A Small Fortune
by Rosie Dastgir
Harris Anwar, a slight, elegant man of five foot five, a graduate of the Punjab College of Engineering and Technology, was born and brought up in a village just a meandering train and bus journey from Lahore. After his arrival in England in the 1970s Harris bought himself Crockett and Jones shoes, Gieves and Hawkes shirts, a suit and several ties from Austin Reed, an Aquascutum overcoat and a cap from the Scotch House on Piccadilly that he felt sure resembled a cap worn by Prince Philip as seen on TV.
After being rejected for every single job he applied for in England, he joined the RAF as a maintenance engineer. Thus Harris and his English wife, Gillian, lived the itinerant RAF life from posting to posting. Gillian appreciated the agreeable camaraderie and the parties enjoyed as an officer's wife, and their small daughter, Alia, rememberd Christmas and Santa Claus arriving by helicopter.
But, more and more, Harris missed the call to prayer and the comfort of his daily prayers. There was also the absence of his own kind in the officer's mess, in fact there were very few brown faces of any kind in the RAF at that time. He felt a temporary sense of relief when he was discharged on medical grounds related to a heart problem. But Gillian, who had never sincerely converted to Islam, and who now looked on with consternation and boredom as her husband penned innumerable job applications, quite soon took up with a doctor she had met and arranged for a divorce.
Harris, shocked and cast adrift, gravitated, to the delight of the male cousins in his extended family, to the dreary, rainsoaked northern town that many of his relations had almost made their own. There he gathered together a downpayment and managed to get a mortgage on a very small terraced house which was going cheap, and, with the enthusiastic help of his cousins and advice from the Readers Digest Complete DIY Manual, he attempted to master the complexities of refurbishing a rather dilapidated Victorian house.
His most helpful cousin persuaded him to take over the lease of a Spar corner shop from yet another cousin who had got into difficulties with the rent. Surrounded by such friendly relations and their families and their many hot meals, Harris enjoyed a brief spell of optimism. But it was with relief that he handed over the running of the shop to his nearest kin and left for a brief visit with his daughter to the village in Pakistan from which he had so eagerly managed his escape.
It was when Harris tackled the accumulated post on his doormat after that visit that he recieved a letter from his solicitor advising him that the divided assets from his marriage amounted to £53,294.00. And only then did his real problems begin...
Rosie Dastgir is clearly privileged to have so much gentle fun at the expense of her many relations. It makes wonderfully entertaining reading. She lives in New York with her husband and two daughters.
Published by Quercus, 400pp.