The Wandering Falcon by Jamil Ahmad
Storytelling is an art that is not very common. This book The Wandering Falcon is like a lesson in storytelling. How to open small windows to the story, how to change tracks and still hold the plot together by a delicate thread. How to introduce a place and its people to the world that they would probably never visit. And how to pass the message subtlety that you intend to. Brilliant storytelling. Even if the subject does not interest you.
Waziristan, Mehsud, Afridi and many such names are introduced as tribes or as small regions somewhere at the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Most of these tribes live in the mountains in summers. And come down for winters, with very little options for earning the livelihood. They have their own traditional hierarchies and rivalries that must be followed and lived. They are dealing with the creation of new laws that forbid many things they do. But mostly curtail their freedom to roam around the area. They are learning to deal with the unseen authorities through their men on the borders. The author presents their world to us, the urban beings who may find it a figment of imagination or an exaggerated version of the reality. But even then it makes you think.
A boy who is born in the first chapter in rather strange circumstances holds the story together. In every chapter, he moves into a different role. Initially, his guardians keep changing and then his professions. He is given a name in the middle of the book Tor Baz or Black Falcon. Through his journey, the author takes us into different tribes and tells a tale from each of them. He talks about various professions they engage in including that of being an informer and selling women. He talks about the relationships between people where a man who has never visited his in-laws can walk into their house with his friends and demand hospitality. Where women have limited choices and are treated as commodities. But they still manage to indulge in adventure and attempt living a life of their own.
Children are born frequently and more than half die because they cannot take the migratory pattern of the tribes. The probability of survival of an infant depends on what time of the year they are born or expected to born.
It is possible that these were written as independent stories and were woven together through a common element. Tor Baz is a part of each story but is not the protagonist of any of them. You do not see the tribal world from his point of view, in fact, you do not see it from any one’s point of view. It is like reporting of a travel writer or an outside officer working in the area, as he or she sees things. There is ample description of the landscapes, of the tribal movements and the human relationships. The objective of the author seems to open this region to the rest of the world, as he does not expect many to come here.
I loved reading this book The Wandering Falcon and would recommend it for its beautiful storytelling.