“Gulab” by Annie Zaidi

There is a mysterious, parallel world out there. Some believe, some ridicule, and some dread. But what if one falls in love with a ghost without even realising it? Together, they build a house of dreams, and one fine day, the ghost decides to move on. It is this dreading topic of the dead, ghosts, and the parallel world that Annie Zaidi takes us to.

From the very beginning, we know what to expect from the story, yet the simplicity with which the author has woven monologues and dialogues, built up the suspense, and created situations keeps you hooked. What binds the narrative together is the 24-hour time span within which the story takes many unexpected turns. Of course, it is a love story, but what sort of love will blossom between the living and the dead?

We’ve all heard ghost stories where some spirits stay in this world because they have unfinished work or unfulfilled dreams. It is this sense of disillusionment that has been bothering the protagonist, Nikunj. After years of bewilderment and failed quests of finding his beloved Saira, he gets a telegram announcing her death and a request to attend the funeral. Then begins the quest of finding her plot in the Muslim graveyard, where he meets two other men – one a Hindu, the other a Muslim – who claim to have buried their wives at the same place where Saira is said to have been. And there’s a woman who also claims to have buried her friend Saira at the same place.

Building on this confusion in the eerie atmosphere of a graveyard, Zaidi has majorly narrated the story in first-person, with Nikunj’s reverie travelling between past and present. Sketches of his past and present relationships, his everyday life, and the grim absence of Saira from his life come out through monologues, where he regrets not having her in his life. Through these moments of loss, Zaidi has successfully created scenes eerie enough to scare the reader.

One is where Nikunj sees himself from a distance, and realises his soul is not in his body but outside it. Though he later claims of have had out-of-body experiences, the author has indeed powerfully used her imaginative skills to create scenes that fittingly make for a Bollywood horror script. Black-and-white illustrations done by the author’s mother, Yasmini, lend equal support to make the narrative powerful.

It would be unfair to reveal how the love story unfolds, but Zaidi’s strength lies in colloquially telling a tale that might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but something many believe in. Her ability to make Nikunj believable, someone who is afraid of getting into a fight, someone who is vulnerable and lost is what makes this small book enjoyable. Zaidi has explanations for all not-so-believable moments, and somehow makes us believe in them all.     – IANS