REVIEW : ‘SALT AND SAFFRON’ BY KAMILA SHAMSIE

When Aliya sees her and Mariam Apa’s name marked with an asterisk as ‘not-quites’ in the family tree, there is a gradual rush of emotions previously experienced but not yet dealt with.

‘Salt and Saffron’, the second book of the award winning Pakistani British author, Kamila Shamsie was published by Bloomsbury in 2000.

On her way from university to home, Aliya gets to meet their Indian relatives, Baji and Rehana Apa. Though Baji makes her uncomfortable in the beginning, Aliya quickly learns to find so much of her Dadi in her. Superficially pompous, Baji’s love for her sisters is so deep and old that the borders across countries could do nothing to divide their hearts. Baji shows Aliya and Samiya the Dard-e-Dil family tree – starting from the British period and colour coded purity of bloodlines.

Being the excellent narrators that each of the Dard-e-Dils are, Baji starts with the tantalising elbows of Taj’s mother and the curse given by the family’s midwife, Taj to the Dard-e-Dils’ not quite twins ( or in one case, triplets) to bring in shame to the family name, which has remained true till date.

Aliya takes with herself Baji’s stories of Abida and the three ‘not-quites’ and the asterisk above her and Mariam’s name. Back home, these stories and an age-old photograph is what it takes for Aliya to understand that her feelings were not “as uncomplicated as that other monosyllable, love’s opposite”.

In ‘Salt and Saffron’, the Dard-e-Dils branch out and intertwine around Mariam’s present absence and the actions that lead to it.

The novel talks about the vastness of a family spread across the borders of India and Pakistan, of the pride in their lands “and the fear of being rebuffed”.

The novel provides ardent challenges to the culture’s progress from the hierarchical caste and status to move on to the already existing love for who is theirs and who they love.

Aliya, being a Dard-e-Dil is an excellent storyteller throughout the novel making the complex-knitted-extended relationships among generations much more understandable and easy to follow through, with clouds of humour here and there. The novel has, at all times, kept the present and the past interwoven and at the same time disentangled- which is almost magical.

All the stories of Samiya, Baji, Dadi, Taj, Masood, Mariam Apa, Meder Dadi, the not quites of Taimur, Akbar, Sulaiman and many more are filled with polarity and affinity just like salt and saffron which ultimately reconcile together, just like Masood used to say, ” How can I tell you how much time it’ll take? When the spices and the meat dissolve the boundaries between them and flavours seep, one into the other, then it is time”.

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