The Night in Her Hair | Book Review by Sabin Muzaffar
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PKR 2500

The Night in Her Hair | Book Review by Sabin Muzaffar

Written by Huma Agha Abbas & Taiba Abbas
Translated by
August 24, 2022

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Ethereal stories of longing, belonging, of love, yearning and loss, The Night in Her Hair by Huma Agha Abbas and Taiba Abbas, seems like a sweet sojourn in the mystical past. Indeed, it is that and so much more. Words enchant and transform their readers into winged dryads, fluttering and prancing from one tale to another, eager to savor lilting tales etched in the sands of time.

Such is the experience one arrives at upon holding The Night in Her Hair – preciously published by Ala Books and Authors. The hardbound companion ‘with pleasure fills’ through its physical richness espoused with sometimes heart-wrenching and at the other, life affirming stories that some may have explored while young, tender and perhaps untainted by the ways of the world.

Artwork on the cover unfastens all the bolts that imprison imagination; with its emerald hues, which seem to envelop and embrace the delicate damsel who – much to the reader’s delight – one does encounter within the reams of paper. Even more can be said about the ingenious use of title fonts, gleaming proudly in silver at first glance, when the book remains inert and unread. Upon holding it or according any movement to it,  the title begins its translucent transformation from argent, snowy to charcoal; slowly blending in but certainly not disappearing in the virescent tinges.

Abbas’s retellings begin with an anecdotal note, instantly creating that binding connection between the authors, the story and its reader. It is a fascinating foretelling of what lies ahead through the author’s eyes, a resident of the dwelling where it all began – the folklore, the mystery, the magic and the wistful longings! And so the journey begins with one gently traversing through glades of greens, silvery streams and rugged mountains overlooking the magnificent terrain. And like the breathtaking landscape rendered, those who reside within these magical realms illustrate a beauty that occasionally feels – perhaps – fatalistic simply because of their unearthly perfection, making them surreal, distant – strange even; reasons enough to be feared, things to be overpowered or conquered, possessed and shackled… much like the land itself.

Case in point, an excerpt from Kash Kash Jinn (pg20):

“The men already aware of the change in Sulaiman’s bearing and behavior, listened pale with horror as the guards stammered through their account. But they were people given to superstition, men who had lived in the hills long enough to know that the mysteries of the occult lived with them side by side. But they were also men of the world. Men of conquest and survival, who knew instinctively, what they must do when faced with strangeness and newness.”

 “….No they reasoned, it was imperative to act as soon as they could. Whoever she was, whatever it was that she wanted, there was only one way to save their ruler. She had to be destroyed.”

Ironical  since the events that have already been unfolded prophesy the beginning of a melancholic end; as is seen in just a few pages before (pg. 15) where Zorah ‘gestures towards the peaks in the distance.’ The place where she lives – it is cold, untainted by man, distant. The heroine’s name Zorah, dawn, celestial and therefore unattainable. Indeed to have and have not!

Man, since time immemorial, has always been terrified of strangeness instead of embracing it. We fear what we do not understand. While Nagrai (in Himal Nagrai – Pg 33) was enraptured by the human form, his otherworldliness inspired fear: “…’And I rose out of the water,’ his eyes riveted to the floor. ‘They looked up. They saw me. And they screamed. I saw my reflection in the water. I was terrifying.’” Was he really terrifying? Or was it only because Nagrai then saw himself through man’s eyes?

Throughout the read, one comes across riveting imagery depicted by thoughtful use of words such as the cold ash of grief in Himal Nagrai. There are so many instances that enthralls and strikes a chord with lyrical diction – fanciful on certain occasions, forlorn on others. A careful observation also begs one to ponder about how beautifully the authors have created a juxtaposition of time and timelessness and that of man versus nature. “In harmony with nature?” Arnold had said eons ago. And just like nature and the land the heroines dwell in, beguiling and authentic, ‘a thing of beauty’ – Himal… Dur Khanai are sequestered, their dreams stifled under the guise of protection.

Much, so much more can be written about The Night in Her Hair. While penning the review, the notion of speaking with the authors was certainly an option. But making the journey into the magical lands of Zorah, Himal, Dur Khanai, Sassi and Heer… a journey, not solitary; one accompanied by so many within and composing thoughts and experiences was an idea too hard to resist. Abbas’s retellings – these tales that move beyond mountains, borders and the politics of fear must be read and cherished. 


Huma Agha Abbas and Taiba Abbas

Adapted anew, these are stories of passion and fulfilment, going beyond mortal confines to become part of the soul, a desire and surrender complete in one moment of ascension.

There is Ranjha’s music and Mahiwal’s quest; there are the fated songs of Habba Khatoon; there is Umar’s acceptance and Punhun’s submission; the unerring, unflinching resolve of Mirza and Adam Khan; the searing courage of SohniSassiHeerHimalDur Khanai, and Sahiban, each woman braving all dangers, defying the ends of her mortality, in a quest for an eternal truth, and whatever the physical and earthly symbols, it becomes a search for something that is nobler and more compelling than life itself.

These are names we’ve always been familiar with in music, verse, and history – names we’ve nearly forgotten and relegated to an ancient past – without realizing their relentless power and timeless significance in our lives today.

Down the northern belt of the mountains, through the fields and rivers of Punjab, to the warm coast of the Arabian Sea – The Night In Her Hair bears witness to lives that became the most extraordinary legacy of spiritual and literary traditions of Sufi thought – lives that continue to shape our creative expression as indelible motifs woven deep inside our cultural psyche and identity.

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