FICTION: AGAINST THE ODDS

September 22, 2019

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The people of the subcontinent may have been separated in the summer of 1947, but their lives remain entwined even today. Because of the similarities in language, food, clothing and culture, along with the two countries’ elaborate and tremendous shared history, one is compelled to question if Pakistan and India’s Gordian knot can ever be unwound and their tensions dissolved. In Love Knows No LoC, Arpit Vageria aims to capture the love-hate — or perhaps the hate-hate — relationship between the two countries through the story of Zoya and Kabeer.

With one glance at the tell-tale title and cover, you know exactly what you are in for. The story revolves around Zoya, a 25-year-old Pakistani pop singer and Kabeer, an emerging Indian cricketer. Kabeer is in Lahore to play a friendly match when he first sees Zoya’s picture on a billboard and instantly falls in love with her beautiful face. Zoya performs before the match, leaving Kabeer mesmerised. She also happens to be the one to hand him his man-of-the-match trophy. He attempts to approach her outside the stadium, but just as he is about to do so, all hell breaks loose as the stadium comes under a terrorist attack. Kabeer is dragged to safety as he watches Zoya get hit by a bullet in her arm.

Subsequently, we are introduced to Zoya and Kabeer’s families. Zoya’s grandfather — a legendary singer himself — regrets pushing her to pursue a musical career, while Kabeer’s grandfather and the rest of his family regret letting him go to Pakistan, a ‘terrorist’ nation. Their next encounter takes place in India where Zoya is on tour and this time, Kabeer manages to make his move. He turns out to be of immense help and support to her as she suffers a tragedy on tour. This eventually sparks romance between the pair and what follows is an intense, yet bumpy ride down love’s lane.

Despite sometimes mawkish dialogue and a lack of character development beyond its protagonists, a novel attempts to soothe Pak-India relations through a cross-border love story

The two are like any other young couple, madly in love and oblivious to the consequences of their relationship. Initially, one might question Kabeer’s sincerity, mainly because his affection is rooted in fascination and physical desire. However, as the story progresses, he is able to convince Zoya — and the reader — of his true love by standing up for her whenever needed and being willing to settle down with her despite his family’s scepticism. But Kabeer’s susceptible and reactive nature, which makes him act imprudently and recklessly, often lands the pair in despair. On the other hand, Zoya behaves sensibly, forgives Kabeer for his naivety on several occasions and anchors their relationship through the violent storms that never seem to cease. The romance, when devoid of its plight, is rather cliché because of its mawkish romantic scenes, but what makes their relationship special is that even though it is riddled with problems, the two never lose hope and continue to fight for each other.

Although the title clearly dismisses the idea of the Line of Control having to do anything with love, the story goes on to prove that it actually does. Throughout the book, we see that even though Zoya and Kabeer do not care about each other’s nationality, the animosity between Pakistan and India comes in the way at numerous instances to poison their relationship. Had they not been celebrities with millions of followers, the situation could have been different, but their celebrity status leads to the paparazzi and journalists torturing them with appalling questions and overwhelming criticism.

While Vageria keeps readers captivated through the elements of mystery, thrill and cliffhangers, I was dissatisfied with how he deals with the subplots, as all of them end almost immediately after beginning. Since the action revolves solely around the two protagonists, readers do not get much insight into how and why certain incidents take place. The only properly developed characters are also Kabeer and Zoya. I found Zoya’s character to be more appealing as she is wise, practical and strong-willed. Despite the calamities coming her way, at no point does she seem helpless or vulnerable, and pulls herself out of misery.

In complete contrast to Kabeer, she measures her words before speaking and displays unbelievably sound professionalism in the scene where she is struck with a tragedy during her concert. Kabeer, meanwhile, always seems to worsen his situations by reacting instinctively and violently. His personality rather compliments his cricketing profession, as he is shown to be ambitious, vehement and fiery. Vageria exhibits admirable character development for the two as, towards the end of the story, Zoya finally loses her cool with a journalist and Kabeer learns to tackle shifty reporters, but one wishes the author had put more effort into crafting the other characters, too, such as Zoya’s parents and her and Kabeer’s grandfathers.

My favourite part of the story is, perhaps, Kabeer’s visit to Lahore’s streets and fraternising with Pakistanis. Even though the novel as a whole features hostility and resentment between Pakistanis and Indians, this small bit at the start makes one realise how, despite their conflicts, both people have a similar disinclination towards war and hatred. The Pakistani street vendor Ghulam perfectly represents the common people who want peace with their neighbours, but are disillusioned by their governments.

Vageria uses the flashback device effectively, smoothly transitioning from the past to the present and his narrative style offers readers the opportunity to ponder and question the philosophical extensions to the plot. He keeps his language lucid for the most part, but tends to break into flowery embellishments in conversations between Zoya and Kabeer, which feels a bit out of proportion as both come across excessively sentimental and figurative. Kabeer — quite surprisingly — is exceedingly eloquent for a cricketer, while Zoya is simply witty.

The book is a commendable attempt at soothing Pak-India relations as at no point does one feel that the writer is Indian, with the narration being perfectly unbiased and omniscient throughout. Novels such as Love Knows No LoC spur harmony and goodwill, much needed at especially this point in time when relations between the two countries are at their lowest.

The reviewer is a student and freelance writer

Love Knows No LOC
By Arpit Vageria
Penguin Metro Reads, India
ISBN: 978-0143445999
232pp.

Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, September 22nd, 2019