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  Books   08 Jun 2024  Book Review | Hyper-real horror-mystery set in fundamentalist universe

Book Review | Hyper-real horror-mystery set in fundamentalist universe

THE ASIAN AGE. | RUPA GULAB
Published : Jun 9, 2024, 12:10 am IST
Updated : Jun 9, 2024, 12:10 am IST

This book is an excellent lesson on how religious outfits prey on students

Cover image of 'Blasphear' by Sohail Rauf. (Image by Arrangement)
 Cover image of 'Blasphear' by Sohail Rauf. (Image by Arrangement)

In a small town in Pakistan, sub-inspector Waqas Mahmood is flung into a dark case before he has time to find his feet at his new posting: Hasan, a seventeen-year-old boy, is dead. Was it suicide or murder?

Because this is the Indian subcontinent where bloodthirsty majoritarian mobs invariably destroy lives, no one wants an investigation. Not Hasan’s family, and the religious party he belonged to. Not the police, who are happy to settle for a cover-up. The usual excuses are trotted out — sensitive case, if you mess with a religious party the backlash will be greater, blah, blah.

Waqas’ wife and brother implore him to drop this case, and he has misgivings as well, connected to a personal tragedy in the past where his family had ordered him to look the other way — and to his shame, he did. His ex-girlfriend Amber, a journalist, encourages him on though, and urges him to unleash the rebel that she knows is inside him.

It takes a brave young boy, however, to get Waqas to act. Furqan, one of Hasan’s mates, secretly gets in touch with Waqas, and helps him piece together what really happened: it’s related to a blasphemy lynching that occurred earlier, that of Hasan’s Hindu friend’s brother.

As Waqas proceeds with the investigation, we meet a host of characters connected to Hasan, including his school buddies Furqan and Ram, and members of a religious party’s student body in college. Then there’s Hasan’s sister Lubna who is as fascinated with Ram’s brother Mohan as Hasan once was.

This book is an excellent lesson on how religious outfits prey on students: first they help you, then they brainwash you, and they’re always lurking around ready to create mischief. Ugly majoritarian questions surface, like, “Which side do you cheer for when you watch a Pakistan-India match?”, and nonsensical claims about Hindus trapping Muslim girls. All these accusations are so familiar to us in India these days, more’s the pity.

The title ‘Blasphear’ is a made up word to connect blasphemy and fear. While it certainly sounds clumsy, descriptions of angry mobs are almost lyrical: “There’s a crowd, seething, surging, changing shape, growing limbs…now here, then there…like a slithering, crawling prehistoric protozoa in a sci-fi film, approaching him…He does not budge, and the organism absorbs him…eats him up.”

Sure, the subject is depressing (more so because of blood-chilling blasphemy cases in real life), but the book definitely isn’t. It’s leavened by slices of Waqas’s loving family life and Hasan’s happy past, and your adrenaline levels will rise in sync with the investigation. All told, a thrilling whodunit with a social angle.

Blasphear

By Sohail Rauf

Penguin

pp. 298; Rs 399

Tags: book review 2024, religious institutions