Rushing Memories

By Nadya Chishty-Mujahid | April 2020

Book Title : Shadows of the Rainbow
Author    : Sayed M. Irfan
Publisher  : Royal Book Company: 2019
Pages    : Hardback: 265 pp.

Shadows of the Rainbow is a labour of love. A charming text, written in a style that bespeaks old-world elegance, it is penned by an engineer whose fine memory, passion for poetry, and artistic eye, all contribute to giving its readers a delightful portrayal of Karachi life in the mid-1970s. The son of a respected State Bank employee, Sayed Irfan graduated from St Paul’s High School and entered Adamjee Science College. His family moved into a house in Nazimabad’s Block N, at a time when the author notes that Nazimabad and Federal B Area were far less crowded than they are today. This selective memoir focuses primarily on the writer’s college years, but is no less fascinating in spite of its relative narrowness of scope.

Notable writer Javed Jabbar, who is Irfan’s senior by a few years, penned the foreword to this text. The Royal Book Company would have been hard-pressed to find a better choice for this purpose, since Mr. Jabbar displays a personal familiarity with both the images of Karachi brought forth by Irfan as well as a sensitivity to the aesthetic appreciation evinced by the author’s tastes in poetry and music. Several moving verses by Iqbal are alluded to throughout the book, which is generously peppered by black and white photographs on topics as diverse as tram cars making their way from Elphinstone Street to Saddar, and snapshots of memorable moments in cricket.

Although Irfan attended (and graduated from) the prestigious NED engineering university after he left Adamjee Science College, in some ways the book is as much about play as work. A passionate devotee of cricket, Irfan was dissuaded from pursuing this as a full-time career by his father, who though generally a relaxed parent, raised an eyebrow of disapproval at his son’s commitment to the sport. In this Irfan’s father was no different to many parents who believe that a fine cricketing career is much tougher to achieve as opposed to a steady, lucrative job in a field such as engineering.

This does not prevent Irfan from writing avidly about the great international cricketers of that time, ranging from Clive Lloyd to Sikander Bakht. The author includes a photograph of the young Elizabeth II meeting a cricketing team; also included is a picture of her husband the Duke of Edinburgh, his face illuminated by an uncharacteristically broad grin during a seminal World Cup moment. The young Irfan belonged to a day and age when the British were not regarded with quite the same awkward post-colonial distrust with which they are viewed by many South Asians today. Indeed, his immersion in the Victorian literary works of Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy might partially explain why the author writes with a grace and fluidity that makes his expressive writing both stylistically palatable as well as informative.

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