Saturday, February 03, 2018

When Matters of the Heart become a Minefield

Abubaker Adam Ibrahim’s debut novel, “Season of Crimson Blossoms” is a tale of forbidden passion between a 50 something widow, Hajiya Binta and a young ne-er - do – well, Reza who is mixed up with drugs and dirty politics. The narrative simmers with the tension of a slow – burning fuse even with the foreknowledge that multiple orgasms usually translate into unmitigated mayhem.
This story could have easily devolved into a torrid or sordid romance between a cougar and a willing young buck but Ibrahim clearly has loftier themes in mind. Reza reminds Binta of her dead son. Meanwhile she reminds her lover of his mother whom he refers to as “the whore of Saudi”. It is all very Freudian and is supposed to explain the irresistible often inexplicable pull between the duo which prompts them to throw caution to the winds but it is a little overdone.
Right alongside the heady romance, the perks, perils and pitfalls of communal living in all its mundane glory are highlighted with delicate brushstrokes. Binta lives with a niece, Fa’iza and granddaughter, Ummi and their presence though intended to comfort a lonely old widow serves often to cramp her style.
Fa’iza, tormented by the horrors of a blood-spattered past, with Binta becoming inevitably consumed by desire, is left to fend off her fears, exacerbated by the premonition of impending disaster and further violence. Reza too sinks deeper and deeper into the morass of self – destruction, as his baser instincts win out even as Binta tries to save him in lieu of her dead son. Their fate which despite everything comes as a surprise is a scathing indictment of the supreme selfishness and stupid impracticality of great romance which destroys not only the lovers but those innocent lives hopelessly intertwined with them.

On the surface it is a feminist saga which outlines the strictures of living in a repressive society where a wife’s sexual desires could not be of less concern to her husband. A society where the brutal subjugation of a woman to broodmare status is scarily normalized, “When he is done, always put your legs up so his seed will run into your womb.” However, Ibrahim dares to make the status quo between the sexes more balanced by sneaking in a nuanced perspective that depicts how men and women are equally victimized as both struggle with the expectations of gender bias which forces them unwillingly into the roles of protector and protected respectively.

In Ibrahim’s beautifully created fictional world, which is a mirror of the real one, where intolerance, hatred and spite prevail, happiness and peace are but dreams for anybody irrespective of gender or circumstance. There is much to love here from Binta’s suffering in the face of feminine envy and spite, the amoral world Reza occupies to the eerily cheerful way in which Nigerian politicians use the misguided to further their ends. It is a book you will be reluctant to put down even to answer a pressing call of nature! Abubaker Adam Ibrahim has arrived. 
This review originally appeared in The New Indian Express

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