It is said that only once in life, love happens, rest all are passing infatuations and affairs. How does one know when it is that love? Does it happen only at first sight or can happen over a period of time? Does it stay strong enough to endure the harsh realities of life, without changing its essence, the way it was when it was first realized?
Little Maryam by Hamid Baig is a tragic love story of a man named Saadiq Haider, an arrogant, egoistic womanizer, and the love of his life, Maryam Dawood.
Saadiq Haider was a man in love. Ever since he first saw Maryam, he a 14-year-old, and she a 9-year-old, he knew there was something in her that had bound him forever. He knew nothing could keep him away from her, not his father’s employment under Maryam’s father as a gardener, not the difference in their statuses, not the disapproval of his father, absolutely nothing. As the friends grew up together, they became aware of their feelings for each other other than that of their childhood, they were too much in love and ready to embrace each other as life partners.
It was that night before his Maryam’s birthday, while Saadiq was giving the final touches to the engagement ring he had carved for his beloved that his life turned upside down. Arrested and convicted for the murder of his friend, Ritesh, who happened to be in the shed that was Saadiq’s workshop when it had caught fire accidentally. The whole case was skewed by Ritesh’s father, a disgraced politician who Saadiq had humiliated publicly a few years ago. Sentenced to seven years for no fault of his, Saadiq knew his Maryam would wait for him, they could start over when he would be out. His world came crashing down when Maryam, two years into his prison term told that she was seeing him for the last time ever. Saadiq had no will left to live. Later, when his father died, he lost all hope and it was the last straw. He refused to cooperate with the jail authorities and stopped helping them in solving petty issues like he had been doing for the past couple of years. He also took to fighting and ended up in solitary confinement, looking for peace but realizing much later that it was the worst he could ask for at that point in time. But for his record of being a trouble-free inmate for the majority of the time, he was pardoned earlier than his time.
Although Saadiq had been a child prodigy, he had wasted his years away, first not wanting to leave Maryam, and then in the prison. When he was released, he had no one to go to, and it was then he decided to leave the city that had taken away his loved ones and brought him to crossroads. He found himself in Mumbai, working menial jobs, enrolling in the local university, and with that brain of his, escalating through studies, countries, ivy league universities, women, alcohol, and drug abuse to a revered doctor and a Nobel prize nominee in the field of cancer research. It was during one such celebratory event that Saadiq received a call from an Indian number, 20 years after he had cut all ties with the country and the people he knew.
Who was it that called him? No one knew his number in India, and he definitely hadn’t gone back or tried to make contact all these years. What did the caller say that made Saadiq leave his speech midway to catch the next flight to New Delhi?
Divided into two parts, the story begins with the present-day Saadiq flying to New Delhi and recalling his days in India with Maryam to the reporter seated next to him, Anne. The narration flits between past and present over the entire course of the 19 hours flight. The next part is with Maryam in the lead. Narrated in the third person, the language is lucid and manages to hold the reader. Though there seems to be a serious disparity with the timeline, the story tends to catch the attention. I got hooked quite early and knew that I would like the story, irrespective of the way it was told. There were times when the character introduced vanished suddenly, only to re-enter at a later stage. Although there were editing errors, it was avoidable due to the fact that the story progressed beautifully until the twist where it seemed like a trashy Bollywood script. But even then, I liked it, because what’s a love story if not all enchanting and dreamy?
After I started reading this book, I realized that this is probably the first true romance story I’ve read, others being rom-com and so, and also that I am a sucker for this genre now. Generally, all love stories seem and sound the same, girl meets boy, hates him before falling in love and have some tragedy that tears them apart only to be reunited at the end. This story follows more or less the same trajectory, however, there is something that is different and not cringe-worthy. There are no super cheesy dialogues or anecdotes to make one go all “Not again” but it has that true, matured love feel to it. A love story that began in the childhood of the leads, taking them through ups and downs of their lives, never wavering their love and faith for each other despite all odds being against them might be common except that this story is not just this, but much more. The author very beautifully shows the depth of the relationship shared by Saadiq and Maryam, when they were young and naive, and even when they grew old, apart but together in their hearts and that’s what clicked with me.
Loving is not the end, it’s just the beginning of a long journey to stay in love all the time and being there for each other no matter what. I’ve been married for 2 and a half years now, and it wasn’t love at first sight for me with my husband. We fell in love with each other over a course of the period, taking our own time to explore and accept each other the way we are. I hope that our love stays true, for what we feel now is young and I wish to grow old with it.