“WHAT IS NEXT TO ECSTASY? PAIN.
WHAT IS NEXT TO PAIN? NOTHINGNESS.
WHAT IS NEXT TO NOTHINGNESS? HELL” (UMERA AHMED)
As far as the opening is concerned, book begins with the lead character Imama Hashim (Medical student, engaged to her first cousin Asjad) and her friend Javeria talking in an empty class-room regarding their future plans and career, where readers get to know the dearest wish of Imama is to become a best eye specialist in Pakistan and if not, she has no purpose to live. Whereas, when she asked her the same question, she hesitated to answer at first but few pages ahead readers are shocked to know that Imama belongs to a Qadiyani (Non-Muslim) family and Javeria’s dearest wish is to see Imama as a Muslim.
Other lead character and favorite to everyone is Salar Sikandar, a young boy with 150+ IQ and photographic memory. He is way too arrogant to be thankful to God for the mesmerizing capabilities he’s born with. Salar’s one after another failed suicide attempts despite being the high achiever in his academic career distress Sikandar Usman (his father) and the whole family. His attempts are for the sole purpose to measure the limit of pain. People in real with such high intelligence and IQ are often seen taking such awkward steps for no conspicuous reason.
Imama’s family belongs to very few and influencing Qadiyani families in the country, whereas Sikandar Usman is one of the renowned businessmen. Lately, Imama has gone silent and an immense change of behavior is seen in her towards her family as well as friends. What’s that in her mind which has caused this space in jolly, friendly and a talkative Imama? It’s the confusion Javeria has inculcated into her about her religion. She has already started reading religious books, comparing the religion of her to Islam and has dived into deep confusion in search of the truth. In between all this Imama falls in love with a Muslim lad, who is also a medical student and career-oriented Jalal Ansar( elder brother of her college friend Zainab) but refuse to merry Imama against her parent’s will.
The story takes a fascinating turn when Imama converts to Islam and marries Salar Sikandar over a phone call to avoid getting married to Asjad who is a non-muslim but does not disclose his name to the family. This is where she’s grounded by the family and in a mid-night through the help of her maid successfully sneak into his house when his family is out of town. Fortunately for her Salar agrees to help her and drive her to Lahore where she studies her medical, however, cannot afford to continue her education due to financial hurdles. He drives her to Lahore from Islamabad. In their way to the destination, he pulls over to a fuel station where both have a cup of tea and she offers her fajr prayer. At this scenario readers are drowned into questioning themselves about, what would she do next? She cannot go to her mates because her family is so above the law that she would be traced back in a blink of an eye. Here Imama’s story takes a long break and Salar Sikandar comes into the limelight, who the next morning is pressurized to continue his studies abroad as soon as the news of her kidnapping breaks out. Salar is the main suspect due to his car was witnessed at the station and he was seen with the girl as well. Salar complies with his father’s instructions and moves to UK in the next few days.
In London he excels again in academics, turning more drug and alcohol addict. She fell in love with Jalal Ansar because of his affection to Holy Prophet (P.B.U.H), which yet was a joke to Salar. Years passed when one fine day Imama finally calls him to file for divorce as per the agreement, which Salar refuse to sign, for the sake of amusement and to avenge what he had to face in helping her in the whole case. Salar was never close to religion and never thought of soul searching or to look for answers of the universe. While studying abroad, memories of Imama and her journey from Lahore to Islamabad haunt him day in day out.
Month’s flies before he made up his mind to ultimately offer the first prayer with his friend at the mosque to stray Imama’s memories away. However, ran away in the middle of the prayer. He finally after a dreadful dream turns serious towards life and started focusing over his studies to avoid thinking any more about Imama. He refuses to go back to Pakistan in semester breaks because her memories won’t let him sleep there as well.
Umera Ahmed kept Imama alive in minds of readers while they are reading pages and pages about Salar and his experiences abroad, waiting for her to return in the plot is yet long ahead. Out of nowhere one day, long-lost friend of Salar informs him of his girlfriend Imama from the red light area when Salar return to Pakistan to spend his holidays for the first time. Salar now transformed, gets a kill in regret for him playing role in making pious women like Imama fall into such place. That’s when it occurs to him that what he feels is Love for Imama as well as remorse for his deeds.
Umera Ahmed leave audience pondering and their hearts racing if it’s the same Imama Hashim Salar made fun of due to her piousness and affection to Prophet (P.B.U.H) and now he himself feels the same towards religion and beloved Prophet. The epilogue of the plot is set in Makkah where Salar dreams of a woman reciting umrah prayers behind him in a low tone but before he could turn around to see her face, his dream is shattered.
Readers are deep in confusion here that, if Imama Hashim is still alive? Whether she has married someone? Is the Imama from the red light area the same who he is married to? If not where is his Imama?
Like every other reader, I was in deep thoughts when abruptly story twisted as Salar despite being in love and legally married to Imama is yet again pressurized and supposed to get married to another girl. The women he has cried for last 8 years day in day out is finally getting out of his head? Will she ever return in his life? The women he has dreamt of in Makkah and for whom he wept in front of Kaaba is not supposed to be part of his life? Has he committed transgressions so bad that after being so transformed and entirely a different person he’s not forgiven?
These are the key questions readers keep looking answers for throughout the book and ultimately author unveil them in the last 50 pages which makes readers sticking to their chairs in hope to see Imama and Salar together again.