Posted in Book Reviews, Urdu Novels

Haalim Episode 7: تاشہ پسونا – Review

Tasha The Enchantress!

MY BRAIN CAN’T HANDLE THE AWESOMENESS. THIS IS GETTING WAY MORE INTENSE AND ASDFGHJKL I CAAAAAAAAAAN’T!!!!!!

I threw every reservation out of the window while reading this! Every. Single. One. Taliya’s background, the oddness of the prose, the feeling of something being missing. LORD ALMIGHTY, it all went away. Nemrah Ahmed is unreservedly brilliant and this book is getting cleverer by the episode. Fantasy in Urdu was an unheard of idea and I had my qualms, sure. It even took me a while to acclimate myself to that but now I’m a hundred percent invested in the story because OH-EM-GOSH did you read this episode?!

The episode was a freaking spectacle. Taliya Murad is a force to be reckoned with. There’s woman who kicks ass and takes names. I was previously dissatisifed with her character in general. Her “Mary-Sue”-ness despite being explained does not seem believable, I said. Well, obviously Nemrah was hearing because she took Taliya a step further. Instead of being told, we were shown Taliya’s childhood and the events that led her to what she is now. It all comes together so perfectly I just want to take a moment and cry over the perfection, gimme a sec.

Ain’t that badass or ain’t that badass?! Talk about big dreams.

Slowly, we learned how she started thieving and how she came to learn all these skills and knowledge she now possesses. And I loved it!

Now, I remember speculating in my last review that since the book involves Time Travel, and Time Travel is ridiculously messy if nothing else, one of the three characters might turn out to be a historical figure. I had placed my bets on Faateh since Taliya couldn’t possibly be the princess (HA) but you know what? Reflecting back at what the HECK just happened, both Faateh and Adam have a strong probability of being one. Oh, yeah, TALIYA IS TASHA PESONA.

There’s a scene where the same filmy technique is applied, to great affect I might add, where Taliya realizes who she is while she remembers what the history books say about Princess Tasha and the writer simultaneously narrates the instances in her life which coordinate with those historical facts. It was BRILLIANT! And the first time I felt this technique was done full justice.

And I find it hilarious that the person Faateh has idealized all his life is actually Taliya. That’s definitely bringing him a notch or two down from his high-horse. Adam is like this annoying bug that Taliya mercilessly swats in the episode. It was priceless.

Can’t wait for the next one. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect for the bia-monthly episodes to go back to one episode per month, haina? Just when I had started to enjoy things…Ugh. That was sarcasm by the way.

My Rating: 10/10

Quote of the Episode:

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Posted in Book Reviews, Urdu Novels

Haalim Episode 6- “بازگشت دختر” Review

Shit has had the fan, yo. I repeat. SHITETH HAS HITETH THE FANETH.

Yeah, that was my FACE throughout this episode. It was filled with ASDFGHJKL upon ASDFGHJKL that had me short for breath. By far, THE BEST episode of Haalim and by the power of fangirling vested in me by Nemrah Ahmed’s brilliance, I promise you, your mind will be blown into smithereens.

What started off as a typical Urdu novel that promised to be different took an unorthodox direction when it involved the element of Fantasy in it, aka clairvoyance, but now, MAN! It’s gone up to another level entirely because, ladies ad gentleman, hear me clearly, this is HISTORICAL SCI-FI/FANTASY. There is frickin’ time travel in it. TIME TRAVEL.

Let that sink in. Go on.

Bless my Pakistani Women’s Digest reading heart. WHAT? I never thought I would live to see this pass.

Okay, so if I’m following this correctly, Taliya was born in the 15th century Melaka. She belonged to a clan of Pamboro or “hunters” in a village. The villagers were persecuted by princess Tasha so her father made a key that opened the door to a treasure. Only, that treasure was Time itself as the Pamboro clan could travel in Time with they key and the mark on their necks. Taliya’s father probably wanted to end whatever cruelty was being inflicted upon his people by herding through the Doors of Time into another period but before he could, his people were all caught and put to jail to be executed. Scared, the young Taliya ran away with the key and opened the doors herself. She was thrown into the 21st century and all her memories went kaput, until she found the key, that is.

The bits and pieces are missing, details like why Taliya’s people were being hunted even though they were the huntsmen, does the Pamboro people have different powers or just clairvoyance or even that Taliya was the only one with the power, etc. Obviously, now that the dream she saw in the very first episode, the beginning of this book to be exact, came to pass so unexpectedly quickly, the story will unravel meticulously.

You know, this episode reminds me of two books I’ve read recently. The Last Magician by Lisa Maxwell which I legit just finished yesterday and the PathFinder series by Angie Sage. The former had a female protagonist that can travel in time and she and her people, the Mageus (people with magical powers) are persecuted by an organization known as the Order. She travels back in time, to the early 1900s to steal powerful artifacts from the Order in order to defeat them. Now you can see, the two are incredibly similar. Funny how coincidences work.

The PathFinder trilogy had the young Alice TodHunter Moon who belonged to the PathFinder clan. Only these people could traverse the Ancient Ways hidden beneath arches all over the world without getting lost. So there you have it.

The first shock of the episode came when we learned the truth about what happened with Aryana. That was heart-breaking and truly horrifying to read.

You’d me surprised at how quickly chain links fit together after that. That idiot Adam (yes, I retain Taliya’s opinion of him) wasted no time in coming to Melaka and confronting Taliya and after doubting and believing her/himself for the 56353th time, he went to Faateh. THAT led to an epic showdown between the three, Taliya’s first vision was fulfilled and the three entered the Door of Time to the past, that took them right back to the time and moment Taliya crossed her century for another. So now, a grown up Taliya returns to her home, thus the title “The Return of the Daughter”.

Welcome back to 1437. Enjoy your stay.

She comes clean about everything in front of the two men, exposing Asra in the process and frustratingly shuts down. No plan A,C,D. The Taliya that emerges into the rain forest with Faateh and Adam is dejected, depressed and guilty and she remains so right until the moment at the end of the episode when she has another vision about her people’s imprisonment by the princess.

There’s this thing that keeps bothering me about this book so far. It’s rather difficult to explain. Something feels off in the narrative. Like, there would be a dialogue or a scenario or a character moment that’d have me scoffing. I’m not sure I make sense but I think it’s have to do with the novelty of this story. Something like this has never been attempted before and seeing as I’m used to nothing more but talks of shaadi, marriage and wedding in novels, the narration, the unique situations coupled with Nemrah’s style is a bit of a struggle to take in.

That scene in this episode, for instance, where the trio is walking through the trapdoor to find the treasure on Taliya’s insistence and she remembers what Datin told her about Time Travel. It was so unbelievable. Datin cracked the whole mystery like an egg from an old book, legit figured everything out, believed it and casually informed Taliya much like a kid reciting ABC. There is so much strangeness in this interaction on so many levels: everyone knows everything, things happen too quickly, the prose feels odd, and I just … can’t explain it.

I’m also realizing now that Nemrah’s descriptions are a bit lifeless sometimes. That “aankhon ko sukerna”, “baal peeche karna”, “dil dharakna”, whatever. They get on my nerves and I don’t see as vivid a picture as I can even though the visual cues are all there. See what I mean? Probably not.
The film-esque sequences are in this as well but I didn’t find them repetitive as before so that’s a relief.

Just gonna throw a WILD speculation here. I’ve been proved wrong before, in the beginning I thought that Taliya was Faateh’s long lost daughter, BUT, that shouldn’t stop anyone, right? What I think is, since they are back in the past among actual historical figures, one of the three, most probably Faateh would have some form of connection/ties/relationship with the princess or her father, making HIM a historical figure. Get it? Stuff like that happens all the time when people travel in time. They have wine with Charles Dickens, a picnic with Vincent van Gogh, just watch Doctor Who. I first thought ALL three would have some significance in that manner but after Taliya’s vision of the princess, that clarifies that the two are not one and the same but different people. It’s WILD, I know.

Here we are about Faateh again. I concede to start warming up to him a little. My general opinion of him, however, stands: he is too perfect, too wise, too calm. I know he’s supposed to be this motivational character, this enigmatic figurehead all of us will look up to  but his demeanor rubs me the wrong way. He recuperates too fast for my taste, it’s a tad unnatural if you ask me. But I AM warming up to him so that’s something. He reminded me of Hugh Jackman so strongly in this episode, of Wolverine. They both face shit, albeit very differently, and come back up again.

ALL ABOARD THE HAALIM TRAIN!!! *peep peeeeeeeep*

Quote of the Episode:

My Rating: 9/10

 

 

 

Posted in Bookish Balderdash, Urdu Novels

Haalim Episode 5: تین خزینوں کا مسکن Review

The House of Three Treasures”, the fifth episode of Haalim was another steady episode. It was fun and quite straight-forward compared to the last one which was a roller coaster ride.

The people in this book put two and two together real fast. Taliya figured out her connection with the key, Adam figured out what Taliya’s after, Asra figured out that Taliya is a force to be reckoned with, it’s the fifth episode and already everything is moving quick. Which is a good thing, I guess but this “smarter-than-your-average-commoner” quality that all of Nemrah Ahmed’s characters possess does lend a certain unrealistic quality to them. All of them are perceptive, all of them are intelligent with excellent memories, meanwhile, I have trouble remembering what I had for dinner the previous day.

I also have trouble understanding why or how Taliya seems to be so enamored by Faateh. Sure, he’s charismatic, okay, he has this grand personality, but he’s a jerk, no matter how wise or sincere. He’s also a father of three and 45+, just saying. He was supposed to be this intriguing and charming character of the book in lieu of Hashim from Naml or even Faris but I have failed to see him as such. For me, he’s just another character in the story and I regard him with equal fascination as the rest, which is not considerable.

This makes me realize that none of the characters in Haalim stand out to me right now. I’m far more interested in the plot and the supernatural elements than the people.

There was this scene in this episode the likes of which we’ve read before in Naml. A character is narrating, he’s either speaking to himself or someone, while at the same time somewhere different, other character or characters are doing something else. This is quite a film-esque situation, one I’ve seen in multiple movies. What happens when it’s translated into a written scene is that the person’s narration becomes repetitive. It happened in Naml when Haneen was narrating her written letter to Aleesha and it happened here when Faateh was addressing the nation on national television. He kept prattling on and on about positivity (مثبت شعائیں for “positive vibes”, eh? Nice one, Nemrah, I liked that phrase) while Taliya and Datin focused on breaking into Ashar’s office. Maybe it’s inevitable given that the other scenario taking place has to be accommodated with the speech and since you’re only talking about one thing, “the need to develop a positive outlook towards life” in this case, you can only say so much.

Or maybe you can, I don’t know, it felt like he was saying the same thing over and over again.

So Faateh, Taliya and Adam are all about to come face to face with each other. Now THAT is going to go well. The biggest questions I have are Taliya’s past and Aryana’s kidnapping. I’ll bet Faateh’s fortune the two are connected. Asra has quite the venom in her, and some balls, if she had the gall to defend the same person she framed just so she could get back to her husband. Typical woman behavior, very disappointing.

Let’s see what this ancient house of Sun Bao does to our trio.

Quote of the Episode:

My Rating: 4/5

Posted in Book Reviews, Urdu Novels

Haalim Episode 4: “ميراث پدر من” Review

I could not get the time to read this when it was uploaded and even now I didn’t want to read it, con of reading novels with monthly episodes, but once you get started, there is no going back.
The episode is titled “Miraas-e-Pidr-Mann” or My Father’s Inheritance. Nemrah Ahmed has the habit of using both Urdu and Persian in her episode titles which is cool.

The first thing I feel like talking about is the overall pacing of the plot. It’s going forward and at a suitable speed at that. I don’t feel as if things are moving too fast for me to keep track of (the only thing that prevents me or rather, prevented me from keeping track is the 30 day distance between episodes which now is thankfully 15 days) or if they are too slow as to stop being interesting. I like the fact that there is new information to gobble up in each episode and so far I’m satisfied with what I’m getting.

Taliya’s visions told her a little bit about her father, the mysterious key and the ‘hunters’. There were also a few flashbacks where we get to know some of what Taliya was up to seven years ago. I understand that seven years is a long time but to me, her “master of all trades” story doesn’t ring with me. I’m still not convinced. There is something missing in the narrative. Also, she reminds me of Matt Bomer’s character from White Collar.

The Expected But Unexpected HOLY SHEET Nemrah Ahmed Moments (EBUHSNAM) were in this episode as well. It’s a duh at his point.

  • The kid that ‘predicted’ Asra’s future being an actor set up by Datin.
  • Adam discovering that Taliya was indeed a con.
  • Taliya knowing that Adam knew that she was a scam and then covering it up.
  • Adam’s uncle having true visions.

I like Faateh now. He’s talking like a human being and responding in related answers instead of fairytales which is a HUGE step up from Faateh of the first two episodes. His wife, however, has me in pickle. Like her or dislike her, you cannot decide. Ashar also makes much more sense. He’s not just some evil power-hungry bastard. He was nice once upon a time but the expectations and whispering of a parent do strange things to a person. Datin and Adam also had their retrospection moments.
Each character had a flashback of his/her own where we got to know more about them.

Okay, so this is something I’ve ignored in the past but find myself unable to do so now, it’s my number one Nemrah Ahmed pet peeve, one that became apparent in Naml: unnecessary, unrelatable and often uncalled for dialogue in situations that don’t demand it and that dialogue often feels so ridiculous and out of place that I cringe. One such instance was in this episode when the flashback Adam was trying to encourage the scared little girl up in the tree to remain calm:

I read the whole thing and I am a 100% certain that most of the garhey alfaaz and philosophical messages could have been easily filtered out to leave something like “Don’t worry, kid. I’ll get you out of here, you just have to stay calm.” Not the absolute balderdash that Adam sprouted.

I don’t care if it was an opportunity to preach about courage and resilience, I don’t care that the actual message was worth listening to, all I know that it was infuriatingly out of place and if I were ever put into a situation like that, I would not let my rivers of wisdom overflow in front of a kid. I would talk in simple sentences, ones that he/she would even understand. Like, GAH.

This episode was comparatively more interesting and entertaining so now I’m definitely on the Haalim train. It’s just that now that I’ve come out of the “blind adoration” phase when it comes to Nemrah, I’m going to encounter more problems. But that is okay, I guess. What’s bothering me might not bother somebody else so it’s all just relative. Point is, she is a phenomenal writer and I’d still read anything she writers.

Quote of the Episode:

My Rating: 4.25/5

 

Posted in Book Reviews, Urdu Novels

Review: Haalim Episode 3, “The Huntsman”

Okay, so “Shikaar-baaz” was considerably more intriguing and happening than the last one. There were a lot of surprises and sudden turns which are Nemrah Ahmed’s specialty. This, like the rest, began with a vision Haalim a.k.a Taliya was having about her and Adam being chased by “hunters”. The vision cuts to where the last episode ended, Taliya being recognized by Adam as Tungo Kamil’s former maid.

I still don’t have any clue where all of this is going and I can’t even begin to imagine. The characters of this book are supposedly darker than all of her previous ones. But I’m not sure I understand the depth of Taliya’s struggles, both her inner conflict about wanting to have a clean slate and the circumstances that lead her to become a con. Yes, she was used by her husband for money laundering, yes, she had a troubled childhood but it hardly screams dark and complex to me. I want more of an insight into her history because right now, none of this seems believable to me.

I’ve read characters with far more horrible pasts and when they battle their inner demons and go through the good vs bad dilemma inside their heads, it makes sense. Taliya’s, so far, does not. The conversation she and Datin had on the stairs where Datin summarized their entire criminal career was straight up convenient. Taliya did this and then she did that and then she became an expert and then moved on to something else and mastered that. PFHT, no. I don’t buy it.

Faateh Ramzal was also comparatively less insufferable. He gave straight answers, guys! And once, only once, he went into storytelling mode and it was admittedly very fitting in that situation. He’s still arrogant with that thou-shalt-bow-before-my-high-and-mightiness attitude but like I said, it was tolerable and seemed true to his persona.

Unexpected Things that Had Me Like WOAH:

  1. Taliya and Faateh. Eh? Er…but what about Adam the Pure and Clean?
  2. Taliya got the bracelet. HA! I did not expect that to happen so fast.
  3. Another clairvoyant? So there are more people like her. Interesting, VERY interesting, indeed. I hope this has something do with superhumans descended from aliens from another planet who want to take over Earth and WREAK DESTRUCTION AND DEA—
  4. She got the bracelet but failed to get the painting. I seriously thought she was gonna expose Ashar.
  5. Adam and his ‘noble’ quest to find the ‘truth’ about Taliya. There were so many backflips there.
  6. Something about Taliya’s birthmark. It had to do with hunters, I think? Dude, this is just begging for a super hero story line. PUH-lease let it be one.
  7. Adam and Taliya and the mysterious treasure of Tasha. WHAT? (*whispers*: alien tech treasure, shhh…)

Even thought there are so many tracks diverging from the episode, I feel that this one moved the story forward and was quite eventful. I got apprehensive after reading the second one but this one was really good!

Quote of the episode:

My rating:   4/5

Please, do share your thoughts below!

Posted in Book Reviews, Bookish Balderdash, Urdu Novels

Dil Ka Nagar – An early teens guilty pleasure

Since it’s in Urdu and was being published in episodes about 7 or 8 years ago, I’m 500% certain that absolutely NO ONE knows what this is. Good, let me enlighten you.

I talked about my childhood reading habits and the books/magazines I turned to when I wasn’t that much aware of English literature two posts back. I mentioned a local newspaper/magazine called Akhbar-e-Jahan? This particular story was published in that magazine and I was enamored by it. It’s a family saga by a writer called Salma Yonus and it ran for 21 weeks. Dil Ka Nagar translates to something like “where the heart lives”.

Anyone who knows anything about our culture knows that we practically inhale family sagas on a daily basis, through our television shows, through our books, it’s what we love and what we are used to. Being at that age, young, and not entirely exposed to the genre I would come to love in the later years (it’s fantasy btw), it was something that I stuck to like a leech and oh, how I enjoyed every second of it! Waiting every week for a new episode was equal parts agony and excitement.

Even though it’s a 400 page book now, I frustratingly did not find it on the Goodreads’ archives. Such is the curse of using that website, you don’t want to read anything you can’t brag about. So I thought, why not write about it here? I’ve been secretly wishing to write about this book for ages.

It’s a tad filmy, with characters dying or changing when it’s convenient and things happening for shock value. I’ll say it again, I LOVED it then and that love is alive even now after years and years. If I had read it now, I most probably would not have liked it that much.  Yes, I love family sagas but I like them to unfold with intelligence. Not that this was extremely stupid, but as I skim it now I see that some parts are just too cliched which is always a bad sign. Here’s what I remember:

The book had a Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham -esqued start where Jahanzeb and his family: his wife Mudhat and two grown-up daughters Zoya and Zoobya receive a letter from his estranged parents asking for a reconciliation. Jahanzeb was kicked out of the house for marrying the girl he loved instead of conceding to his father’s wishes and marrying his cousin, Safina. Now, years later, this ‘invitation’ reasonably shocks him but after his wife’s gentle persuasion, he agrees to return.

The have a warm welcome at the Aevaan Palace with all the previous squabbles apparently forgotten as they are accepted into the family once again with open arms. Mudhat is ecstatic. She’s finally found the love and respect she had always wanted from her in-laws.

However, three people are not particularly happy with Jahanzeb’s return; Safina, her nephew Shahdil and Baba Sahab.

Baba Sahab, Jahanzeb’s father, is the patriarch of Aevaan Palace. No decision is made without his royal majesty’s express consent and he is feared and respected as the head of the family. My thoughts on the guy were quite clear then and they remain so until now: he was an egotistical JERK with authority issues and some grand notions of his superiority above the rest. I refused to accept his I’m-so-high-and-mighty-bow-before-me bullshit and I hated how his actions were justified even though they were SO beyond wrong at times. No matter how the writer tried to spin it, he was a horrible, horrible man.

What’s worse is that he never realized the gravity of his arrogant and stupid mistakes. I’m pretty sure Amitabh Bachan’s character either apologized at the end or maybe admitted that he was wrong. Another character like this was seen in the form of Agha Jaan in Dayar-e-Dil and you have to appreciate how absolutely beautiful his arc was. He was ashamed of how harsh he had been and tried hard to rectify his mistakes. Not this guy, though.

So the Palace is home to not only Baba Sahab’s family but also his brother’s family; his brother’s daughter, Safina and his grandson Shahdil. Shahdil’s parents died when he was a kid and he has been brought up by his aunt. Baba Sahab’s family includes his wife, Bi Ji and his six children, three sons including Jahanzeb and three daughters. All are married and have their own grown up kids so you have a really big family with lots of good old melodrama.

Baba Sahab and Safina aren’t happy with his son’s return because of obvious reasons, he is rigid and doesn’t like sacrificing his stupid, nonsensical principles while Safina still carries heartbreak from all those years ago. Shahdil on the other hand holds a grudge on behalf of his beloved aunt and he is the one who shows the most resistance to this new arrival.

Aaah, Shahdil! This tall, dark and handsome (and very angry) young man holds a special place in my heart. You see, long before Jihan Sikandar, Faris Ghazi, Omar Jahangir and all other fictional men I drool over now, there was Shahdil. He was the reason I was always so excited about reading this. He seems to be ill-tempered and rude at first but really, he’s all mush inside. He was, quite honestly, one of my very first fictional crushes.

Zoya and Zoobya are already engaged to be married to their maternal cousins. Zoya and Ibaad are actually married but their parents are waiting for the girls to finish their education for a proper wedding ceremony. And so it is when Zoobya’s fiance secretly marries another and her world is in upheaval when our very own Lord High and Mighty Baba Sahab declares that Ibbad must divorce Zoya as well. His reason? Because he said so, and:

Zoya and Ibaad are devastated and while Zoya resists initially, she too gives up like a typical goody-two shoes bechari while her parents do the same. UGH. Only Zoobya and Ibaad refuse to accept this colossally idiotic pronouncement. Ibaad shows up with a lawyer I think and his father and takes Zoya away from Aevaan Palace without telling her about it first. There is uproar and outrage and Baba Sahab blames Zoya for encouraging Ibaad to do this and promptly breaks all ties with her.

There are other relationship threads in the story but Zoya, Zoobya, Ibaad and Shahdil make the main square so I’m only talking about them. Beware! Things are about to get frustratingly cliched and ridiculous:

  • Zoya and Ibaad’s marriage is riddled with angst and drama because in the beginning, she can’t stop moaning about how Ibaad took her away from her precious rishtey (family) and when that’s settled, she falls down the stairs while she’s pregnant and, you guessed it, becomes infertile.
  • Meanwhile, Zoobya and Shahdil are married on the insistence of their parents, no wait, sorry, on the order of Baba Sahab the Formiddable and the two cannot stand the sight of each other. It’s only when Shahdil realizes that his wife is with child that he slowly starts to soften.
  • Ibaad’s mother pushes him towards a second marriage to her niece. The family line must go on, she says and the men are unable to persuade her to give up.
  • Ibaad’s new mother-in-law conspires to throw Zoya out of the house and succeeds: she sends her out for medicine when nobody’s home and lies to Ibaad when he comes back about her having run away. Just the poor girl’s luck, it rains and her chappal breaks, HER CHAPPAL FREAKING BREAKS and, cherry on top, Shahdil shows up out of nowhere to drop her home. Ibaad after this brainwashing, takes one look at Zoya with Shahdil at the door and divorces her. LOL.
  • Zoobya dies in childbirth and Zoya is brought home. Zoya and Shahdil grow close to each other and fall in love. Well, Shahdil technically, had already fallen in love with her ages ago.
  • Ibaad has an accident and dies.


All the conveniences and absurdities aside, I admit that I had been secretly pining for Zoya and Shahdil and may have figuratively whooped when they got together. Oh, and Baba Sahab? He just had a smug smile plastered on his face, like he knew all this was going to happen and he was right all along. Die, bitch.

Well, that was fun. There are somethings you love unconditionally, no matter how daft or illogical they sometimes are. This book is one such thing for me. But the writing was good, I won’t deny that. It was nice to be able to share about it when previously I couldn’t. One of the many perks of having your very own blog. MUAHAHA.

Share your thoughts down below, peeps!

Posted in Me Thinks, Urdu Novels

Urdu Women’s Digests and How I Feel About Them

Before I truly got into this book-reading madness, this totally insane bandwagon of fangirling bookworms, I used to read story books for children in Urdu and other local kid’s magazines like Bachon Ki Dunya and Talim-o-Tarbiyat. I hadn’t been properly introduced to English literature then, though God knows how badly I wanted to read a Harry Potterany Harry Potter book. There was this akhbar (newspaper/magazine) called Akhbar-e-Jahan. I stuck to it for a long, long time. It was, is in fact, an all-in-one kinda magazine and the reader in me was satisfied every week when I got my hands on it, although I was always disappointed when I finished it so quickly.

As I got older, I began to crave for more. I would latch on to any magazine I could find when we would visit our relatives. My sister aptly named me “Magazine Licker” because of how fast and how eagerly I would go through them. One time, at my aunt’s, I found this small but bulky book filled with stories. I was entranced! I immediately began reading until I was unceremoniously told, “don’t read that, you’re too young for this!”. A word of advice, if you want a kid to stop reading/watching something you think he/she is too young for, don’t say that. Try something else, something creative, like pulling their attention away from the thing, perhaps? If you forbid them or stop them outright, it’ll only intrigue them more.

Which is exactly what happened with me. When it came to reading, I could NOT stop being curious. So I kept on reading and that lovely bulky volume turned out to be none other than a women’s digest. In retrospect, I understand why I was told not to read them and I fully agree with parents or adults who think it’s best to keep a child away from certain things until they become old enough  to understand it rather than “letting the children explore for themselves” which is just, no. Children are growing up faster these days and there’s a reason behind this. I digress.

So anyway, why my mother/older sister/aunt thought I shouldn’t read digests was simple; the digests were for women and consequently filled with stories with shocking amount of realism, highlighting the struggles of women in our society such as sexual abuse, marital and family issues. We’re all exposed to these things when we grow up sooner or later, might as well shield the children for a bit longer.

The stories published in digests are primarily of the romance genre but what I like about them now (and would not have earlier) is that they are very rarely mushy and fluffy. These are hard-core and often depressing stories with powerful messages. Well, they used to be anyway and some do even now but lately I’ve begun to see the quality of stories decline.

These digests are very popular among married and unmarried Pakistani women alike. Even the ones who are “not into reading” read them eagerly. For one, about 80% of the stories revolve around marriage and marital struggles which the women find relatable and for another, like I said, they are romantic stories and few women can resist those. Me included.

A typical digest cover.

Another great thing about these digests is that the monthly episodic stories published in them, on completion, are published as separate books and quite a few of them are INSANELY popular and for good reason. Umera Ahmed, Nemrah Ahmed and Farhat Ishtiaq are three of our most prominent digest writers and whose stories I personally prefer over the others. I have also grown fond of Sumaira Hameed’s writing which is beautiful to say the least.


There are a LOT of ’em and every contemporary Urdu story I’ve ever read came from there. There is Aanchal Digest, Dosheeza Digest, Hina Digest, Khawateen Digest, Kiran Digest, Pakeeza Digest, Shaheen Digest and Shuaa Digest, to name a few. The digest is a paperback and costs about 60 rupees more or less which is as cheap as it gets. Each issue has 300+ pages. The pages aren’t of uber high quality and the entire digest is in black and white.


From the page quality and font to the format and the stories, I quite like them the way they are. I feel that these particular digests, with the covers always displaying a woman, either in a bridal dress or something similar (which often seems like it was dug out of a decades-old closet), posing the same awkward poses and also in the ghastly illustrations inside, are unique to our culture (though I’m sure every other language has their own). The fact that they are completely and undeniably in Urdu makes me love them even more. What I believe I’m trying to say is, if it were up to me, except for ensuring that the stories were quality-checked and weren’t repetitive and one other thing which I’ll get to soon, I wouldn’t change a thing about them.

The Format:

This is from an old issue but not much has changed since then as far as the layout of the digests goes.

This is the index of the issue. There are a lot of advertisements in it, in the beginning, end and in between but this is where the issue properly starts. Each issue has the following things:

  • Note from the editor
  • A summary of what’s inside the particular issue
  • A section dedicated to religious content
  • Letters from readers and their comments on the previous issue
  • Interviews
  • Novels (ongoing, each issue has an episode)
  • Full novels (a complete story, longer in length than an afsaana)
  • Novelette (short novels, also have episodes)
  • Afsaaney  (short stories)
  • Poems (ghazals and nazms)
  • Recipes
  • Beauty Tips
  • Articles about psychological well-being
  • Jokes
  • Quotes
  • Other contributions by readers
This is what the pages and the writing look like. Urdu is denser and easily compressed which makes one Urdu page equal to about 2 pages with English script, maybe even more.

The Illustrations:

This is what prompted me to write this post in the first place.  It’s the part I don’t like. It makes no sense to me whatsoever. Whoever is responsible for illustrating these stories, I’d like to have a candid (read: heated) conversation over strong tea with this guy/gal. 99 out of 100 stories have illustrations that:
a) Have no correlation with the story
b) Are basically copied versions of model photo shoots
c) ALL LOOK THE SAME (wtf whyyy?)
d) show women wearing clothes which are way out of fashion

Exhibit A:

The ingenious art that distinguishes this story from the others: showing three women in various dramatic postures, a man, two hearts and the silhouette of a building. *FACEPALM*

Exhibit B:

Even when there is no wedding in the story, the woman will be wearing bridal attire. *FACEWALL*

You know, I get it. These digests are for women, most of these women are either married or interested in the concept of marriage and fashion and whatever. But to repeat the same thing with every story in every issue of every month? I mean, there is a thing called creativity. You might have heard about it?
There might be exceptions to this as there always are but I know with certainty that they are pitifully few.

It’s not that difficult. Every story or episode of the story has a central idea, grasp that idea and translate it into art. If the illustrator cannot be bothered to read each piece, simply ask the writer to provide you with a theme. Most of the episodic novels don’t have titles. Nemrah Ahmed’s Naml and now Haalim have titles with each episode and that surely makes it easier to know what the episode is about. The first episode of Haalim was called Gadley Paaniyon Ka Sangam (the Confluence of Murky Waters). The very first lines narrate a dream that our protagonist is having. The dream has a phoenix at the same place the title mentions. Idea #1. Throughout the episode the protagonist is obsessed with finding a bracelet and a coin that make a key. Idea #2. Was that so hard?

So what was the awe-inspiring art for the first episode of Haalim? This:

I GIVE UP.

It gets worse with the second episode which literally presents the central idea on a platter. It’s titled Ghaayal Ghazaal (the Wounded Deer). But of course the illustration of a deer would have been such a scandalous departure from tradition, right? Because this episode had the same art as the previous one.
Dude, if you can do such complicated ones with ghagras and jhumkas and whatnot then you can surely draw a key, a phoenix or a deer. Like, what even? This is literally your job, to illustrate. Take it seriously.

Thus ends my rant. And the odd blog post. This is totally and unforgivably my own opinion. You are welcome to disagree with it, I would not stop you. I may be picky and a bit demanding at times but I do so within perfect reason. Visually creative and striking illustrations are one of my weaknesses as a reader, hence the disappointment with the digest “art” which is impossible for me to, wait for it, digest. Get it? Get it? ;P

Please share your own views and let me know what you think below!

Posted in Book Reviews, Urdu Novels

Haalim Review: Episode 2, The Wounded Deer

The second episode of Haalim was decidedly less impressive than the first one. It was even dull and lackluster, I dare say. The story moves forward right after the events of the first episode; Taliyah and Datin are full in the game, trying to steal the bracelet and coin from Fateh’s wife Asra while we are introduced to two new additions to the story: Adam bin Mohammad, Fateh’s body man and Ashar, his wife’s brother.

The writer gives details about Malaysia and its political environment periodically when the situation demands it and I liked the fact that this was subtle and the details were to the point and quick. There was no heavy info-dumping.

The title of the episode was گھائل غزال (the wounded deer). Unlike the previous episode where the central idea became clear only in the last couple of pages, here it was like being beaten on the head with it. Repeatedly. First, Fateh tells his favorite childhood story about the clever little deer, alluding to his brother-in-law, then Taliyah has one of her precognitive dreams where she’s slaughtering a deer, then she is called one by Datin and there’s the whole thing about a painting also being of the same subject. I mean, jeesh.

The other thing I took issue with was the utter unlikability of the characters especially Fateh Ramzal. The other ones are a bit more defined, as far as what they want in life or what their defining trait is concerned, little complexities and nuances can be developed overtime, I’m sure. But this guy. I just cannot get a read on this dude. He spends 99.99% of the time being either rude or unconcerned while the rest of the world cannot stop gushing about what a good person he is. So far, I’ve seen zero evidence of that. I do not dig his arrogance and I am too smart to talk to other people attitude.

And what is with these long philosophical stories in between dialogues? I admit wholeheartedly that this kind of technique provides an excellent opportunity for the writer to include things she wants which otherwise would be difficult to add anywhere else, but in the middle of a conversation? If a person starts talking in riddles and allusions every time he is asked a straight forward question, that person is a prick who’s too full of himself and he needs to take his head out of his ass. The High and Mighty Fateh Ramzal talks entirely through childhood stories and tales trying to sound like the wisest baba this world has ever seen. Three times he did this. THREE TIMES.

Taliyah and Datin pursued their target relentlessly and although their scenes could have been full of fun, they weren’t. The entire episode was unmistakably boring. Things picked up only at the very end when Taliyah got recognized by Adam and before that, when Asra’s bracelet heated up at Taliyah’s touch. This mysterious supernatural element is by far the only interesting part of the episode. I wonder how it will play out.

Taliyah’s dream now showed another person, that makes three of them; Taliyah, Fateh and Adam. Their lives are inexplicably intertwined. What I want to know most of all is which of the two men will end up with Taliyah. I worry about bigger things, you know?

My anticipation and eagerness for the rest of the book has, by no means, been diminished. I understand that this is the earliest of stages and we still have a long way to go.

Stray Thoughts/Observations:

  • So my theory about Taliyah being Fateh’s daughter was proved wrong at the very beginning of this episode. But still, another missing daughter incident? Fishy.
  • Datin was seen taking a picture of Taliyah’s birthmark and doing research on it without her knowledge. Birthmarks, clairvoyance, mysterious keys… Curiouser and curiouser.

Quote of the episode:

My Rating: 2.5/5

Do share your thoughts on this episode!

Posted in Book Reviews, Urdu Novels

Haalim: Strange the Dreamer

Or rather, Conniving the Dreamer but let’s just stick with Strange for this review. I’ll get to it in a sec.

Presenting, Haalim; ‘the dreamer , Nemrah Ahmed’s latest attempt at driving us nuts, giving us intense FEELS, breaking our hearts and crushing our very souls into infinitesimal pieces. Keep doing it Nemrah, we’re not complaining.

The first episode is titled “گدلے پانيوں کا سنگم” (the Confluence of Murky Waters) and as all first episodes must, it gives us a nice, clear introduction and a glimpse of what we are getting into and what we should or shouldn’t expect.
The premise is ambitious, that is all I can decipher at this point. I had mixed to positive feelings about this beginning chapter. Probably because it felt, like her other famous books, a mystery novel. I generally don’t do well with mysteries but who am I kidding? It’s Nemrah Ahmed! I would read her grocery list if I have to. SIGN ME UP.

I had been itching to make a connection between Laini Taylor’s “Strange the Dreamer” as soon as I found out what Haalim actually meant. To my surprise, the title isn’t the only thing the two books have in common! Both Lazlo Strange and Haalim‘s protagonist, besides being dreamers, share another similarity; both were ‘left’ at someone else’s doorstep; they grew up as orphans, not knowing who or where their parents were.

So, without further ado, let’s dive into it.

The episode started, with what seemed to me, a poem, much like it did with Naml. As I was just about to be seriously annoyed, it turned out to be a dream our protagonist Haalim was having. Oh, yeah. Get used to the word ’cause it’s gonna show up a LOT. The narrative then switched to describing the setting which, amazingly, is Kuala Lampur, the capital of Malaysia. I naturally know nothing of Malaysia except that it is a gorgeous country. There used to be a lot of ‘Malaysia truly Asia‘ on the television when I was growing up, though. I digress.
This is definitely a plus in my opinion. Getting to read about a culture you know virtually nothing of is exciting and a learning experience. I’m looking forward to it.

Within 5 pages we are told that our protagonist is a Scam Investigator and we hear our dear mysterious Haalim utter his first beautiful words:

ميں سوچ ہی رہا تھا کہ ميری صبح خوشگوار کيوں گزر رہی ہے۔ کوئ نحوست کيوں نہيں گھل رہی اس ميں؟ فون کرنے کا شکريہ موليا۔ اب بتاؤ کيا کام ہے؟

(I was wondering why I was having such a pleasant morning. Why wasn’t it turning out to be cursed? Thanks for calling, Muliya. Now tell me what you want.)

Such attitude! Such sass! I was like WOOT WOOT, lookey here. Aren’t you positively nasty, Dear Sir. I LOVE YOU ALREADY!
Trust Nemrah to pop your fantasy bubble so viciously. In retrospect, I should have seen it coming but I wasn’t expecting to be hoodwinked so soon. My bad. Halfway through the episode, it was revealed to my immense shock that Haalim was not a Scam Investigator but a Scam Artist and he, in fact, wasn’t a he at all but a she.

I was like DAAAAAAAAYUMMMMM.

*while my heart breaks for my dream man in the background* (PUN INTENDED)

Ah, well. It was good while it lasted.

Meet Taliya Murad, alias Haalim, a 28 year old woman who cons people for a living and she loves it. Her memories start from the age of 11, when she was found wandering in a church and then sent to the orphanage from where she was adopted by a Kashmiri couple and spent the next decade of her life being their servant. Being forced to steal and lie to get what she wanted from her foster parents and then later used as a courier girl for money laundering for the man she was forcibly married to, teaches her a valuable lesson; she must steal what she wants else no one is going to give it to her. 7 years later, she’s part of a two women heist gang, successfully pulling off one job after the other while maintaining her cover as the arrogant and cheeky Haalim.

But that’s not even the fun part. The fun part is; she’s clairvoyant, she has visions of the future. Whatever she sees comes true or whatever is going to happen her visions warn her in advance. I mean…WHAT? Remember I said the premise was ambitious? THE GIRL HAS A FREAKING SUPERPOWER.
I liked her. Even though she gave me slight Mary Sue vibes, I respected her for her refusal to justify her crimes.

Obviously the book is going to revolve around the concept of dreams and ambitions, what it means to be a dreamer and what are the repercussions a dreamer can face.

“Society often forgives the criminal; it never forgives the dreamer.” (Oscar Wilde)

So what is our notorious heroine’s ambition? What is her big dream? This:

“…on an island that I own, tanned and rested and alone. Surrounded by enormous piles of money!”

I kid you not. That is exactly what she plans to do. Pull off one last epic scam and then retire to a palace on an island. A typical thief fantasy but big all the same. As the episode progresses, she discerns what this last scam is going to be: stealing a coin and a bracelet, the two pieces that make a mysterious key. The same key she sees in her latest vision. Then there’s the matter of what else she saw in her vision; a tall, handsome stranger who keeps offering her the key with the cryptic “stay with me”. The man, apparently, turns out to be none other than Faateh Ramzal, the next Vice President of the nation. The episode ends with Taliya declaring to her partner that the next scam they’re going to be pulling off would be on the house of the future Vice President.

The thing that sticks out and makes all of this so much interesting is the superhuman element. Things such as this are never attempted in our literature, at least contemporary Urdu literature and while this makes me excited, it also makes me a little apprehensive. How is she going to pull that off? The fact that Taliya saw the two pieces in all her big visions that lead to her successful con jobs indicates that this’ll be a major plot point and thus will be shrouded in mystery for a while at least.

There are very few characters in this introductory episode besides Taliya and none of them stood out to me. Not even the allegedly great Faateh Ramzal. Acceptance of greatness demands proof and we haven’t had that yet.

Stray Thoughts:

  • At the beginning when Haalim gave Muliya the profiles of all the servants of Tangu Kamil and Muliya was reading Taliya’s profile, I immediately found something off about Haalim’s assessment. It felt too personal like he knew her somehow. Nice one, Nemrah. Of course, I started fantasizing about the two of them being together in the future.
  • Taliya’s partner-in-crime, whose actual name I forgot but is called Datin by her, it was very hard for me to imagine a grandma-aged woman doing research and tracking. Our grandmothers here knit and complain of arthritis. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that and it’s kind of what I’m used to  when it comes to old women in Urdu novels.
  • Who, oh, who is going to be Taliya’s hero? Forget the rest, THIS is what matters. Ehehehe.
  • It better not be that vice president dude because a) he’s already married with kids b) he’s ancient, like 48 and c) he might be Taliya’s father. That is just an assumption and I maybe wrong but I found it weird and annoying how he and his wife “lost their young daughter years ago and never found her”. Gee, I wonder. Taliya’s last name is Murad and his name is definitely not Murad as of this moment. I’m still not discarding that theory completely though.
  • Taliya was ill-treated by her adoptive parents and while this explanation alone works fine, I would like to go back into her past a little more. Who knows? Maybe we will.
  • I know I’ve said this about a gazillion times already but how can the concept of superpowers work in a religious context? The religion being Islam.

It’s too early to form an opinion about the book, there is much to be discovered and much to be explored. I thought this was a decent episode and I’m looking forward to reading where Haalim’s dreams take her.

Quote of the episode:

ScreenHunter_32 May. 15 14.44

My rating: 3/5