Twenty two year old, Zarish Munawwar, has everything in life she could ever ask for; an elite family, a high profile status, a bunch of good friends and a childhood sweetheart. Being childish, stubborn, imperious, extravagant and a bit impulsive at making important decisions pertaining to her life, is what perfectly describes her overall personality. She takes life easily and can get anything she desires. To her, life is a bed of roses. It is only when she meets, Ahmar Muraad, her mentor and finance professor at university, her perspective towards life completely changes. He looks quite young for his age as every girl at the university thinks he is attractive, seductive, intellectual and rather intimidating. This charming man is every girl’s fantasy and Zarish also finds it hard to resist him. But is he fascinated by her? Little did Zarish know how one little interaction could bring about so many twists and turns in her life. Do not miss this romantic tragedy as it will encapsulate you totally and will stay in your heart forever.
It's not often you read romance involving mentor and pupil. It's not a new concept, it has been explored and quite thoroughly in various books and media across the world. In Pakistan it is still an unexplored relationship and rightfully considered taboo, both here and abroad. A mentor and student share spiritual bond, with the mentor playing the role of spiritual parent for the intellectual and spiritual growth of the student.
That being said, one can find plenty of examples of this taboo romance in institutions across the globe. In Undying Affinity, author has explored such a relation that marks its beginning sometime before the start of semester and blossoms during studies. Taking place at University of Management and Technology (UMT), author's own alma mater, Zarish Munawwar spends her days with friends and be happily spoiled by her parents. Her life begins to change when she bumps into Ahmar Murad at a restaurant, a guy who looks like Fawad Khan (heartthrob of Pakistani cinema who also wrote foreword for this novel) and on whom Zarish plays prank with her friend. Later, the same Ahmar Murad turns out to be her new finance professor and Zarish fears he will take revenge on her by making her grade suffer.
How love changes everything
Did you ever know a person, of the opposite gender, who was your best friend? Did you ever spent hours talking on phone or chatting online or hangout for studies, feeling that this friendship is so strong that you guys will never be far apart form each other? Did you felt the difference, acutely, when your best friend was no longer present simply because he/she had fallen in love and all of a sudden you were relegated to an afterthought? Your importance gone all of a sudden and you struggle to find the opportunity to even say Hi?
If so, you can strongly relate to characters of this novel. Either you are Haroon, the childhood best friend who wanted to marry Zarish when they complete their education but couldn't even get a straight answer from her when she falls in love. Or you are Zarish who falls in love and can't even think about letting anyone else come closer.
Author has developed some strong characters that have gone through natural evolution in the course of this story. Zarish and Ahmar, the protagonists of this story, go through various twists and turns that start from a red umbrella and immortalize with it. Others, such as their parents, play key role in shaping of their destiny as old business rivalry and ego becomes hurdle in their relationship. A very desi and rather Bollywoodish concept, but gelling well with the flow of the story.
The story picks up nicely once Zarish realizes she has fallen in love and the intensity of her emotions, the flow of narrative and subsequent events make it hard to put the book down. The display of emotions by the lead characters has been spot on and feel quite authentic, as if Zarish and Ahmar are real and it is their biography albeit in fiction form.
Culture and Setting
The story explores the lives of students at UMT in Lahore. The cultural areas, fashion brands and commercial ventures have been named that provide authenticity to the narrative, making their lives more believable. The open culture of Lahore can be felt in the interactions of the characters and the way they joke around, the dialogues aptly showing how young people often speak and behave.
A few things make brows furl though. First, the open use of alcohol at the academic premises felt quite off. Secondly, events like Masquerade Ball, while quite magical and providing fantastic setting for romance, are not really part of local culture. Third, some observations didn't seem realistic such as Zarish's believe that she wasn't tall. Listing her height as 5 feet 6 inches it cannot be believed that Zarish is not tall for a woman since average height of women in Pakistan is about 5 feet 4 inches and men about 5 feet 8 inches. Zarish is above average height, at the very least, and tall for most women.
Need of Editorial
The book run into few challenges. It is clear that there is a lack of strong editorial check because narrative breaks at several points. One of the most distracting elements, unfortunately very common now in new publications, is the constant switch of perspective of characters. The reader would be switching between thoughts/dialogues of Zarish and Ahmar within the same paragraph. With no break in the switch it gets confusing for the reader which character is he/she is looking into the story from.
One classic trap that this story fell into was telling rather than showing. A lot of details, events, thoughts and feelings were being told to the reader rather than make one feel them. Many portions of the story could have charged up the reader's imagination if they didn't spoon fed the details. For example:
The carnival went quite well. Haroon and company seemed to having the best time of their lives. Haroon did not pay much attention toward his stall. In fact, he drank energy drinks most of the times and danced with the chicks. Zarish frowned after seeing him. Now it was time to declare the results. Sir Ahmar's team food stall managed to accumulate the most money. The Dean, Farish Ahmed presented the winning squad with a prize. Zarish stood on the stage with Ahmar, Sherry and Zoya. For the first time Zoya seemed to be smiling cheerfully. Zarish could not believe she was standing so close to Ahmar.
While it is economical in terms of words and convey a lot of happenings at the carnival, the monologue is forcing details into the reader's perspective rather than let them feel it. It dulls the story down at few places and even lose focus. Story suffer from some grammatical errors and sentence structuring issues, throwing the reader off at points especially if they have the tendency of being Grammar Nazi.
Dialogues, however, remained strong throughout the story. They represented thoughts and personality well, the were strongly complemented with the response and emotions. Considering that this is an indie novel, the effort on dialogue is admirable.
Undying Affinity takes the reader through a taboo relationship, a forbidden romance by society's standards that is a difficult subject to deal with. Often scandalous, such relations are frowned upon and even punishing for those involved. But very rarely the perspective of the people involved is taken into account and Sara Naveed does a good job in exploring Zarish and Ahmar's lives. It's a an incredible attempt and a good addition to the romance genre of Pakistani origin, one that makes us proud and hope that more of such stories are published using strong editorial support.
Tags: English publication, Pakistan, romance novel, Sara Naveed, Undying Affinity