‘”Hira” is a portal to the discovery and understanding of India’
Xarina Akhtar’s novel ‘Hira’ tells an important story of one girl’s fight to retain her independence and sense of self in the face of the new set of rules, social moors and crushing patriarchy which she faces in India.
Raised in London and sent, upon her mother’s death, to India to meet with relatives who are little more than strangers to her, Hira is immediately forced into a marriage that has been arranged for her prior to her arrival. As she navigates the new culture, hostile in-laws and her cold and quick-tempered husband, Hira’s strength and resilience in the face of such adversity marks her out as a female of extraordinary spirit, rendering her an inspiration, not only to the other girls around her, but to the reader him/herself.
‘Hira’ is a portal to the discovery and understanding of India, depicted here by Xarina in all its vividness: the food, fashions, customs and philosophies. Undoubtedly, Xarina aids in our understanding of one of the very cultures and communities which make up our own multicultural one here in London.
As the novel moves towards its heartwarming conclusion, Xarina opens our eyes to a culture, as rich, sensual and beautiful as it is arguably backwards and oppressive.
Xarina reveals the underbelly of a typical Bollywood romance; the very real and current practice of arrange marriages confronts the reader, as does the conflict in traditions and practices between East and West. The plights of those females, such as Hira, who, even now in the 21st century, must struggle against a set of customs which do not allow for their autonomy, prove a stark contrast with that relative liberty which we enjoy in Britain today.
‘”Hira” is a story of friendship, family and love, and proves, once again, that it is the latter which conquers all’
‘So what was it like going to Uni in the UK?’ Hira shrugged. ‘Same as here really, studying, socialising and growing up. Although to be honest, if I knew that I would end up married here, with no career prospects, I may have thought twice.’
As we marvel at the strength and poise of Xarina’s protagonist, it is Hira’s voice which resonates with those feminists of today’s society. Xarina succeeds in making evident the complexities surrounding the notion of ‘progressiveness’ (in regards to female rights) in such an environment where the strict patriarchal hierarchy, enforced even in the family sphere, exists as a constant obstacle to any forward steps made in the name of progress.
‘Times have moved on. It’s not a bad thing.’ Aiden stood up for her. ‘In fact, after last night’s incident I think it is important for Sabina and Amara to learn too.’ ‘Absolutely not,’ Dadi objected. ‘I don’t care what the rest of the country is doing. The daughters of this family will not learn to drive.’
Although refusing to shy away from these problems, the story that Xarina tells is not at all without its quota of charm and romance.
The tale is one which reminds us that, even in the midsts of our despair, there is always hope to be found in the beauty of friendships forged, which bloom even in the dark and prove that all is not lost.
Ultimately ‘Hira’ is a story of friendship, family and love, and proves, once again, that it is the latter which conquers all.
‘Hira’ by Xarina Akhtar is available on Amazon