The Whispering Chinar – Ali Rohila
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In Charbagh, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, a short detour from the Grand Trunk Road that leads towards Afghanistan, stands a chinar tree in the garden of Khan Mohammad Usman Khan. Legend has it that it was planted by a saint known to the grandfather of the Khan, who had told him that the family would prosper till this tree survived. The tree has stood for generations, a silent witness to the many stories of Charbagh, its grounds held sacred until the day a bullet fired by the oldest son of the Khan hit one of its branches.
In this debut collection of interlinked stories, the banker author recounts the stories as seen by the chinar tree. In Charbagh, a village where modernity slowly creeps in, there are tales of unrequited love, of family honour and religious persecution, of patriarchy and breaking its shackles, and of what it means to belong to Charbagh in tumultuous times.
Here, Fahad Khan falls in love with Saad Bibi, but it is a dangerous affair that threatens to uproot social norms. An imam competes with another for devotees, and an air-crash survivor-turned-teacher is charged with the crime of blasphemy. In Charbagh, Nazo learns why she has been sent away from her family, and Ali finds out how far friendship and trust can go. A banker struggles to make sense of his misfortunes, while Farid Khan must acquaint himself with a woman’s rejection.
Beginning from the 1970s, when the Indus was dammed near Charbagh, these stories chronicle a time and a place of belonging, of nostalgia, and of relationships and friendships. The Whispering Chinar is an extraordinary debut collection that tells stories from an unknown part of our world.
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