BooK Review: The Heart Asks Pleasure First
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Patriotism can be a brutal thing sometimes. Love for your own country can overshadow compassion for another and turn into something unrecognizably inhuman, with holier-than-thou attitudes and one-upmanship playing God over people. But there is also truth to the fact that love is a beautiful emotion, giving you respite when you need it the most, validating you, and filling your world with emotions and colors that you wouldn’t otherwise have imagined existed. They are right when they say, ‘Love knows no boundaries.’ Love destroys boundaries and brings people together. But what of when the boundaries are so unreasonable, they resort to killing and maiming to have their way? What of when the boundaries are not just geographical, but religious and moral as well?
The Heart Asks Pleasure First is Karuna Ezara Parikh’s debut novel and the author, in this exquisitely lyrical book lays out not only love in its most elemental form, but also its tendency to sometimes pick the most difficult of paths available to it. As the book traverses the lives of Daya and Aaftab, you somehow forget during the most romantic parts, their worldly identities and the countries they belong to. For that is what their love does: makes you focus on its intensity than of their pasts or who they are or where they came from.
Daya, a dance student, is strolling by in a Cardiff park when she comes upon Aaftab, who practices law, sitting and reading Anna Karenina. Immediately intrigued, she approaches him and this begins a love story that the world is destined to tear apart, given that Daya is Indian and Aaftab is Pakistani Muslim. From being surreptitious about their love before everyone else to being as passionate as two people in love can be in private, Daya and Aaftab traverse a journey fraught with the knowledge that external factors are going to play a much stronger role in their relationship than any before.
The angst, the romance, the love, the joy, the affection – every one of these emotions and more, Karuna Ezara Parikh puts into words in ways that one cannot fathom. Many will sympathize with the couple while quite a few will empathize, for what is fiction if not a reflection of reality? The differences, as the author puts it, are true and stark, but treating everyone as valid despite the differences is what we need to be teaching our children. It’s a wish upon a dysfunctional shooting star, this, but the truth sometimes is as simple as that, no matter how bitter.
If you look at The Heart Asks Pleasure First from a distance, you’ll see India and Pakistan and the tensions that are always simmering between the two nations. But delve into this book and you’ll see the true instigator of it all: the biggest, disgustingly racist white nations with the savior complex. But the question here is: will the author bring arguments against the USA and the UK without glorifying obvious criminals? It isn’t this or that, and as the urge to bring out the truth grows, the exhilaration of the dry, sarcastic wit with which the narrative pounds down on America’s arrogance is dampened by what feels like (but is not) justification of the actions of the mastermind behind 9/11.
The Heart Asks Pleasure First, is also, at its heart, the story of romantic compromise and the disgust for it. “I would rather someone fight me and have their own way than change for me and compromise on their beliefs” is a beautiful sentiment. But so is the sentiment of being yourself with your beloved while molding yourself accordingly in external circumstances. Sometimes, these external circumstances can be more than just familial. The world and its regulations are way more than one can handle at times.
With its exploration of religion and politics and secularism and so much more, The Heart Asks Pleasure First doesn’t mince words. But there are a few nuts and bolts in this whole armory that somehow are clunking against each other noisily. They’re whispering frantically about how this world that they’re supposed to be holding up, is slotting characters into boxes again. Combine this will the carelessly meandering story and it becomes a rather tedious read to get through. It also, sometimes, indulges in a soft one-sided, holier-than-thou monologue of how one country is responsible for all the hate in the world while the other one, oh, poor country, is so young that it deserves warmth while some people within are chucking fiery daggers.
But despite this (and the small font – good Lord, it got my eyes aching like never before), the book has moments that will keep you hooked. It’s just that you need to sneak past the less than obvious chinks before you get to that point.
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