Interview with Arundhati Basu of The Telegraph, Calcutta, May 13, 2012
Between Clay and Dust


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Between Clay and Dust : A Novel
by Musharraf Ali Farooqi
Publisher: David Davidar, Aleph Book Company (S. Asia Rights)
Publishing date: April 2012
Rights queries: Robert B. Wyatt | Email:

"A privileged peek into the mind of the Pahalwan and Courtesan, the subcontinent's most intriguing symbols of romance. Storytelling at its best."
— Naseeruddin Shah

From the book jacket:
"Ustad Ramzi was once the greatest wrestler in the land, famed for his enormous strength and unmatched technique. Young apprentices flocked to his akhara to learn his craft, fans adored him, and rival wrestling clans feared his resolve that would never admit defeat. The courtesan Gohar Jan was just as renowned. Celebrated throughout the country for her beauty and the power and melodiousness of her singing, her kotha was thronged by nobles, rich men, and infatuated admirers.

Musharraf Ali Farooqi’s new novel opens with a glimpse of these extraordinary characters in the twilight of their lives. Their skills are no longer what they once were, new challengers to their eminence have now arisen, their followers have melted away, and the adoring crowds are long gone. An immense catastrophe has laid waste to the country; its new inheritors and rulers have no time for the old ways and, stripped of their resources and their old powers, Ustad Ramzi and Gohar Jan must face their greatest challenge yet…

Powerful and haunting, Between Clay and Dust is a triumph of storytelling and a poignant exploration of love, honour, redemption and the strength that great souls find to go on when everything is lost."


Business Standard, May 31, 2012, by Mihir S Sharma
There is a truth about recent novels from Pakistan that few are comfortable accepting. And that truth is that they are often novels of discovery, in which the authors – while professing a writerly disdain for any larger purpose – nevertheless set out to explain that troubled country. This is not an unsurprising aim, as these novels’ creators have lived and worked in literary and political circles in the West, drawing from there the questions that drive their plots and their own sense of their work’s audience. And, of course, this coincidence of wants partly explains the recent attention such novels have received in the West and in India. If Musharraf Ali Farooqi’s Between Clay and Dust does not receive the rapturous attention that it deserves, it will be because it breaks free of these restraints… That Mr Farooqi’s book is different from many others that have emerged from Pakistan of late is, perhaps, not unrelated to the fact that he himself has had a trajectory as a writer that is out of the ordinary.  more

Asia Society Blog, May 30, 2012, by Jeff Tompkins
For more than a month now, South Asian literary circles have been abuzz over a highly original fictional look at the subcontinent in the years following Partition that also doubles as a poignant study of life's transience…Recounted in a spare, understated idiom that makes its climactic scenes all the more moving, Farooqi's novel is an elegant heartbreaker — and marks an auspicious start for his publisher, the recently-launched New Delhi-based publishing venture the Aleph Book Company. more

The News International, June 03, 2012, by Rafay Alam
Between Clay and Dust is about change. It’s about what happens to people when their most cherished possessions — their beliefs — come into contact with change. Change questions the value and relevance of tradition; the things that defines us…Between Clay and Dust ends by raising questions of how we, today, should face and deal with the changes we face. Not all change is bad, for change is a process.  What is important, what sustains our life even when what we know has passed, is the constant that is purity of purpose. more

Newsline magazine, June 2012, by Muneeza Shamsie
Farooqi’s spare, tightly honed prose and the quiet unfurling of the plot resembles the seamless movements of a dance, in which sudden implosions of violence and unexpected denouements are reflected by a change in the dancer’s steps but are contained within the fluidity of the whole. This sense of physicality and grace is enhanced by a narrative where much is suggested through gesture and nuance. At the same time, Farooqi’s eye for detail vividly brings to life the two main protagonists and their respective establishments.  more

Dawn, June 10, 2012, by Nadir Hassan
This deceptively simple tale of sibling tensions explores moral dilemmas that transcend the pahalwan culture Farooqi writes about so evocatively… Between Clay and Dust may be a fall-from-grace story but that decline is thrust upon the characters. In the eternal debate between fate and free will, Farooqi does not take sides but prefers showing how we deal with matters beyond our control… [He] is entirely successful in showing us that we still retain the power, if not to shape our destinies, to at least react to our waning fortunes with a contradictory brew of emotions that range from despair to forbearance. And that, more than anything else, is what makes us human. more

LiveMint/Wall Street Journal, May 04, 2012 by Supriya Nair
Much of the action of Between Clay And Dust alternates between sporting arenas and women’s rooms, in spaces which we tend to think of as repositories of our memories, rather than our histories. Perhaps this accounts for the power of this small, spare book, a novel which fulfils the most novelistic of purposes—to refract history through the prism of memory, and to tell us its secrets and doubts… Ustad Ramzi’s dilemma, the struggle of the very disciplined in an undisciplined world, is timeless… Farooqi’s narrative voice is cool and hypnotic, almost impassive in its patience… Farooqi’s writing is too wise and too elegant to make this a romance instead of a tragedy. …We are left with the notion that every history is underwritten by the minute, private failures of human beings. more

Outlook India Magazine, May 07, 2012 by Sunil Sethi
Musharraf Ali Farooqi’s new novel is the literary equivalent of an artfully executed miniature painting. In its meticulous planning and circumscribed space, a cast of vigorously modelled characters and their subtle movements and emotions leap into life; the fluency of the narrative and unfolding of the story owe something to the conventions of dastangoi, the Urdu art of storytelling…. This is that rare novel where gesture, nuance and suggestion underscores, and often takes precedence, over dialogue and dramatic action…. Decline and disintegration are inevitable, Musharraf Ali Farooqi suggests in this novel of parable-like luminosity that took him ten years to finish, as nascent ruins overlay the old. more

Caravan Magazine, May 01, 2012 by Faiza S Khan
This is the most poignant, the most subtle, the most moving novel I have read in the past few years from this, or any, region. A natural storyteller, Farooqi imagines a world we thought we were familiar with and then pulls the rug out from under our feet… While it is a slender book, the tradition it borrows from most is that of the Victorian novel—employing a restrained realism, speaking of everyday events, and using a rational but flawed protagonist whose personality changes as the story arc progresses, culminating in his painful deeper understanding of both the changing world around him and, necessarily, also himself. more

The Express Tribune, May 13, 2012 by Mahvesh Murad
Farooqi has written a thoughtful and emotionally articulate story about people whose lives are changing beyond their control… [He] has told a story in a setting that may be unfamiliar and even quaint, to an urban English reading population anywhere in the world. Will Between Clay and Dust make as much of an impact in a world tuned in to high drama? It should, because as Farooqi explains: ‘the experience of the emotional life of a character is always eminently accessible to readers from other cultures if a writer is able to express it in his work …I do not feel that I have to make the caricature of a character and his or her emotional life to make that character understandable to a global reader.’ And with Between Clay and Dust, he does just that. more

OPEN Magazine, April 28, 2012 by Basharat Peer
Between Clay and Dust is a haunting meditation on a man’s fanatical attachment to his art, status and power, and its fallout on his relationships…  [A] moving, wise, and an incisive glimpse into our souls. It is also a great movie waiting to be made. more

Papercuts Magazine/Desi Writers Lounge, May 15, 2012  by Afia Aslam
Between Clay and Dust seems to pull its characters out of the very hearts of its readers, to dust our denial off them and to put them out in the open sans any pomp or ceremony, with all their strengths and their faults plain to see. This is the extraordinary strength of this novel: it could be anyone’s tale… The characters, right down to the masterfully crafted fight-promoter, Gulab Deen (a thoroughly enjoyable and interesting player), will keep reminding readers of someone they know… Despite the melancholic historical tone of the book, its observations on human nature will strike a chord with any reader in any era. It has all the makings of a classic and is likely to go down as one in the canon of South Asian literature. more

IBN Live, April 14, 2012 by Rituparna Chatterjee
Set amidst the decline of familiar social morals after the Partition, the story of Ustad Ramzi is a poignant study of human nature… This is a book whose pages will emit the smells of blood, sweat and freshly churned clay and stay with you long after you have read the last word. more

Forbes Magazine India, April 30, 2012  by Sumana Mukherjee
The book works like an ache in the heart, evoking cultures and values that, while not necessarily perfect, represented something larger than the self; their replacements, by contrast, are small and mean… This is a book to be savoured like a fine single malt. more

The Sunday-Guardian, April 29, 2012  by Trisha Gupta
There is a bell-like clarity to Farooqi's delineation of his characters, his slow unraveling of their motivations and desires. Instead of doing anything as indignified as building towards a crescendo, Farooqi maintains a deliberate even tempo. Even the most dramatic events are described without drama... This is a quietly affecting book, with a profound understanding of tragedy: that what happens to us is as much a function of how we respond to events as the events themselves. more

The Asian Age, April 11, 2012  by Nawaid Anjum
Between Clay and Dust is a tale that wrestles with the themes of rectitude and retribution, pride and redemption, grief and guilt, love and loss. It is about the commotion of souls and the moral and emotional wherewithals that nobler souls among us possess to withstand time’s ravages, leaving behind robust and sturdy foootprints on its sands. more

The New York Times, April 12, 2012 by Nida Najar
Musharraf Ali Farooqi’s novel, “Between Clay and Dust,” technically takes place in a town in post-partition Pakistan, but you might not realize that when reading the book — and that’s what the author intended...“I didn’t want to portray the boundaries of any particular nation-state, either Pakistan or India,” said Mr. Farooqi, who just made his first trip to India from his home in Karachi to promote the book. “This is not a novel about a country; this is a novel about a culture which is shared between countries.”more


BBC Urdu report, May 21, 2012 by Anwer Sen Roy
Interview with Arundhati Basu of The Telegraph, Calcutta, May 13, 2012

Interview with Mahvesh Murad for CityFM89, May 12, 2012
Interview with Poonam Saxena of Hindustan Times Brunch, April 07, 2012
Interview with Radhika Iyengar of Platform Magazine, April 16, 2012
Interview with Harshini Vakkalanka of The Hindu, April 23, 2012
Interview with Ayesha Tabassum of Deccan Chronicle, April 17, 2012
Interview with Madhusree Chatterjee of IANS in Times of India, April 17, 2012
Interview with Sukalp Sharma for Financial Express, April 15, 2012
Interview with Yogesh Vajpeyi for Express Buzz, April 13, 2012
Interview with PTI in IBN-Live, April 08, 2012

ISBN: 978-0307397188 (Knopf Canada) | 9780330510837 (Picador India)

In a neighbourhood in Karachi, Mona, a recently widowed mother of two grown women, is trying to settle into her new life. Things take an unexpected turn when the mysterious Salamat Ali becomes a tenant at her neighbour’s house—and he begins to court the widow. His attentions cause Mona to reconsider her first marriage, and what she wants from her life. An impertinent proposal of marriage throws things considerably further into chaos. As her family swoops in to defend her honour, Mona asserts herself against their ministrations and makes a most unexpected decision.

Romanian, Persian, Urdu


from India Today: May 18, 2009
"This is a gem of a book and the author is a real find. At last the subcontinent can rejoice in having acquired its own avatar of the iconic Jane Austen…" more

from Tehelka Magazine, May 16, 2009
"Claire Boylan once set out on a bunch of conversations with other writers on how they wrote their novels...." more

from Outlook India Magazine: May 18, 2009
"Just as one despaired of ever reading an old-fashioned novel with a credible story and characters and an uncluttered style, comes this charming tale from Pakistan…" more

from Daily Dawn: January 04, 2009
"Last year, Musharraf Ali Farooqi published to great acclaim his 900-page English translation, The Adventures of Amir Hamza, of that great Urdu classic Dastan-i-Amir Hamza which was regarded as a truly remarkable literary feat. Now, in marked contrast to the rambunctious Urdu tale, Farooqi has written a witty, spare and elegant English novel titled The Story of a Widow which is set in modern Karachi…" more

from Newsline Magazine: JULY 21, 2010
"Musharraf Ali Farooqi’s arrival on the literary scene was like the man himself – quiet but phenomenal…" more

from Indian Express: Express Buzz: July 26, 2009
"Romance, some say, is one element that can only remain dormant — not die. And Mona could be a good example…" more

from Deccan Herald: May 31, 2009
"Extremely readable, is what I’d exclaimed rather too spontaneously. With this novel clutched tight in my hands, lying curled up on the ageing sofa, I read through it. At one go…" more

from Hindustan Times: June 27, 2009
"It’s a truth universally acknowledged that a beautiful, middle-aged widow with an independent fortune must be in need of a husband…" more

from The Tribune: June 07, 2009
"Musharraf Ali Farooqi has a story to tell, characters to explore and a plot to take forward, and he does it with both ease and style, carrying his eager reader with him…" more

from Calcutta Telegrph: August 21, 2009
"The title of Musharraf Ali Farooqi’s novel tells it all. The novel deals with an unexpected decision of a middle- aged widow that entirely changes her quiet life. In this novel, Farooqi ventures into two uncharted territories, which even seasoned novelists would have tried to avoid…" more

from Businessworld: May 01, 2009
"Praising this book, pakistani author Mohammed Hanif writes: 'If Jane Austen had grown up in a Karachi suburb, this is what she would have written'...” more

from Mumbai Mirror: May 10, 2009
"The Story of a Widow seems like an archaic title for a modern-day romance between two matured individuals in their fifties…" more

from Sakal Times: May 24, 2009
"A middle-aged widow whose two daughters are married, herself gets married again. That being the outline of a novel, it may not sound to be an interesting read. But, with a mix of subtle humour, and narration of a woman’s dilemma and desire..." more

from Mid-Day: May 31, 2009
"My first impression was that this book was a satire, but as I continued reading, entered the story and became familiar with its characters, I realized that the faintly tongue-in-cheek impression I’d received were only the result of a deadpan – though very elegant – storytelling style…" more

from South Asian Women Network SAWNET: 26 September 2010
"The Story of a Widow is a lovely book by Musharraf Ali Farooqi about a middle-aged woman in Karachi adjusting to widowhood…" more

from Sunday Guardian: April 10, 2011
"Though the publishing world, especially in the United States, has recently been entranced by Pakistan, the work is narrowed to depictions of terrorism and Islamic militarisation. Few publications portray the beauty and mundanity of private life in Pakistan…" more

from Biblio, Vol. XIV Nos. 9 & 10: September - October 2009
"Musharraf Ali Farooqi achieved a measure of fame with his magisterial translation of Ghalib Lakhnavi and Abdullah Bilgrami’s collection of Indo-Islamic folktales, The Adventures of Amir Hamza…" more

from DNA: July 12, 2009
"When Akbar Ahmad unexpectedly dies of a stroke brought on by his only vice of excessive eating, his wife Mona finds her life settling into the unexacting pattern of widowhood…" more

from Indian Express: Apr 26, 2009
"Blame it on the blurb…" more

from Jabberwock: Friday, May 01, 2009
"Have been reading Musharraf Ali Farooqi’s delicate, finely observed novel The Story of a Widow, about a Karachi-based woman discovering romance relatively late in life…" more


“Tender, heartwarming and unabashedly sentimental, in Mona, Farooqi has created everyone’s ideal woman: she can make you laugh and cry on the same page. The Story of A Widow is an ultra-realistic miniature in which Farooqi has evoked the tribulations of extended families and mid-life with sparse prose. If Jane Austen had grown up in a Karachi suburb, this is what she would have written.”
—Mohammed Hanif, author of A Case of Exploding Mangoes.

"Farooqi's characters quickly establish themselves by dint of personality. This is no small feat in a book that is essentially plot driven...What Farooqi does so well in The Story of a Widow is illustrate the nuanced machinations of familiar relationships. He also shows the subtle influences of increasingly voluminous family chatter. The third-person point of view, and a driving narrative of event, consequence and response, lends a grounding (and occasionally grinding) reality to this life-affirming work. —Margaret MacPherson, The Edmonton Journal

Farooqi succeeds splendidly with this novel...You could call it a coming-of-age novel about a woman who is already of age —James Macgowan , The Ottawa Citizen

Musharraf Ali Farooqi’s The Story of a Widow skilfully portrays a woman’s metamorphosis toward individual freedom and the reactions she faces as she sheds the traditional meaning of honour...The Story of a Widow is a satisfying read that offers a fresh perspective from an unlikely heroine.—Amna Ali, The Toronto Star

Editor's Choice - The Vancouver Sun

“Readers are not so much transported to suburban Karachi as they are transplanted into the heart of an Indian family. And families are . . . well, families, it seems, are the same world over. . . . [The Story of a Widow is a] charming and insightful novel.”—The Montreal Gazette

“I loved The Story of a Widow! It is a novel full of charm and humor, and Farooqi writes about Mona Ahmad and her attempts to negotiate a world full of interfering if well-meaning relativves with a warm understanding of human frailties."
—Anita Rau Badami, author of Can You Hear The Nightbird Call?

"The subtlety of Farooqi's narrative conveys empathy for his endearing heroine and sets Widow apart from similar stories that are encumbered by clichés." —

THE LIGHTER SIDE OF CHARACTERS (From Pages Bookshop website)
(From Random House wesbite)
(From Random House website)

After paying the salaries of the household staff, Mona was released from accounting for every small sum spent during the month. But even a year after Akbar Ahmad’s death, she could not spend money impulsively, but it happened more and more frequently that she bought something she liked—an ornamental bowl for the coffee table, or new curtains for her bedroom.

One day, while shopping with her daughter Amber, Mona spent three thousand rupees on a small rosewood table with marquetry work. After they returned home, as Amber helped her unwrap the table, Mona’s gaze unconsciously travelled up to her husband’s portrait. The expression on Akbar Ahmad’s face was one of shock and disbelief. Mona went out into the garden before his remonstrating looks became unbearable.

Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Summersdale Publishers
Publication Date: July 1, 2002
ISBN-10: 1840242248
ISBN-13: 978-1840242249

The sleepy town of Purana Shehr is happy to trundle along in a round of petty arguments over tea and frustrated fantasies. Until, that is, the arrival of the termites. In the narrow lanes, grubby markets and dilapidated houses of the Topee Mohalla neighbourhood, ambitions are forming and passions are stirring as the termites march in.

Against a backdrop of destruction, where the very economy of the town is under threat (due to the insects' voracious consumption of hard currency), the residents of Topee Mohalla begin to come to life. A royal chaos ensues as boundaries are broken, old fools are made, dreams indulged, young wives chased, roaring affairs conducted and overhand plots are hatched. At the eye of the storm, Salar Jang, an eccentric septuagenarian with a fortune to bequeath, embarks upon an increasingly bizarre courtship of the indomitable and sexually voracious Madame Firdousi, much to the dismay of his only heir and daughter. And as the pests set to with their pincers, Purana Shehr flounders in Shakespearian farce in the heat of post-monsoon Pakistan.

Musharraf Farooqi's first novel takes the unprepossessing subject of termite infestation and uses it as a peg upon which to hang a tale of hectic brilliance. This is a powerful, sweeping novel that puts the life of a little Pakistani town and its inhabitants under the microscope, as the termites take over their lives. The town of Purana Shehr is prey to the normal neighbourly squabbles, unrequited passions and minor business scams. Everyone rubs along comfortably with their fellow citizens, until the descent of the voracious insects. As buildings and furniture begin to crumble, eaten away from the inside, community solidarity starts to break down. The unscrupulous seize the opportunity to use the infestation for financial gain, and it's every man for himself in the face of the marauding insects. Meanwhile, Salar Jang, an elderly widower with a fortune at his disposal and desperate for a wife, turns his lascivious eye upon the rapacious actress Madame Firdousi. His daughter, Bano Tamanna, watches in dismay as she imagines her inheritance disappearing into Madame Firdousi's clutches. As this bizarre courtship progresses, the lovelorn Salar Jang is being encouraged in his passion by Ladlay, a devious notary with an agenda of his own. The termites chomp away, causing widespread destruction in the narrow streets of the Topee Molhalla district from cinema to meat market as passions come to a head. Musharraf Farooqi has an almost Dickensian eye for the ridiculous; Salar Jang's ongoing legal battle with his tenants certainly has more than a whiff of Jarndyce and Jarndyce about it. There are countless larger-than-life characters, each with their own idiosyncrasies, ranging from the cinema-mad Mirza Poya to the hapless Qudratullah, pining for the heartless Mushtri. Oblivious to everything but his theories for the evolution of eternity is Mirzban Yunani, the absent-minded husband of Babo Tamanna. This is a hugely enjoyable panorama of a Pakistani community coping with the fallout of a natural disaster. Farooqi treats his characters with affectionate amusement; he revels in the imaginative use of language, and his prose has the maturity and insight of a young Salman Rushdie. Rarely has a debut novel displayed such broad vision and compassion, leavened with a healthy dose of humour. (Kirkus UK)