Book Review: Wild Boar in the Cane Field by Anniqua Rana

Although Pakistan is ranked third in the list of countries where English, not being a native language, is the most spoken, it is really ironic that the number of people writing fiction in English can be counted on fingers. And those who did it in the past or are presently writing English fiction mostly belong to a a select group who have studied abroad or living abroad. According to Wikipedia, it was Dr. Alamgir Hashmi who introduced the term “Pakistani Literature in English” in his book Pakistani Literature: The Contemporary English Writers. It was established as an academic discipline in the world following his lead and it is now a widely popular field of study.

Anniqu Rana is one of writers whose début novel “Wild Boar in the Cane Field” , is being released by Amazon in the first week of September 2019.

Set in rural landscape of Punjab, it is a fascinating storyabout , a baby girl, Tara, who is abandoned by his unknown biological parents. She is found, covered with swarms of flies by Saffiya, a childlessmarried woman and Bhaggan, her maidservant. She is raised by these two women, who are themselves living complicated lives, in a community which does not recognise abandoned children as legitimate; hence startsa lifelong struggle of Tara for acceptance at all costs. The only way for thevillagers in such settings leads them to the doors of shrines of holy men and find solace through the rituals of ancientbelief systems.
Tara lives in a village that could be any village in South Asia, and she dies,like many young women in the area, during childbirth. Her short life isdedicated to her efforts to find happiness, despite the fact that she has nohope of going to school or making any life choices in the feudal, patriarchalworld in which she finds herself.

Poignant and gripping from the word go, Wild Boar in theCane Field is a captivating read not only for the tale it tells, but the way it is told i.e.,the way folklore has been narrated for centuries in every Punjabi village. Although there are manystories woven into the main narrative yet it is not a bunch of stories puttogether. No; it is a larger narrative dealing with a host of issues like identity crises, class conflicts, cultural bondage and freedom, patriarchy, and differentshades of discrimination all embeddedtogether.
However, within this larger canvass, there are many personalnarratives of the characters who do not have theprivilege of anything more than a very basic education, yet they seem to play larger than life roles in theirsphere of existence and influence. Beauty of her writing style lies in the wayshe has seamlessly woven their individualstories into a coherent tale the way village craftswomen sew the patches ofcloths into a “blanket of many colours.”-sorry Dolly Parton!
One such piece of cloth in the novel is the scenewhen Maria, little daughter of asweeper family, or “the wretched of the earth”, wants to knead thedough in her mistress’s kitchen.  In a typical rural landscape dominated by classdifferences, it isn’t simply allowed to because her parents’ lowly, menial jobs (her mother is a sweeper and her father cleans the sewers.). However, in this dark setting there are peoplelike Tara who treats her like a younger sister and lets her knead the dough when no one’slooking. Anyone familiar with theway hierarchy and class differences dictate the social interaction among therural dwellers, could easily understand the agony and ecstasy of open denialand surreptitious permission of such ordinary chores!

And Tara’s own tragedy. While Maria is fortunatebecause, despite her lowly status, she knows exactly where she belongs in the scheme ofthings, Tara, thepoor baby girl abandoned on a train in a filthy rag, doesn’t know who she isand how or where she fits in. Raised by two mothers inrural Punjab, she struggles to find a sense of belonging and personal happiness in setting whichbecomes almost surreal when the author makes a swarm of flies as witness to the lives ofthese village people. Her subtle use of evocative metaphors creates an environment which remains with you long after you’vefinished the book.

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