The Wish Maker
by Ali Sethi
It is the 1980s. Sami Shirazi is a pilot in the Pakistani Air Force. His wife, Zakia, is expecting their first child. They are discussing a name for the baby as they drive back from a dinner party. She says ‘Your mother's already decided. If it's a girl she wants to call it Samia.'
'What if it's a boy?'
'I don't know,' says Zakia 'I like Imran. I like Iraad. I like names that begin with I. But your mother wants Moazzan.'
'We'll name after you...Zaki, it's a nice name. It means "pure"...I looked it up in a book...'
Two months before Zaki is born, Sami is killed flying. It falls to Zakia, crushed with her own grief, to tell her recently widowed mother-in-law, Daadi, that her only son is dead. Daadi's tears never stop until Zakia places the tiny wrapped Zaki in her arms. Allah had given back, even as he had taken away. And Zaki grows up in the household of grandmother, mother, two aunts and a girl cousin, Samar Api. Naseem, maidservant and dogsbody, is as pivotal to the household as Daadi herself.
THE WISH MAKER begins with the return of Zaki to Lahore from college in the USA in time to celebrate the marriage of his dearly loved cousin, Samar Api. She and Zaki have grown up together watching American television and Bollywood movies. When they were fourteen Zaki had found himself drawn into Samar's romantic schemes for which they both suffered the consequences.
As the preparations for the wedding gather pace (for Pakistani weddings, like funerals, require staging to an audience), Zaki notes the changes in his male cousins, Isa and Moosa. Isa, twenty three, has joined one of the international banks on Main Boulevard. He wears full sleeved shirts rolled to the elbows; his tight jeans bulge at the back with his wallet. Most of his ideas are picked up from one of the new business channels on TV. His car is a red Honda City that he acquired with a loan from the bank. Moosa, twenty one, wears a baseball cap and a sweatshirt and hasn't shaved in weeks. 'Mullah', cries Zaki in greeting (for Moosa had had religious leanings). 'Nah, man,' says Moosa, 'bro's a hippie now...' 'Basically it's all changed,' says Isa, 'it's all up for grabs.'
Naseem has recently been to perform the Hajj in Saudi Arabia. 'No place like it in the world,' she says, 'everything they have: KFC, McDonalds, anything at all, you name it and they have it.' 'Really?' 'Oh yes. And the house of God - it opens up your eyes. Everyone is there: black, white, this, that...Over here I am a servant, but over there no one is a servant. It has such a feeling of peace that your heart fills up with tears. I kissed the Black Stone with my own lips.' 'How does it feel?' 'Like a stone,' she said eventually, with a note of surprise.
This novel is about love, family ties and the growing self-awareness of modern Pakistan and the young of Pakistan. It is a deeply thoughtful book and is so full of paradox and irony that it takes one's breath away.