Haveli by Zeenat Mahal
Set in the 1970’s in the town of Jalalabad, Pakistan, ‘Haveli’ is a witty humorous contemporary novella by Zeenat Mahal. It narrates Chandini’s story from her point of view- her childhood and upbringing at her strict influential maternal grandmother Zaitoon Begum, the widow of the last Nawab of Jalalabad; her romantic fantasies for Kunwar Rohail who is almost twice her age; her war of words with Taimur, the guy she’s attracted to; the return of her estranged father after 20 long years and the change of all her beliefs, values and events. It’s a roller coaster journey as Chandini eventually realizes who’s her own, who actually cares for her and where she belongs.
Chandini’s mother had secretly married and fled with her lover who abandoned her when she was pregnant with Chandini. She died after Chandini was born, leaving her under the care of the grandmother, Bi Amma. Being from the upper class society she received home schooling, learned a couple of languages, read every piece of good literature and grew up to be a beauty with brains. Her green eyes mesmerized many a visitors and merchants, and Bi Amma received and rejected rather too many proposals for the 20 year old. Baba and Bua took care of her as their own children. Zafar, her half brother was her closest in the family and the secret keeper with whom she shared her fairy tale like romantic dreams of being with Kunwar Rohail and taking care of his 13 year old daughter, Manhal. All till Taimur entered the family scene. Let’s leave the rest a mystery. It’s ridiculous, hilarious, very interesting, and unputdownable.
The character ensemble in ‘Haveli’ is one of my favorite. I disliked the father Shen Jahan so much from the very beginning. Faisal was just a gold digger. Zafar’s brotherly love for C and their mutual hate for their father Nameless proves challenging for her decisions in the later part of the novella. Chandini called herself C, her grandmother-The Board, her father- Nameless, and Taimur- Alpha Male. Comic and witty conversations and the game of tit for tat between her and Taimur are my favorite. She’s a brat, but he’d take no nonsense. Taimur is her perfect husband to be. (Laughs!!)
Zeenat Mahal is a very good narrator. Though this is the first work of hers’ that I read, I’m already a fan. I loved the plot, and the backdrop- Pakistan of the 1970’s. The novella is easy to read and follow, quite engaging, never dragging or boring. Since Indireads novellas are available only in ebook format, the font is adjustable. I’d recommend this book to all romance and contemporary readers who love good humor. I received the book from Indireads, in return of a fair review. My rating- 4/5 stars. Link to Author's Page.