Between Clay and Dust is about the times gone by and arts that do not matter anymore. The story could be set in any time period. The author does not mention or give an indication of when the story begins and where is it set, which is what is intriguing about the book.
The two art forms that the book is centered on are wrestling (the traditional way of the akhara and of clan and honour) and the singing and dancing girls and the wonders of the kotha (nautch girls more like it). The two protagonists of the book are Ustad Ramzi, the renowned and non-disputable wrestling champion of all time, and Gohar Jan, the courtesan of her times. Both their cultures and so-called heritage are dying and they can do nothing about it. They however somehow uncannily find solace in each other, which is not of a sexual kind (since the Ustad is celibate) but something that is beyond of the understanding of loss.
On one hand we meet Tamami, Ustad Ramzis younger brother who wants to be what Ustad is and tries very hard to gain his approval as a wrestler and somehow fails all the time. On the other, Farooqi takes us to the courtesans way of life and the daily routine of the kotha. The language is simple and yet you can watch the book almost unraveling itself piece by piece in front of you.
The writing is fluid and got to me straight at the heart. Between Clay and Dust is a heartbreaking and marvelous book. Something to take you back in time and probably introspect a little of how things used to be and how they are.
SHORTLISTED FOR THE MAN ASIAN LITERARY PRIZE 2012.
Musharraf Ali Farooqi's new novel, set in an unnamed Pakistani city shortly after Partition, unravels the lives of Ustad Ramzi, one of the greatest wrestlers of the land, who is now old and warmed only by the memories of his past, and the equally renowned Gohar Jan, a courtesan whose kotha once welcomed lords of the land butis now in danger of being shut down.
Through the course of this book we witness Ustad Ramzi's almost fanatical devotion to his craft and his akhara, and the attempts of his younger brother Tamami also a wrestler to rise from the towering shadow of Ustad Ramzi. We witness, also,the unusual, unspoken bond that grows between the celibate wrestler and the elegant courtesan, both past their prime.
Spare, haunting and exquisitely written, Between Clay and Dust is a remarkably original offering from a novelist working at the height of his powers.
About the Author
Musharraf Ali Farooqi was born in 1968 in Hyderabad, Pakistan, and currently lives in Karachi. His previous novel, The Story of a Widow, was shortlisted for the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature 2010. He is also the highly acclaimed translator of Urdu classics Hoshruba and The Adventures of Amir Hamza, contemporary Urdu poet Afzal Ahmed Syed's selected poetry and Urdu writer Syed Muhammad Ashraf's novel The Beast. His children's fiction includes The Amazing Moustaches of Moochhander the Iron Man and Other Stories, The Cobbler's Holiday or Why Ants Don't Wear Shoes and Tik-Tik, The Master of Time.