One great literary merit of Sara Suleri’s biography, Meatless Days, lies in the way she has developed the metaphor of meatless days - a literal event in life of Pakistan, through a mazy round of tales about food and her family (Talaat). The figurative treatment of literal events is a familiar device in English literature.
It goes back to ancient classical writers like Chaucer, Blake, Milton and Eliot. Suleri, a postmodernist writer, has gathered all great traditions of symbolist narrative that allow her to fill every rift of literary narrative with the ore of symbolic meanings. Despite the diversity of her tales, meatless days is the central concept around which all nine tales of Meatless Days have been woven. In this paper, we look at the first two tales Excellent Things in Women and Meatless Days in which Suleri tells all major events of her life and has developed the metaphor, through a carefully organised scheme of narrative.
Scheme of Narrative
Suleri’s schemes of narrative are determined, like all collections of tales in literary history, by her concern to bring a unity to tales in which she narrates a variety of personal incidents about different characters, for no other purpose than to reminiscence.
This unity comes from some major recurrent symbols, which are then fused together in a hierarchical order to form one major theme meatless days - a symbol exclusively of Pakistan rather than of the whole sub-continent.
The narrative in each tale has been designed to deal with ironies and contradictions, as well as to enunciate a major theme, with a maze of several sub-themes to play around it. Therefore, the episodes about a given character appear to have been selected, and connected in an order of paragraphs that allows her to work out and conclude a particular theme, to carry it forward through an intricate pattern that also allows her themes (Talaat). For examples, her first tale called Excellent Things in Women is about her Dadi, grandmother, which begins from the following sentence:
is tantamount to leaving the company of women’ It end at the following conclusion: Pakistan
Against all my own odds I know what I must say. ‘Because’ I’ll answer slowly, ‘there are no women in Pakistan.’
This sounds like a contradiction. The paragraphs that happen in between must tell us one by one, not only what company of women it was, but also allow the transition from her first declarative to the opposite end, the contradiction.
In this first tale, Suleri does not mention meatless days at all. But she has chosen to describe two loves of Dadi’s life:
God she loved, and she understood him better than any one.
Food too could move her to intensities Obvious problems, however, occurred whenever the two converged. One such occasion…. was Eid…when the animal is killed .. and shortly thereafter rush out of the kitchen steaming plates of grilled lung and liver… This then leads her to her anecdotes about meat and food. This she would join with Dadi’s worship of God in form of prayer and fasting in the month of Ramzan. For fasting in the month quickly turns into feasting. Therefore, this is an occasion that allows Suleri the tales about contradictions and ironies such as food and fasting, but also the concurrence of food and talk, family conferences, amplitudes, and ties of love and hatred that bind them together. For she would talk not only about love of her parents, but also her father’s clash with her mother. Together they constitute a network
of themes, ideas, that must work their way, from one end of the story, called beginning, through to the other, the middle and the end.
Then each paragraph is planned to carry forward an idea to a desired end, and hence each sentence too! Each next paragraph, while carrying forward the idea executed in the previous paragraph, also makes a new beginning. It ends a thought, but ironically, starts a new one too. Hence, just as each tale is complete in itself, and constitutes an entity, each paragraph is complete too. So are m st of the sentences, if not all. For, sentences appear to have been designed, not only to carry forward an idea, but also, somehow to become an end in themselves, like poetry, self-contained, packed with many meanings, both literal and symbolic.
Similarly each tale is governed by its system of symbols – major and minor. They will recur and echo in other tales too, though not in the same fashion, nor in the same pattern as before. These symbols may become general and dominant, such as food, meat, talk, lingo, death, killing and forgetfulness. These pervade the whole book.
Alternatively, they may be words and phrases, with variant meanings and ideas; words and phrases like structure, houses, prayer or seasons and rain etc. In this kind of narrative, one can afford to ignore nothing, abandon no idea. Each word is a thought that can recur, echo and gain new meanings, and become a metaphor.
The narrative has a plan, therefore. In fact it has two plans. One along the linear dimension, that carries a tale through, from beginning to the end. The other along the circular motion of repetition, recurrence, that allows devolution to deal with ironies and double meanings inherent in an idea or event. Though it is a plan that has not been announced, it has to be discovered. Its discovery is important for it sets up a powerful tradition of English writing. Its ultimate power lies in uniting eastern ways of life and sentiments with Western mode of thought and expression. In the next section, we gradually move to this discovery.
Developing Symbolism in the Narrative
The most important quality of Suleri’s narrative is that a realistic narrative is fused with symbolic meanings that ordinary, words, and incidents are turned into metaphors (Talaat:2003). For example, it appears only natural that all major events in Dadi’s life should centre round food, eating and talk. Food, eating, cooking and feeding are in fact are the most natural activities associated with women. In a way, it is a universal symbol of women’s life. Similarly Dadi’s devotional acts - from prayer to ritual sacrifice of goat, her ‘berating of the Devil’ and Ramadan mastications are routine events of every Pakistani household. But Suleri turns these ordinary events into powerful symbols of the Islamic landscape of the country and the role that it plays in Pakistani politics. Thus meat through a number associations comes to stand for religious ritual, sacrifice, death and religion.
At least, the first ten or fifteen paragraphs one can read unsuspecting that there is a design in the selection of events. It is only when the events, both personal and political, are described according to eras named after different cooks, that the a plan, inthe form of a dominant motif appears. These events are about food, meat, killing of a goat, excessive habits of eating, intensifications, prayers, fasting and feasting – normal events of Asian life. Yet the (pro?) fusion of food, talk and religion in Suleri’s personal life and its parallel (pro?) fusion in public life – especially of religion and politics, leading to deaths in both domains, and then to the danger of possible forgetfulness is so natural that ordinary reader remains ignorant of the symbolic dimensions of her narrative.
Yet it is the growing symbolism that lends Suleri’s narrative the ultimate power. It comes from the selection of events, their repetition, and from Suleri’s musings upon these events that pinpoint and highlight various significances. In the narration of a given event, two things come together almost simultaneously: the realistic detail of an ordinary event and Suleri’s reflection in the form of loud interior monologue on it. Then, sometimes later another event, another detail, another symbol or word recalls a previous event, symbol or significance, enhancing the power or significance of each to each.
Meatless Days is one such concept that has been constantly enlarged in meaning and significance to develop it into a metaphor for not only Pakistani cultural life but
also for Suleri’s personal grief more intense than anything else described in the tales.
Meatless Days: The Metaphor
As said before, the first story about Dadi, has nothing to do with meatless days. In fact, it is a story about ‘meat’ and drink, and all the gossip that accompanied eating. Although, the month of Ramdan is mentioned, but it is mentioned more for its feasting, than fasting. Suleri’s second story, called Meatless Days can be read and enjoyed on its own, without reading the first one Dadi. It begins in a rather dramatic manner, with her sister Tillat’s visit in New Haven with her ‘entourage’ of three children. She announced one day her discovery about kapuras - they were not sweetbreads – as they had been told by their mother, but testicles!
I had strongly hoped they would call them sweetbreads instead of testicles, but I was wrong. The only reason it had become a question in my mind was Tillat’s fault, of course: she had come visiting fromKuwait one summer, arriving in New Haven with her three children, all of them designed to constitute a large surprise. As a surprise they worked wonderfully, leaving me reeling with the shock of a generation who attends on infants and all the detail they manage to accrue. But the end of the day would come at last, and when the rhythm of their sleep sat like heavy peace upon a room, then Tillat and I could talk. Our conversations were meals, delectable, but fraught with a sense of prior copywright, because each of us was obliged to talk too much
about what the other already did not know. (Meatless Days)
This led Suleri to delve in her past, and recall stories about her childhood – mainly about food, eating and meat. She started by narrating how she stole and ate ‘cauliflowers’ and carrots from her vegetable garden to the surprise of servants. When finally she was discovered one day, she was made to eat ‘kirrne’ (kidneys) at the recommendation of their cook. The mother told her she was to eat ‘sweetbreads’. Now,
‘kirrne’ (kidneys) and kapuras are traditionally cooked together. So she ate kidneys and kapuras cooked together, presented to her as ‘sweetbreads.’ Although Sara was told by ‘wicked Ifat’ the older sister that what she was eating ‘made pee’ in the human body, she continued to believe that what she ate was ‘sweetbreads.’ Tillat’s information sets upon thinking, what other deceptions were involved in food that they ate in Pakistan.
In the stories that follow, Suleri narrates a few incidents about food adulteration in Pakistan, and how Irfani, the younger brother learned to fear food. Food becomes associated with some kind of deception. But, to change the tone, she turns again to Ramdan, and what pleasures of food and feasting were associated with it. It was a fine excuse for company and affability. That swerve from severity to celebration happened often. It certainly was true of meatless days.
Then begins the central episode of meatless days, described in detail not only for Suleri’s (especially western ) reader but also to map on to it the whole range of potential meanings her imagination had grasped to turn it into a personal and political symbol.
This is reproduced at some length below:
The country was made in 1947, and shortly thereafter the government decided that two days out of each week would be designated as meatless days, in order to conserve the national supply of goats and cattle. Every Tuesday and Wednesday the butchers’ shops would stay firmly closed, without a single carcass dangling from the huge metal hooks that lined the canopies under which the butchers’ squatted, selling meat, and without the open drains at the side of their narrow street ever running with trace of blood. On days of normal trade, blood would briskly flow, carrying with it flotillas of
chicken feathers, and little bits of sinew, and entrails, or a bladder full and yellow that a butcher had just bounced deftly into the drain. On meatless days the world emptied into a skeletal remain: the hot sun came to scorch away all the odors and liquids of slaughter and shrivelled on the chopping blocks the last curlicues of anything organic, making them look both vacant and precise. As a principle of hygiene I suppose it was a good idea although it had very little to do
with conservation: the people who could afford to buy meat, after all, were those who could also afford refrigeration, so the only thing government accomplished was to make some people’s Mondays very busy indeed. The begum had to remember to give the cook thrice as much the money, the butchers had to produce thrice as much the meat; the cooks had to buy enough flesh and fowl and other sundry organs to keep an averagely carnivorous household eating for three
days. A favorite meatless day breakfast, for example, consisted of goat’s head and feet cooked with rich spices into a rich and ungula sauce – remarkable, the things that people eat. And so, instead of making an atmosphere of abstention in the city, the institution of meatless days rapidly came to signify the imperative behind the acquisition of all things fleshly. We thought about beef, which is called “big meat” and we all thought about mutton, “little meat,” and then we collectively thought about chicken, the most coveted of
Thus far, the incident is narrated in a seemingly simple, bare down-to-earth manner. The detail, aims at clarity, but it is careful, economic and precise. Nobody can suspect that such a bare narrative will have a network of hidden symbols. But as the reader moves on further to the next two paragraphs, a new significance of meatless days begins to dawn upon him:
But here I must forget my American sojourn, which has taught me to look on chicken as a notably undignified bird, with pimply skin and pockets of fat tucked into peculiar places and unnecessarily meaty breasts. Those meatless days fowls were a thing apart. …Naturally we cherished them and lavished much care on trying to obtain the freshest of the crop. …Once I was in Karachi with my sister Nuz
when the though that she had to engage in the social ferocity of
buying chicken was making her quite depressed. We went anyway, with Nuz assuming an alacrity that had nothing to do with efficiency and everything to do with desperation. Nuz stood small and dark in the chicken monger’s shop, ordered her birds, paid for them, and then suddenly remembered her house-wifely duty. “Are they fresh?”
the chicken monger looked at her with some perplexity. “But, Begum sahib,” he said gently, “they are alive.” “Oh,” said Nuz “so they are”…… But “Oh,” she said again half an hour later, “So a fresh chicken is a dead chicken.” “Not too dead,” I replied. It made us think of meatless days as some vast funeral game where Monday’s frenetic creation of fresh things beckoned in the burial meals of Tusedays and Wednesdays. “Food,” Nuz said with disgust – “It is
what you bury in your body. To make her feel less alone we stopped at Shezan on the way home, to get her an adequate supply of marzipan; for she eats nothing but sweet things. (Meatless Days)
Now, although the most obvious purpose of this description is to drive home the conclusion that meatless days were, ironically, in the context of
, abundantly rich in food, stored on the previous days. However, through a careful choice of words, no doubt an outcome of intense reflection upon the event and scene, Sara works out another symbolic meaning of meatless days. This meaning is the reverse of the first, that is, meatless days, were a large ‘funeral game.’ But the notion of meatless days has been selected precisely for this irony and its symbolic value in Sara’s life. Pakistan
The power, and beauty, of Suleri’s narrative lies in the fact that she begins by introducing the scene of empty butchers’ shops on Tusedays and Wednesdays, introduces the characters, Nuz and I, engaged in acquiring ‘things fleshly’ and then the enactment of a little drama, Nuz’s confusion ending in her final grasp of reality “Food… is what you bury in your body”. The most prominent quality of her narrative
lies in her ability to ‘connect’ what seems unconnected like ‘food’ and ‘burial’ – for one thinks of food as symbol of life – not of burial and death. The connection is worked out through a series of words and images that provide necessary detail of the scene being described:
…..butcher’s shops ……. a single carcass dangling … the butchers’ squatted, selling meat….. the open drains…… running with trace of blood…. blood would briskly flow… odors and liquids of slaughter and shrivelled on the chopping blocks…..vacant and precise.
One also notices a huge amount of detail about other matters only indirectly related to the meatless days. She talks about the begums, the cooks, the eating habits of Pakistani nation, joys of abundant eating and food, chicken and then the rather
Prufrokian phrase ‘Nuz and I’ introducing the element of drama and dialogue. These images of bustling life energy stand in sharp contrast to the images of death signified by butchers’ shop, dangling carcasses and briskly flowing blood. It is this contrast and irony that are structural basis of her narrative. It also highlights Suleri’s power of reflection and her way with words.
Through a series of incidents related to food and eating, even casual descriptions, she seems to have impelled huge waves of thoughts in all directions, mainly through a skein of words. These words move the narrative forward, or turn round to some previous thought or notion. They become recurrent images and symbols. This symbolic significance of the pleasure of eating food is worked upon in the last episode of Meatless Days. So she describes a dream, after her mother’s death: And then, when I was trying to move away from the raw irritability of grief, I dreamed a dream that left me reeling. It put me in London, on the pavement of some unlovely street, an attempted crescent of vagrant houses. A blue van drove up: I noticed that it was a refrigerated car and my father was inside it. He came to tell me that we must put my mother into her coffin, and he opened the blue hatch of
the van to make me reach inside, where it was very cold. What I found was hunks of meat wrapped in a cellophone each of them felt like mamma, in some odd way It was my task to carry those flanks
across the street and to fit them into the coffin at the other side of the road, like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle. Then my father’s back was turned, I found myself engaged in rapid theft – for the sake of Ifat and Shahid and Tillat and all of us, I stole away a portion of that body. It was a piece of her foot that I found, a small bone like a knuckle, which I quickly hid inside my mouth, under my tongue….. It is hard to believe
today that I thought the dream too harsh a thing.. perhaps my mind had designed me to feel rudely tender. I had eaten, that was all, and woken up to a world of meatless days.
This is the end of story, then. This is her conclusion. This is the significance of meatless days. She had eaten too much, like the prefast meal of Ramdan, not for one time but for all times of dearth, famine or fast, and abstinence. All incidents about eating and fasting, food and abstinence begin to make sense. Her dream is about ‘hunks of meat’ that felt like Mamma and eating of ‘a small bone like a knuckle’ was
done as much for her siblings as herself. The meat is food for one living creature, but it is death of another. The life of one is the death of the other. The dream makes her secretly eat a bone of mother’s body, because she is going to ‘wake up’ into ‘meatless days’.
The meaning of meatless days extends beyond what is already known to us. An ordinary event becomes a symbol. The word meatless becomes synonymous with motherless, fatherless, sisterless and brotherless. In short it is loveless, homeless – and finally lifeless. This extension of meaning is also a compression – since so much personal emotion, grief and sorrow has been thrown into it. The significance of a public ‘funeral game’ comes home through private deaths of so many loving bodies.
The tales that follow Meatless Days do not talk about meatless days any more. They simply talk about her ‘hungering,’ a craving for the lost bodies and their tales. The days of Suleri’s American sojourn become, at least for some time, barren days, devoid of her mother’s body, and her love. They make her sigh while sitting alone in America:
‘Flavour of my infancy, my mother, still be food: I want my hunger as it always was, neither flesh nor fowl’ ( a pun on ‘foul’ intended?).
The notion of ‘food’ and ‘eating’ are re-current not only because the main events are built around them, but also because they inhere in the entire mode of thinking and feeling reflected in the minute details of the narrative in all contexts:
1. I liked it, the waking up an hour before dawn to eat the prefast meal and chat in whispers.
2. That face and I occupied the same playpen, ate sand out of the same sandbox together… eaten another
3. Little Tunsi boy telling her nurse…. that Ama had eaten another baby so he’d have another brother or a sister soon.
These examples show how the physical forms of food and eating are made to stand for metaphors of abstract forms of ‘food’, ‘diet’ and ‘eating’. It is the most fundamental thought wrested from the body of food, to connect the physical with the spiritual. It is significant to note that in all the examples quoted above, the idea of ‘food,’ ‘eating,’ and ‘diet’ is placed in an intimate relation with talk, chat, lingo (our
conversations were meals). On the one hand this connection is quite natural and universal. This association may have suggested itself to her, at least in some contexts,
without effort or plan. But, in all major incidents it is put together with food as a part of conscious design.
The notion of food is bound up with talk in a physical way – because in most natural setting if family members sit down to eat together, they talk. Talking is a part of eating. In fact ‘food’ is physical eating. But it is also spiritual. ‘Talk’ is food for human spirit. Talk is a form of ‘food’ too. It feeds your soul, mind, intellect, emotions.
Many incidents in Meatless days emphasize a symbolic use of ‘food’ ‘diet’ ‘eating’ as much as the literal. Sara was fed, among other things on talk, conversation, tales and stories. She grew among people who were, excepting her mother, immensely ‘talkable’. Her father, siblings and friends talked, read and acted stories and told each other tales. “In our early days,” Sara tells us, “the most intensely talkable, Dale, and I savoured the taste of articulating in each other’s presence…” Therefore, she has an inner urge to articulate those tales she was fed on, or to reverse the analogy, are ‘buried’ in her. To find their significance in one’s adulthood they must be re-visited - retold – given another life in art, through writing!
The notion of food through its symbolic connection with talk/tales, is directly related to her art of writing, aesthetic design and other related ideas. In order to understand these connectedness of different notions through words, we look at this play upon words and images, beginning from ‘food’ and ‘talk’ first and what they lead on to, in the next section.
‘Food’ and ‘Talk’ : A Play Upon Words
It is significant to note that the stories that come after Meatless days are not about ‘meat’ and drink, nor so much about food, as about ‘talk’ and ‘lingo.’ The story of her friend Mustakori is third in the series, it is mainly about her language – what names she had, what languages characterised her. Similarly the story about Papa is lso
about how Papa talked, as did Shahid. Mama was reticent, but her quiet ways were as dear to Sara as others’ speech or Ifat’s stories. She was ‘fed’ on these languages and stories.
Talk is the food of spirit. She had been fed on many voices in
of mamma’s, papa’s, Ifat’s, Shahid’s …the list is inexhaustible. So she learned to talk early: Pakistan-
“You learned to talk early Sara,” Mama told me of my forgotten past. “You were so interested in sentences.” It made me the quaintest baby that she had- What sounds of conversation filled my infancy, patterns of urgent and perpetual talk! I heard my parents talking to each other all the
time, but never of themselves,…an abundant talk-filled era,…
The most talking people in the family were Papa and Dadi. About her Dadi, she notices:
She would creep down the driveway…. to stop cars and people on
the street to give them all the gossip she had on God
Dadi behaved abysmally at my mother’s funeral….she set up loud and unnecessary lamentations in the dining room
….. she lay…uttering most awful imprecations…. Dadi could berate Satan in full eloquence only after she had clambered on top of the dining-room table.
Dadi sent wraiths of wail toward the ceiling “Irfan, Irfan, Irfan” About her father, she says:
My father spoke, and when Papa talked, it was of
, But we were glad then, at being audience to that familiar conversation. Pakistan
There were always a few words that his flamboyant English insisted he mispronounce; words, I often imagined, over which his heart took hidden pleasure when he got them by the gullet and held them until they empurpled to the colour of his own indignant nature. “Another” was one of them – I cannot count how many times we would hear him
say “Anther?” “Anther?” It did not matter whether it was another meal or another government or another baby at issue: all we heard was a voice bristling with amazement at the thought that anther could exist. It seemed his patience could not sustain itself over trisyllabic, tripping up his voice on most trisyllables that did not sound like Pakistan- for there was a word over which he could slow down, to exude ownership as he uttered it! But something like “beginning” -
that is something more mundane – had to become “bignig” a hasty abbreviation that was secretly aware of the comic quality of slapdash, the shorthand through which slapdash begins. (Papa and Pakistan)
She says her Papa’s speech was ‘ferocious,’ ‘fearsome.’
Mairi said my father to my mother what’s the greatest thing you have done in your life? – hardly my mother’s favourite lingo, but pip was in a chatty mood and liked to talk of greatness. Papa’s powerful discourse would surround her night and day – when I see her in her room, she is always looking down, listening!” This is a significant image – her mother surrounded by her father’s powerful discourse! She was also surrounded by her Dadi’s loud ‘gossip’, ‘imprecations’ and lamentations. Sara describes her Dadi’s ‘intensities’ which distressed her mother. In her father’s home there was not only an inclination to talk and talk too much, but she also notices a loudness, raucousness and noise in all Asian characters and settings. When she talks to her sister Tillat: ..then Tillat and I could talk. Our conversations were meals, delectable, but fraught with a sense of prior copywright, because each of us was obliged to talk too much about what the other already did not know.
Ifat was full of tales about pregnancy, and Shahid would ask her to rally round. The only reticent woman in her household was her Welsh mother. Deprived of the food of talk, what is Suleri left with now? She says – she is left with only ‘words’ free from the syntax, – like mama, papa, Ifat – words like empty shells. In America, she feels the urge to find a different ‘idiom’ to live. This is another theme of her stories then. She feels the necessity to construct memory of those names, like museums in history. It is a struggle that she must engage in, as a safeguard against ‘forgetting.’ So she has found a refuge in the intellection of the West. This is another
life altogether, not of talk or conversation, but of writing stories, her art and craft. This is not a conversation with people, but a conversation with one’s own self, a lonely journey into one’s mind.
Writing, says Suleri is like turning water into milk. This is another dimension of meatless ness, then. Meatless Days – is reference to transcending life of meat and drink, the life of body and physical pleasure, and to learn to survive without meat, for there are other forms of food, other manners of eating. One learns this when one has eaten sand, and grief. So she spent hours in thinking what will or will not jell together in her tales. Suleri’s language and expression have provided an essential outlet to bottled up emotions that block normal living and progress in a migrant society – for many Asians, Pakistanis in particular. Her style is of great importance for those who might face similar dilemma. This is the point illustrated in the final section of this paper.
Significance of Suleri’s Style
Suleri has laid the foundation of a great tradition of writing in English in this country by finding an apt symbol for the theme of ‘migration’ to other foreign lands. For this was the hardest job of all – to find it for Pakistan! For, Pakistan’s situation is peculiar, in spite of universality of migrant experience all over the world. Suleri’s tales typifie the pangs of sorrow, the agonies of soul, and scattering of families of all Pakistani migrants to foreign lands. She has invented a powerful metaphor for the anguish of millions who have or might in future tread a similar path of sorrow and suffering to embrace ‘western intellection’. Without these metaphors of common life, writers cannot talk meaningfully about their experience to their reading public. There is no doubt that
it was hard to find an adequate symbol of
’s Islamised Asian life that would express our specific personal sorrows intensified by the political disasters of the country. Only a woman of Suleri’s calibre, in possession of a great historical sense (Suleri) could do it. Sara has found the right image ‘Meatless Day’ for all those who have spent their Pakistan
childhood and had had adult education in
before leaving the country for foreign shores. Since they can never erase their memories, or drop them away just like that, they will, in the absence of ‘meaty life of past pleasures’ live off ‘the refrigerated meat’ of memories. That Sara’s attitude to politics and religion is critical may not be of great consequence for those who do not share her political views. What matters is, however the fact that the essence of her experience, the essentials of life she depicts, is non- American, non-European. Her unreserved assent to Shahid’s cry of pain ‘we are lost Sara’ is shared by us all who have experienced similar loss of family ties through death and distance in a similar way. No literati before Suleri, who emerged on the international scene from Pakistan, could give expression to common sorrows and joys, while still retaining a critical posture to evils that blight our culture and politics. Pakistan
It is not just this, but other aspects of life from Pakistan that no writer before Suleri has had the courage to turn into symbols of aesthetic power. True that she has criticised Islam, and some of us will not agree with her views, but she has turned veiling, praying, courtyard, mosque, and shab-e-meraj turned into powerful literary
symbols. She has used them not only to depict the contour of Islamisation in Pakistan, but also as neutral symbols to describe her personal feelings and emotions. Never
before they have been employed in a secular setting to symbolise merely a ‘human condition.’ She has, on top of everything else, turned to the landscape of
– the essential feature of postcolonial literature (Ashcroft and Tiffin:1989) - and has depicted it with all its beauty, confusion and chaos. She has talked about Murree hills and Nathia Gully, because they are beautiful and among the mountain she came for healing, to feel free. But she has mentioned all other places no matter how dreary - Jehlum, Cambulpur, Sargodha, besides Lahore, with the same faithfulness. It has taken all the courage, patience thought, to do it. Above all it has taken firm commitment and a great depth of feeling too. If she did not throw herself in the heart of Pakistan, like Ifat, she has still done it, only in a different way. Meatless Days a refutation of her calm assertion in the book ‘ Pakistan and I were coming to a parting.’ Suleri’s voice is distinctly that of a woman from Pakistan. None of the Pakistani writers among men have thought about Pakistan with this much intensity and concentration. ‘Leaving Pakistan was like leaving the company of women. I have tried to imagine, if any one from India would say ‘Leaving India is like leaving the company of women.’ To me, it does not sound right, in spite of similarity of cultures. She has depicted bold, powerful women unlike those depicted in Urdu poetry. Ifat is a model for that courage that Urdu mystic poets eulogise but the culture never accepts. The most important is Ifat’s liberated language, for suleri dilated upon her facility for ‘imprecations’ and bold inquiry and experiment in sex. Suleri has Pakistan
talked about Ifat’s courage to know, and ask and inform Sara about all she knew about sex. It is no secret now that one major triumph of English over Urdu is its ability to allow both sexes the freedom and provide vocabulary for sex-talk (Rehman).
The greatest contribution of Suleri in laying the foundation for superb tradition of writing in English is that Suleri has shown to the prospective writers of English, how to avoid or overcome ‘sentimentalism’ which according to Rehman spoils English in Pakistan. This is in spite of the fact that Suleris has expressed strong emotions. She has mentioned Heba’s baby sobs, Shahid’s painful statements, Dadi’s lamentations, yet, she has moved quickly away to change the mood. She has turned to some drama to some new episode, or event to metamorphose sentiment – or its exuberance in any case. Suleri has made use of all great classics of English and has combined several traditions of realistic and symbolist narrative, from Chaucer down to Eliot, and also further down to the postmoderns. The decision to write character portrait seems to have been inspired, at least partly by Chaucer. The narrative design follow different devices of narrative Milton, Eliot and Frost. In spite of all dramatisation and detachment drawn from different sources of English literature, the emotional power of her tales touches a rare lyricism associated with only poetry in Urdu.