FICTION: SHAAM'S MINDSCAPES

Published September 24, 2023

Anjaam Bakhair
By Mahmood Shaam
Atlantis Publications
ISBN: 978-969-601-479-9
416pp.

The challenges Pakistan is presently struggling with are not very different from those it was facing a few decades ago — extremism, political and economic instability, the domination of feudal lords and land mafias, and the world of media affecting all such issues of the country.

Much has been written on these issues from various angles, but Anjaam Bakhair by renowned journalist, editor and publisher Mahmood Shaam delves into these things with a fresh perspective.

The author has worked in the field of journalism for more than four decades and has deeply observed the changes that have been taking place in Pakistan as well as the major events that have shaped its destiny. He was around when East Pakistan existed and he also witnessed the country fall apart in 1971.

It is quite obvious that the story of Anjaam Bakhair has all of Shaam’s experiences embedded within it. Although the book appears quite impersonal because of having been written in the literary form of a novel, the reader is still able to find reflections of real life characters in it.

While the novel might not excel in its literary aspects, it still does take its readers on a captivating journey into the complex world of journalism, following the lives of three main characters — Sidra, Khalil and Ahmed Hammad. The story, set against the backdrop of a news channel, Jugnu TV, unfolds a series of events that reveal the power of and challenges faced by Pakistan’s media industry and what’s happening on the inside within it.

A novel by a veteran journalist and editor reflects on Pakistan’s media, politics and history

On the one hand there is an ongoing search for truth and the desire to expose injustice and oppression. On the other, there is also a cruel race for ‘exclusives’, to increase channel ratings.

By taking a fresh look at the political parties of Pakistan, the story also shows how the democratic process was weakened during the initial years of the country’s existence, and provides a thoughtful commentary on military dictatorships and their long-lasting impacts on Pakistan.

Sidra and Khalil, reporters at Jugnu TV, love each other and are engaged to be married soon. Their lives become entwined with Ahmed Hammad’s, a veteran journalist-turned-researcher and a mentor to both. Although he has retired from active journalism, his wisdom and guidance continue to shape Sidra and Khalil’s career paths and add depth to their pursuits. The frequent interactions with Mr Hammad not only help the two in their assignments, but also in uncovering forgotten aspects of the country’s history that continue to affect its present.

The narrative then takes an intense turn with a terrorist incident in Karachi. A heavy bomb explosion kills scores of people and destroys many households. The events that follow ultimately take Khalil into a religious seminary, which reveals a labyrinth of secrets within its walls, showing not only its financial power but also its connections with a powerful country. The interest of American diplomats in the seminary adds another layer of intrigue to the tale.

By taking a fresh look at the political parties of Pakistan, the story also shows how the democratic process was weakened during the initial years of the country’s existence, and provides a thoughtful commentary on military dictatorships and their long-lasting impacts on Pakistan.

The novel also focuses on the changes taking place in the media industry, showing how the constant repetition of news has transformed journalism into a non-serious practice, which promotes sensationalism to increase news channel ratings.

Amid all this, Shaam makes a striking commentary on the impact of this shift, and subtly portrays how it is destroying societal values as well as professionalism. Through the characters’ struggles and their interactions, the novel casts a critical eye on the power dynamics between channel owners, workers and advertisers.

Another character that keeps his presence in the entire novel is Malik Ayaz, who reflects the face of the powerful land mafia operating in the country. His involvement in illegal housing schemes and forcibly taking away people’s lands, juxtaposed with his connection to Sheikh Arif, the owner of Jugnu TV, serves as a symbol of the power of such people in the country as well as the manipulation inherent in the media industry. This manipulation is also representative of broader societal issues and compromises the integrity of news reporting.

The novel has more international dimensions. Khalil goes to the United States of America on a fellowship and the journey exposes him to global governance and research methodologies. Meanwhile, Sidra’s visits to the former Fata region and Balochistan highlight the issues of terrorism and the lack of development and progress in such regions.

Through Mr Hammad’s experiences and insights, the novel also explores Pakistan’s relationship with China. His keen interest in it makes him ready to do extensive research, which culminates in a book on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.

Ultimately, Anjaam Bakhair is a thought-provoking read, which explores journalism’s power and its ethical dilemmas, along with its mutual relationship with societal progress. And through its rich characters and intricate narrative, it pushes the reader into taking a reflective journey through the complexities of the media, history, and the always-changing fabric of Pakistan’s landscape.

The reviewer is a member of staff. X: WaqasAliRanjha

Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, September 24th, 2023

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