Though Much is Taken Much Abides by Jamile Naqi is a novel that focuses on the colonial era in the sub-continent.
The author reminisces about the past glory of the sub-continent and how it is fast vanishing. Through describing what the colonial Lahore was like by emphasising the architecture and relevance of the Old Gymkhana and the Kinnaird College, the author captures the beauty and glory of these buildings. KC was an elitist educational institute for women of the time and Gymkhana the top notch club.
‘The old Gymkhana in the Lawrence Gardens evoked memories of an era of grace and civility.’ ‘Good manners were more important than designer clothes. A dress mode was not adopted to define ‘who I am’ via the veil or the sleeveless: it was more a reflection of class or fashion.’
The author also shows how the love of your homeland is so powerful that it can attract one away from the luxuries of the West to resettle in their homeland.
However, many changes have taken place since she left and the author is ‘drawn to the fragrance of the older days.’
Naqi uses a unique approach that presses upon the artifacts, relics and ornaments to reinstate the magnificence of the past that was now lost. These artifacts have a story to tell. For instance the soap was a lifestyle product. Lifebuoy was a bath soap. Cussons was a fairness soap. Then there was a macho soap.
Soap is a need for South Asians. It is essential for personal hygiene and it can ‘change the economy of our nation’, because it has a huge market. Next came the paan. It was symbolic of aristocracy. The Mughal emperors would chew paan and the paandan was often presented as a gift to ambassadors and nobles.
The paandan culture was a lifestyle. It was at the centre of the Kotha or courtesan culture. The paan was used as an instrument to attract the prey toward seduction. In today’s time the paandan has lost its significance. The paan is readily available at markets but paandan had become ‘redundant’ and was now passed on from one family member to another usually as a relic or memento. The story of the evolution of the ‘pankha’ is interesting. From the hand fan to the peacock fanning its tail, the ceiling pankha finally came into existence.
Next comes the hookah. It has the power to bring people together. Today it has acquired ‘urban chic.’ Smoking hookah teaches one patience and tolerance. Hookah smokers tend to have a more balanced approach to life. Just as the elitist residence areas such as Gulberg had now been commercialised and people shifted to Defence and other posh areas so did the form of entertainment. The ancient days were simple. Small inexpensive things were enough for entertainment of the common man. The value of money was immense. Marketing and consumerism is now breeding a restlessness in people. Demands are now big! It is all about money now. Hence money is losing its value.
Another relic was the ittar. There are different types of ittar such as the musk, amber, oud, rose, jasmine, thus and kewda.
The effect scent has on our minds is uncanny. It evokes memories of a bygone moment. Another relic is of the Sufi era. Through the qawwali tradition with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan at the pivot of Sufi kalaam, the author recreates the spirit and enthusiasm of the Sufi tradition.
Naqi also brings into picture the oldest bakery of South Asia and how it managed to survive through the highs and lows. To conclude, the title says it all. Naqi describes the simplicity and beauty of the bygone era. Her choice of diction is simple yet the effect it has on the reader is hypnotic. She is expressive and detailed in her description of the past. She leaves behind a ‘relic’ a ‘memory’ of the past for the new, current generation. On the whole, a great read. Simple yet pregnant with meaning, the book offers light entertainment layered with depth and profundity.