28 February, 2021

The Masala Before The Tikka

A confident, cleverly constructed novel treads on no new ground, but promises much

Akhtar Soomro
The Masala Before The Tikka

Launched under the prestigious Hamish Hamilton imprint, young Ali Sethi’s debut novel has received generous attention. This is not unexpected: he comes of impeccable literary stock—both his parents and his aunt are well-known Pakistani journalist-writers with a large fan following across the border. Moreover, Ali belongs to the bright young writers’ league that is gathering momentum in Pakistan and getting noticed everywhere.

Like most first novels, this account of a young man’s coming of age appears strongly tinged with autobiographical material. His protagonist, Zaki, grows up in a home curiously devoid of men, with his father’s mother (a formidable matriarch known as Daadi), two grand-aunts and an old retainer, Naseem. Zaki’s mother is a feisty single parent who runs a women’s magazine and is at the forefront of political demonstrations and pickets (shades of his own mother visible here). The only person his own age is a girl cousin, Sami, who is desperately in love with Amitabh Bachchan. Life...

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