is a great country. These newspapers used to show their love to Pakistan's atomic bomb and nuclear scientists. It was common to read hateful writings by Pakistani journalists, writers, and intellectuals against Hindus, Christians, and Jews. For him, his nuclear country Pakistan, whose foreign exchange reserves did not exceed a few billion dollars, looked like a set prepared for a Hollywood movie scene. At a recent event, a Pakistani diplomat had told him secretly that the resources in the country's treasury were not more than a few billion dollars, but that the army's budget was immense. “The money for the army comes from drugs, jihadi donations, Arab countries and counterfeit currency and when needed, Western countries also generously help,” the diplomat had told him while swaying in ecstasy.


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