IT'S EASY to put two and two together and believe that Sabyn Javeri's novel, Nobody Killed Her, is about Benazir Bhutto. Since it's based in Pakistan and features an ambitious woman (Rani Shah) making her way in politics, most would assume it to be a thinly veiled fictionalised story of the famous leader's life and assassination. Javeri doesn't feel the same. In fact, she says, "I find people who reduce the book to a simple story about Bhutto and her secretary very limited in their intellect and very literal in their power of comprehensions."
Her book isn't just about Bhutto. Javeri explains, "There are two main themes at the heart of this novel - power and gender, and gender and class. I could not possibly have explored all this had I restricted myself to a single case study. As an artiste, I take inspiration from my environment and fuse it with my imagination."
Nevertheless, Javeri states that she found Bhutto to be both charismatic and inspirational. "What appealed the most about her was that she was absolutely unapologetic about being a mother first and did not hide away her children or try to act like a man in a male-dominated arena like politics. She carried her family life along with her career, and for any South Asian woman struggling in a patriarchal society that is truly inspirational," she adds.
Apart from Bhutto, Javeri finds inspiration in Bangladesh's Shiekh Hasina, India's Indira Gandhi, Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi and England's Margaret Thatcher. "And," she says, "I also looked at the rise of the female underdog in Indian politics - Mayawati and J Jayalalithaa. All these influences, coupled with the power of a fictional exploration, helped create the characters of Rani Shah and Nazo Khan."
Nobody Killed Her by Sabyn Javeri, HarperCollins; Rs 499. Photo: Mail Today
Plot-wise, the novel takes the reader to two timeframes. One transpires in the court where Nazo Khan is on trial for the murder of her employer, politician Rani Shah. The other, told in first-person by Khan, details both Khan and Shah's political rise.
With two women at its core, Nobody Killed Her is a pathbreaking novel of sorts. Javeri says, "I haven't come across too many novels by Pakistani writers, especially males, which have strong female characters in them. I hope with Nobody Killed Her that will change. My main protagonist or rather antagonist, Nazo Khan, is being called the bad girl of Pakistani English literature and I take it as a compliment. There have been a few female-centric novels but mostly from the view of victims of abuse or arranged marriage or religious minority. I want to see novels about strong Pakistani women who are celebrated for their heroics, not empathised for their plight."
"Believe it or not," she adds, "such women do exist. As for the entire subcontinent, I think some great work is being done in languages other than English. In terms of South Asian fiction in English as well, I think if the storytelling is interesting the story will sell, gender no bar."
Talking about the interesting storytelling of her own novel, Javeri says, "I've been told that the scenes in my novel are like little snapshots almost like a musical staccato in nature, and that may stem from the fact that I'm a short story writer first and foremost and a novelist later."
Her next book will take her back to her first love - short stories - and will be out next year. (The collection will be on the theme of the veil, both as a garment and as a metaphor.) And her next novel? "It will again be a political thriller," says Javeri, "set around a very controversial event and will shake up people's notions about history. It is inspired by the life of a famous Pakistani 'man'... that's all I can say for now!"