‘Baba, what are “kaafirs”?’
‘You and me, Chhoti.’
The diasporic South Asian novel being done to death, we seem to be witnessing the coming of age of the ‘return of the native’ genre, a sort of reversal from ‘leaving home’ to ‘coming back home’. Recent years have shown a clutch of novels from Pakistan about members of the non-resident Pakistani community returning home and finding an irrevocably changed world. Starting with Sara Suleri’s Meatless Days, there have been several autobiographical attempts at revisiting the past with the dual purpose of recording family histories, but also to search for meanings in what seems to be a flawed present. The underlying theme of several such novels has been a search for answers: what went wrong? What happened to the early days of idealism and hope? When did the dreams sully? And, more importantly, why?
In Shahbano Bilgrami’s Those Children, a widower with four children moves from a comfortable Chicago suburb with its...