Awais Khan’s gripping novel, “No Honour” plunges us into an atmosphere so choked with misogyny and woman hating it is a wonder the characters are able to breathe. It is not easy for the reader either, but then, it is not meant to be, with an opening where a brother kills his 16 year-old twin sister and drowns his niece in a bucket of milk to restore the family’s ‘honour.’
It starts out innocently enough. Shabnam, a poor girl from Khan Wala Village, Pakistan is engaged to marry “The Man,” fifteen years older than her who plies her family with lavish gifts. He summarily abandons her after taking her virginity. In a fashion rather reminiscent of Hardy’s Tess Durbeyfield, Shabnam, now pregnant, bemoans that “her mother had done nothing to warn her about men and their ways” and “wished her mother hadn’t raised her to be so naïve.” Unlike Tess, however, she and her newborn are led to the village square where they are put to death for bringing shame upon the family.
As news of the horrific karo- kari or honor killing spreads, we are finally introduced to Abida, the novel’s protagonist who is engaged in a hot and heavy affair with a village boy, Kalim. There’s an immediate sense of foreboding as the lovers spiral towards disaster. There is one thing in Abida’ s favor though. Her father Jamil. Torn between patriarchal mores and love for his daughter he saves her from being punished by the jirga – the village elders who mete out punishment for “naughty” women. All the while, he questions what “kind of a man” he is for condoning his daughter’s behaviour.
The couple gets married and heads to Lahore. But there is no respite for our heroine as Kalim becomes a heroin addict and sells her to a brothel. Tensions run high on every page as over the course of the novel Abida is tortured, raped and forced into prostitution and drugs. As is the case with humanitarian fiction, Khan’s writing intends to shake our complacency. But it is not the tragic plotlines heaped one after another that draw you in, rather it is the heroine’s powerful voice, her indomitable courage that gives her agency despite her victimhood.
As Jamil finds out what has befallen his daughter he sets out to find her and ends up overcoming insurmountable odds in his quest to be reunited with her.
Pir Sahab, the head of the village jirga and Rana Hameed, a drug lord who buys Abida from the brothel are quintessential, woman-hating villains who personify the patriarchy. They will stop at nothing to deliver a swift reprisal to a woman who steps out of bounds. Through them, Khan brilliantly explores the prevailing pernicious double sexual standards.
He succinctly elucidates the ugly realities of a society steeped in patriarchy and weaves an incandescent tale of one girl’s struggle against it. It is a well-paced narrative, but perhaps there’s one cruel happenstance too many that veer on the melodramatic.
No Honour’s compelling main characters make it memorable and the heavy subject matter is handled the way it should have been – with empathy. Sadly, it is a novel that is all too relevant for our times as patriarchy permeates even the ‘enlightened’ milieu. Despite all the progress that has been made the venom spewing on Aurat March, International Women’s Day is an all too recent example. And despite all the outrage against them, honour killings are still business as usual. Khan just reinforces how far we are from achieving our goals and leaves us wondering if it is really a game of whack-a-mole we are playing. A gripping read with a broad appeal and incisive writing that doesn’t mince words.
From : pk.mashable.com