Taha Kehar’s recent novel, which unfolds over a protracted party on a single night, revolves around six estranged friends, family members and a “mystery guest”. In order to fulfill the final request of the titular, but recently-deceased, Nazia, her sister Naureen has invited five people to celebrate her death rather than attend a funeral, as a means to reconcile them to her memory and resolve issues that remained at her demise.
This premise, one perhaps better and more immediately suited to an Agatha Christie novel, is unusually contextualized here as commentary of the moeurs of class-based Karachi society. The attendees themselves are somewhat put out:
‘Noori, this is … this is … outrageous,’ Asfand said warily, struggling to disguise his irritation and anger. ‘What will people say? Your relatives will expect a janaza and soyem, not a bloody party. Some of them will demand prayer meetings every Thursday and a Chehlum. How will we tell them we are hosting a party instead of a Qur’an Khwani?”
Once the characters’ initial confusion is put to rest, ensuing chapters reveal entangled lives, an exhaustive list of fears and gripe as characters delve into their subconscious in an effort to cleanse their minds and hearts.
“I feel calmer”, Farid said, rubbing his eyes and stretching his arms behind his shoulders, as though he had woken up from a deep sleep. He fumbled in his pockets and opened the text message Nazia had sent him. Even now, her cold, calculated words had the power to annihilate him. They were forever seeded into his conscience as Nazia’s last revenge for his unforgivable treachery.
At the end of these revelations the characters emerge renewed, as is exemplified by the character Farid, who feels less distraught after he has shared his qualms about his relationship with the late Nazia.
No Funeral for Nazia centers on betrayal, human friction and, most importantly, the personal growth arising from the characters one-by-one confronting their personal histories and uncovering the treachery inherent in human nature. Kehar intersperses these revelations with socio-political commentary to contextualize the characters. He discusses Pakistan’s class divisions and divisive socio-ethnic conditions by drawing on past and present events and personalities of Pakistani politics.
It was the night before 12th May 2007, hours before Karachi would turn into a battleground where rival groups would clash with each other. Salman didn’t know then that Asifa would wake up the next day, drape a chaddar over her body and leave the house with their daughter. He couldn’t have imagined that he would spend the following evening frantically dialling Asifa’s number, waiting for her to answer her mobile phone and reassure him that she and Zahra had survived the chaos that gripped the city during the Black Saturday riots.
While these subjects indeed surface as idle conversation in middle-class drawing rooms across the country, the references themselves are specific to Pakistan and may be lost on a wider readership, leaving character distinctions less clear that the author might intend.
By contrast, one point of social commentary the author rhythmically weaves across the length of the novel and scrupulously develops via the various characters is that of class struggle, shown here by the callousness adopted by the affluent employer to the loyal and hard working domestic staff:
“I told you to trust me. No one is harming anyone”, Naureen spat out flinging open the door and pushing Bi Jaan into the cavernous room. “Didn’t I? How hard is it for you to follow instructions? I guess I will have to take the situation into my own hands now.”
Naureen slammed the kitchen door and hastily locked it, before Bi Jaan could make any attempt to shove it open from the other side. Ignoring the loud thumping against the door, she slinked back into the drawing room and sat down next to her husband.
No Funeral For Nazia speaks to the fickle nature of human beings, emphasizing mental health concerns and the need for closure in relationships. Kehar’s strength is in the limitlessness of his imagination; with some rather unexpected blind curves towards the end, the novel is an unusual and intriguing read.