Melody of a Tear-Haroon Khalid Akhtar // A book review by Hirra Fatimah
Born in the city of gardens, Haroon Khalid Akhtar was raised in a house filled with books. His father was also a distinguished Urdu writer. Akhtar had long been associated with Dawn for writing articles and short stories. His collection of articles and short stories can be found in a book named Threadbare. After a long writing journey of ten years, Akhtar has poured his writing expertise in his debut novel, Melody of a Tear.
In a short span of time, his book has gathered immense praise not only from the reading community of Pakistan but also from the gurus of writing, such as Mohammed Hanif, author of Red Birds and Our Lady of Alice Bhatti.
Melody of a Tear is a ‘first-person account of a woman chasing a tear’. Zara, the protagonist of the story, is struggling with her identity as a human being and a woman and this has driven her to the point of suicide. The ambiguity about her gender due to her father treating her as his son has snubbed her ability to cry like a normal person. No matter how ambiguous her identity is, Zara has been living like this until one day a tear rolling down of Zaid’s eye ignites her curiosity. Her inability to cry pulls her to that mysterious brood crying in a public space and thus begins the journey of chasing a tear that leads her to Sufaid Kothi.
Waris, a children’s mystery writer of the chronicles of Inspector Rab Nawaz, lives there counting the days left of his desolate life. His crumbling mansion is a safe haven for the broken and shattered souls who need refuge from the harsh realities of their lives. Apart from Zaid and Zara, the house serves as a living abode for Sheila and her four sons. It is in this house that Zara finally begins to solve the mystery of Zaid’s tear and in doing so she counters her dilemma as well. However, the story takes an unexpected turn when the first death occurs (yes, there’s more than one).
Akhtar has weaved a complex pattern of events with his words. He has the ability to make you swoon like crazy over one line and then cringe with disgust in the very next line. He will make you read a line such as;
“His dagger slipped into her sleeping body sensuously like an obscene desire, leaving a shy smile upon her face”
only to reveal in the next few lines that the killer is a hungry toddler whose psychopath father used him to kill his mother. Such is the work of a mastermind; a born storyteller.
The story tackles several significant themes such as; identity crisis, gender crisis, father-daughter relationship, depression, suicide, sexual abuse, and class difference. Akhtar has done a tremendous job at blending such diverse themes within such a short novel. Apart from these major themes, he has incorporated certain elements of magic realism that will take your imagination to the next level. There are points in the story where you become unable to differentiate between what’s real and what’s your fragment of imagination. In a nutshell, Akhtar will charm you with his words and then break your heart in the most beautiful way imaginable. He knows his way around words better than most people know theirs around their city.