‘True stories’ of life in the Walled City

By Majid Sheikh

Dawn, May 5, 2014


Looking back towards their villages, cities and countries is natural for the diaspora writers whose themes have a strong element of nostalgia and displacement.

Irfan Siddiqui, a young journalist from the Walled City currently living in the USA, has produced a book of ‘true stories’ under the title of ‘The Upper Stall.’

It’s a collection of four stories. The last story is titled ‘Eleven Houses’ and its description of the people who lived in each of the 11 houses that formed part of the ‘cul-de-sac’ where he spent his early youth. He does not disclose the specific street address but it has a close resemblance with every Mohallah street of Lahore.

Irfan’s ‘true stories’ can be recognised by anyone who has lived or experienced life in the Walled City and the four stories certainly can be seen in the life there.

‘The Upper Stall’ is about a middle-aged woman who lives her dreams while seeing a movie in a cinema every month, her monthly saving being just enough to buy her a cinema ticket in the ‘upper class’. Her life can be seen passing in the window of her house, another ‘upper stall’ experience, where she lives out not her life but her poverty.

The second story, titled ‘The Meat Ball’ is about a couple who live their poverty out as servants in the house of a Shahalam Market shopkeeper, whose haughty wife’s way reflect their new-found wealth and the man takes advantage of the terrorised maid’s inability to respond to his overtures. For the maid it is a way out of their poverty. The wife ultimately finds out and a predictable outcome follows as her brother roughs the couple up and throws them onto the street, naturally penniless.

The third and longest story, titled ‘The Corporate Girl’ is different from the other ‘true stories’ for it reflects the rise of an educated young girl in her first job and how her ambitions take her, very quickly, to the top.

All the stories reflect, probably, the writer’s experience in a tough environment in the lanes of the Walled City where the only mode of survival is to be streetwise. Without doubt it leaves one with the impression that Irfan Siddiqui has brought out his deepest thoughts about his youth.

The writing style makes a heavy going for it seems Irfan has yet to learn the fine art of writing simple English. Except a few grammatical mistakes, it is an interesting book, and one that truly reflects life as it is, still, in the Walled City, tough and unforgiving. The book seems a self-publication, which reflects Irfan’s desire to be seen as having done his bit for his city. It would be most interesting to see where he goes from here.




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