“From Pashas to Pokemon” by Maaria Sayed

Maaria Sayed Maaria Sayed

Maaria Sayed is an Indian filmmaker whose experience ranges from London and Italy to South Asia and Korea. Her debut novel, From Pashas to Pokemon, is a delightful coming of age story largely set in a Muslim neighborhood of Mumbai and, as the title implies, traverses both old and new. The story follows a young woman named Aisha from her childhood on Muhammad Ali Road to her student years in the UK and back in Mumbai in her mid-twenties. 

When the story opens, Aisha is at home with her parents and brother Yusuf. Her time is spent reading and with friends and family. She is close to her maternal grandparents and has developed almost a mother-daughter relationship with her grandmother. She enjoys learning about her family’s Persian heritage and that they spoke Farsi generations ago.

Her maternal grandfather had been a member of the Indian parliament; it soon becomes apparent that Aisha’s father has an inferiority complex for marrying into such an esteemed family. He acts on this insecurity, to the detriment of his family and himself.

 

Abbu sat Yusuf and me down and confessed to us that he wasn’t a good man and indulged in illegal work to earn his living. We didn’t ask Abbu any more questions, as we would have years ago if he had permitted us to. Somehow, at twenty-five I didn’t care to investigate any further.

 

From Pashas to Pokemon, Maaria Sayed (Vishwakarma Publications, May 2024)
From Pashas to Pokemon, Maaria Sayed (Vishwakarma Publications, May 2024)

As the story unfolds, Aisha tells of scenes in which she walks into her family home to find her father speaking to men seated with AK-47s. Her father also comes home with a fancy new Japanese SUV, which it turns out he uses in his chauffeur work to drive these guys around. Yet neighbors start calling Aisha’s dad “Mister”, the utmost title of respect.

It’s difficult for Aisha to reconcile her father’s work with the loving home he and her mother have provided for her; as the story jumps back and forth chronologically, Aisha realizes her mother was just as modern back in her time as Aisha is now Her parents always encouraged her to study and placed more faith in her academic abilities than in her brother Yusuf’s.

Woven through the novel are Aisha’s driving lessons with a Mr Pande after she’s returned from her studies in the UK. This extra layer of the story takes on a cinematic quality, a possible reflection of  Sayed’s own background in film.

 

Driving a car could give me the rush I needed every day. I could leave home whenever I wanted to and still be close enough to come back. I looked around at the roads as I drove. The street corners were filled with little children begging for money, women cooking their food on stoves in the open air and men smoking away to glory.

 

As the book concludes, Aisha visits a new Hindu temple in her neighborhood and thinks about her journey away from India, her return, and how she’s grown from both.

 

I sip my tea and enjoy my solitude. I realize I have travelled to places and befriended people from various cultures, only to finally meet myself at a place where I truly belong. This whole journey was about me coming back home.

 

She ends with a thought into which quite a lot could be read:

 

I am coming to terms with the fact that I need the Hindu to complete the Muslim in me. While the roots of my ancestors might have been foreign, I was born and bred on soil that is deeply ingrained in my being.

Susan Blumberg-Kason is the author of Good Chinese Wife: A Love Affair with China Gone Wrong.