The Empty Room by Sadia Abbas: A story of love, art & loss in the midst of political turmoil.

Art connects. Art brings you back from the depths of the earth, shakes you and makes you step outside of your little world, and create something you didn’t think you were capable of. The beauty & power of art is infinite, it’s capacity limitless. It transforms and recreates and gives birth to revolution, to freedom, the ability to defy. Art is all encompassing. 

The Empty Room by Sadia Abbas takes us through Pakistan’s tumultuous political scenario between 1969-1979 where power and state sanctioned brutality displaced, killed and tortured thousands of people. While the prolonged civil war and formation of Bangladesh as an independent country took shape, we see the union of two separate individuals belonging to wealthy Karachi family unfold, and how the societal demands and expectations are loaded on Tahira, who ultimately surrenders but finds solace in art; her precious paintings.

From the start, you can feel the bitterness, the uncalled criticism meted out to Tahira by her husband and in-laws. Tahira, a young, educated girl withers away under constant jarbs and marital expectations, realizing with growing contempt that her life has been snatched away, reduced to dust. The only solace given to her by her in-laws was the freedom to paint only because it would add to their status obsessed image. It was infuriating to see Tahira undergo so much trauma, injustice and disrespect at the hands of her in-laws. 

The beauty of this book lies in the creation of other characters who I was equally fond of. We have Tahira’s childhood friend, Andaleep, who encourages her to take up painting with renewed gusto. Always looking after his sister, Waseem, defines masculinity in a new light. He considers himself a socialist distressed by the unfortunate path his country was heading towards. Both Waseem and Andaleep grappled and disappointed by Tahira’s submissiveness distance themselves for fear of losing her completely. 

It’s commendable how Sadia Abbas has encapsulated the internal and external activities of Pakistan and its people, delving into the political and social constraints, of personal and private lives being uprooted, and has brilliantly captured the intimate and most vulnerable of human emotions. 

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde: A novel about art, beauty and dark side of humanity.

Oscar Wilde in his widely read and often critiqued book explores themes of aestheticism, vanity, of inherently flawed individuals, and hedonism.

A book that explores art, beauty, and the moral grounds one is faced with, of corruption and its consequences, the dark side of humanity, and how one can become maniacal in their idiosyncrasies, and temperament. Oscar Wilde in his widely read and often critiqued book explores themes of aestheticism, vanity, of inherently flawed individuals, and hedonism.

It’s difficult to review a book of this nature. A lot has been discussed and written about it already, and rightly so. We have Basil Hallward, who paints a beautiful portrait of Dorian, and is enamored by his beauty, and gentle nature. Dorian Gray, a charming lad, with a sheltered life, tumbles into the company of Lord Henry, and here’s where his perfectly happy, non-problematic life turns into a devil’s playschool. He continues to live a shallow life, reveling in richness and lavish dinners, tainted by the superficiality of the world, and getting deeper into the pits of self-obsession. His narcissistic personality overpowers his ability to form normal relationships. Dorian ceases to age while something cruel and bizarre starts happening to the painting.

Oscar has written a harrowing tale of a man who never ages. It’s sinister at best, mocking in its approach to how beauty surpasses moral intellect and art. The book also harbors themes of eternal youth which reminds me of Doctor Faustus. I think it also partially touches upon homosexuality, which is a brave attempt, considering the time it was written in.  It’s a tragic commentary on the human soul, and how it’s easy to manipulate individuals, reflecting on the power art holds and how it’s so misinterpreted.

I had a perfect picture with my little brother (who is not-so-little anymore) but I realized I need to stop worrying about perfect pictures and be more candid. This is me making him pose with the book. He was cranky the entire time.

The Artist

Trying my hand at flash fiction by taking inspiration from real life people.

I saw her sitting in front of her canvas painting, with one hand clutching the color palette, and the other frantically filling in the empty space with bursts of color. From where I stood, I could only see parts of the canvas jutting out, and an array of movements as her fingers gently glided over the sheet of paper. Her hair was tied up in a bun looking as aesthetically pleasing as her paintings. The thing about artists is that their entire life seems like an elaborate painting, with each and every stroke meticulously planned out, the color scheme transitioning from vibrant to light pastels, the image reflecting the painter’s thoughts and feelings.

Having known her since school, deciphering the workings of her mind came easily to me. Her paintings, however, not so much. There was never a pattern. It’s true what they say; never try to understand the ‘WHY’ behind an artist’s work. It was the same with her. On the surface, she’d seem very happy; adding joy and sparkles in everyone’s life.

But if you had the chance to look at her paintings, you’d think differently. Here she put parts of herself no one knew. On these papers were images and drawings so sacred, and dark that one could never fully grasp the intensity of it. Inside those paintings were parts of her life unrecognizable at first glance. The more you looked at it, the more you unraveled hidden layers.

Every time I see her sketch something new, I’m awed by how much I didn’t know. I pride myself because I get to keep this feeling close me, not sharing it with anyone else.

That’s the thing about breathing the same air as an artist; every day is an invention. A portal to a different world, and the chance to see life one brush stroke at a time.