Imagine the old streets of historical Lahore, the hustle, and bustle of a Dargah, small dingy cafes near Anarkali Bazaar – that’s where Faiqa Mansab transports you in her debut novel ‘This House of Clay and Water’. As she masterfully weaves the lives of three protagonists to create a delicate fabric of love and desire, we are left with a definite page-turner of a novel that speaks volumes of the human struggle to find its one true place. As is rightly put an old song’s lyrics – ‘One man’s nightmare is another man’s dream..’, Faiqa breathes life into this story of loss & longing from the perspectives of all the lead figures in her tale. Be it a 12-year-old kid craving for her mother’s touch or a hijra struggling to find his role in this world, a housewife who can’t find her dignity amongst her in-laws or a mother who seeks material happiness outside the walls of her warm household. It is truly devastating how all these lives grapple for bits and pieces of affection and are ready to go to any lengths, without paying heed to the enchainment brought about by words likes honor or morality.

When it comes to her characters, it’s a big win for Faiqa because each one of them seems real. She hasn’t limited herself by the desire to make them look bold, boisterous or beautiful. The background and circumstances they bring with them seem genuine to the point that you start resonating with their otherwise unconventional desires. If you are someone who enjoys reading about realistic inner turmoil and a range of emotions that a person goes through in facing his or her own fears, this book will not let you down.

In her bold, debutant novel, Faiqa has become successful in presenting a powerful yet devastating story that has plotlines which would normally be discussed in hushed whispers. What’s truly commendable about her novel is her treading in the delicate territory of the life of a hijra. Not only must it be tricky for her to write the chapters of the eunuch Bhanggi, but giving his character the arc it so strongly demanded must have been a real challenge. I would be lying if I say I did not feel uncomfortable reading Bhanggi’s chapters, but I have to admit that I felt that his was the purest and most true character among them all – a trait that made me root for him till the end.

In a world where the most accomplished roam the streets looking for acceptance and the most denied cling to the faintest rays of hope, this story of two women – both exiles in their own lives, will leave you in peace, yet a little devastated – a perfect mix for those who invest more than just their time in a novel.

Overall rating – 4/5

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