The Time of the Termites
2001, HarperCollins (India)
2002, Summersdale (UK)
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 neighborhood, 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.
First South Asia Publication: HarperCollins India (2001) | FIrst UK publication: Summersdale (2002)
- 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.