ALTHOUGH Parvin Shere observes in her introduction to Chund Seepiyan Samandaron Sey, or Pearls from the Ocean, that the book “is not a travelogue,” and that “words on the following pages are simply petals of flowers that have bloomed after observation of nature’s art gallery,” the book is very much a travelogue; albeit in an uncommon, if not a unique, format.
A bilingual book, Chund Seepiyan is a detailed collection of almost day-to-day subjective impressions as well as objective statistical facts of Shere’s travel to two diverse destinations: South Africa, ‘Seeah Roshni’ or ‘Black Light’; and Peru, ‘Tilismi Jahan’ or ‘Magical World’.
One of the most striking aspects of the narrative is the display of an almost childlike sensitivity and fascination with life, with the world Shere perceives and the human condition she encounters. This is coupled with a compelling curiosity to explore deeper through visiting remote locations and being with people in their natural habitat. Shere finds the uniqueness of different societies and cultures intriguing, while remaining fully conscious of universal human aspirations. Her own longing for her roots creeps up every now and then during her voyages.
Narrating in the third person, Shere writes incisively not only about the sights, sounds and smells of her surroundings but also about people, including her fellow travelers. She offers details of the atrocities of Dutch and British colonisers in Africa, and the Spanish in Peru. She also reflects on the consequences of past invasions on the present life of people and societies. The aesthetics, social issues and cultural peculiarities of the places Shere visits are recounted in a captivating manner and imagery.
The book, a “bilingual edition,” has two separate versions. It is beautifully written in Urdu, reminiscent of Mustansar Hussain Tarrar’s style, if not his diction; and it is lucid in English. The narrative is occasionally enriched by Shere’s perceptive poems, lyrical prose, and some 79 oil paintings by her. Four pages of colour photographs of South African and Peruvian landmarks are also included in this volume printed on heavy art paper. Dr Baidar Bakht has translated the poems in English.
The curse of apartheid and consequent atrocities receive ample attention and Shere also refers to the relevant literature and television serials on the topic: Roots by Alex Haley; Nigger by Dick Gregory; Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton; and others. This is in addition to stories of personal interactions with people from different places. In the section about Peru, Shere shares with the readers her fascination with the Inca civilisation, the floating villages and locally hand-crafted artifacts.
The paintings in the South African section of the book are dominated by dark brown and black shades with dashes of red and basic colours aptly depicting the gloomy conditions; those in the Peru section, meanwhile, have more cheerful effects. Shere has a distinct painting style which boldly focuses on her subjects without being distracted or highlighting other details too much.
Although the six critics who comment on the book, including Professor Ateequllah, Professor Abul Kalam Qasmi, Professor Mirza Hamid Baig, Karamat Ghori and others, provide valuable opinions about the text and its author, their observations — before the actual narrative of the book begins — tend to distract readers from forming their own unbiased impression. One foreword to the book would have been sufficient and the rest of the views should have been left for the end.
The book has obviously been produced laboriously, with a keen eye for quality and an error-free result. Settled in Canada, Shere’s earlier publications include Kirchian and Nihal-e-Dil par Sahab Jaisay. Several exhibitions of her paintings have been held in different countries.
Chund Seepiyan Samandaron Sey / Pearls from the Ocean
By Parvin Shere
All India Urdu Manch, Bangalore