(Published in Paper magazine, May 2011)
Satire and the City
Satire and the City
Beautiful From This Angle (Penguin Books India, 2010) is a novel about three young women who have been friends since childhood—Amynah, Mumtaz and Henna—and who really couldn’t be any more different from one another. Settings range from Karachi high society parties to rural Sindh.
Khan Phillips ingeniously demonstrates the great divide within the ‘haves’ of Pakistani society in her novel. In one scene, protagonist Amynah argues with her Dubai-raised boyfriend, Kamal; she doesn’t want to invite his financiers to a society event—
‘But Kamal, they were so…well, uncultured.’
‘Just because they were wearing shalwar kameezes at a party where everyone was too cool for that…’
‘It’s not that, and you know it. But did you see the way they were staring at the women? They acted like they were in a brothel. And they didn’t make conversation with anyone. It was weird...’
‘It’s not that simple. These guys have connections in the government…This is how it works in Pakistan.’
‘Well, they were ogling at me like I was a prostitute.’
‘That’s because half of them are from the MMA. They had left their wives at home in purdah and were enjoying a very sinful glass of whisky.’
(Condensed from page 103).
Khan Phillips also pokes fun at clichés created by writers from the western hemisphere, who exoticize the middle east to such an extent that it sounds medieval, barbaric and invariably ridiculous:
These are the books whose covers always show pictures of women in burkas looking vulnerable and oppressed, with blazing, haunted eyes, and that are so avidly read and published in the west.
Amynah is writing an I’m-oppressed novel of her own, so she has highlighted certain sentences that appear in all the books. Some of the most frequent ones (with various phrasings) are:
It was then that I realized that my husband was a monster.
It was then that I realized that I had married a man I didn’t even know.
I had no rights; I was at the mercy of Islam.
Islam bound me; Islam kept me in captivity.
My son was lost to me.
My daughter was lost to me.
My dog Fifi was lost to me. (This was from Amynah’s book).
(An extract from page 24).
Through its wry comic-drama, Beautiful From This Angle takes readers on a journey through social hypocrisy, excess, competitiveness, frustration, corruption, abuse, friendship and love, with Khan
Phillips’ warmth, wit and a touch of nostalgia.