Lyrical love tale
Aug 15 2013
The Cloud Messenger, by Aamer Hussein, is that type of book. The title would probably ring a bell. Not because it is very well known, but because it is taken from the famous classic written ages ago by the poet Kalidas — Meghdoot. I’m sure most of us have, at some time in our childhood, read about the Sanskrit masterpiece where a pining lover — a yaksha, actually, sends messages to his wife, using a cloud for a messenger. There are no cloud messengers here, of course. But you would soon realise that the book’s protagonist, Mehran, who is ardently in love with poetry and literature, is himself the ‘Cloud Messenger’, drifting from place to place. If it were not for the author’s note at the very end, you would be tempted to consider this an autobiographical account. Since the author has been careful to correct that illusion, let us just say that this is an autobiographical account of its protagonist.
Shuttling chiefly between London, Karachi , Indore, and several other cities in between, it is the story of Mehran, a drifting man with a nagging need for belonging, for reassurance. Caught between the different realities that surround him since childhood — a mother from Indore, who yearns for rain in a rainless place like Karachi, a father and a sister who yearn for the British-ness they have left behind in London, and a shifting lifestyle — from one city to another — he comes to believe that relationships can never be permanent. And that is why he flits in and out of the various bonds that he forms. Despite all that, the people he loves are a near-permanent presence in his life, even though he never seems to stay close to them, always floating about.
In fact, the book is the message that Mehran, ‘the cloud’ sends out to us readers scattered over various bits of the earth — a message of love, of his griefs and longings that somehow echo our own, as a lover would send out to his beloved.
The book quotes liberally from Persian, Urdu and Sindhi writers, reflecting its author’s literary passion (Hussein is a fellow of the Royal Soceity of Literature). The story is itself written in a style that borders on poetry, with a lyrical, ethereal feel to it. The descriptions of Mehran’s childhood might be vaguely familiar for a reader in either India or Pakistan — the great aunt who tells stories from fairyland, stopping at the time of dusk, “so that a traveller doesn’t lose his way”, the multiplicity of the languages spoken in the family, and the spilling over of a multitude of relatives — these are all things we are familiar with.
Most of us have ancestral homes in a different place, spend our lives in another one, and come to settle in a different one eventually. Mehran’s story resonates with that unconscious longing for a place to belong, and the parallel universes that we all live in at some time or the other.