As I started reading The Party Worker, Omar Shahid Hamid’s recently launched third novel at the Karachi Literature Festival 2017, I quickly realised that this new book quite easily qualifies as a spin-off, though not a sequel, of his very first novel, The Prisoner. Much to the delight of his readership, a lot of the key characters from The Prisoner resurface in this latest endeavour. That being said, whether or not one has read The Prisoner is inconsequential. The plot of The Party Worker primarily revolves around the fictional political party, United Front Party (UFP), focusing on the development as well as the exploits and injustices perpetrated by this outfit that was birthed in The Prisoner. Besides UFP, the Chandios and the great Akbar Khan are also referenced several times in this novel, weaving a fictional vision extrapolated from the many facets that were mentioned yet remained unexplored in The Prisoner. However, what is different in this book is the point of narration.
Where The Prisoner was told from the perspective of the good guys, focusing on the efforts of the police to eradicate and overcome evil elements in society, The Party Worker tends to be more egalitarian, lending a voice to the thoughts and sentiments of evildoers. With a plethora of characters, the narrative unfolds from the perspective of four diverse protagonists. In contrast to The Prisoner, the least suspected take centre stage at the end. Without giving too much of the story away, the book aims to expose stakeholders and corrupt factions in Karachi. Set against the backdrop of the metropolis, this crime drama relays the city’s resilience. The body politic, underbelly, and political aspirants all come into play with a few slick comparisons to the law and order practice in the States.
Interestingly, the city is treated much like a cake, up for the taking. And as sad as that sounds, if you are from Karachi, you know it to be true. Political strongholds, honourable gangsters, and aspiring unscrupulous villains form the crux of the book; the spiral from which the story springs. The Party Worker unquestionably borrows from fact, but is masterfully cloaked in fiction.
This particular piece of literature showcases Hamid’s ability to render humour via his writing. There are quite a few unexpected humorous punchlines in this otherwise solemn and introspective oeuvre, not the least of which are the names he has chosen for his characters. From Pichkari to Mian Mithoo to Baba Dacait, all names are very aptly applied to the persons shaping the tale.
Despite the comical names, the material is serious and the book is no fairytale. It has its share of blood and gore, serving as a real eye-opener from beginning to end. Curiously, the text has a lot of Urdu words, written unapologetically without italics or explanation. At first, the use of common Urdu words in mainstream English writing appears a bit odd, but as the story develops, a sense of reality is maintained with the lingo, which goes back to reinforcing the book’s inspiration from real life. It is perhaps also aimed at a more local (read desi) readership.
Hence, from language to narration, from characters to storyline, The Party Worker represents an unconventional style and subject matter, unique to the author. It is definitely worth a read.
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