Qaisra Shahraz, with her book The Holy Woman has started a new writing trend of fusing religion with English fiction writing. Bina Shah, a relatively known name in the literary world, picks up on this trend in her new book, The 786 Cybercafé.
|`Few people would have known it, but as Jamal Tunio walked down Tariq Road, he was a man possessed by a dream.'
The 786 Cybercafé is an apt title for this book ('786' is a common abbreviation for 'In the name of Allah') as it brilliantly combines the popular concepts of religion and technology. The Internet is now a global phenomenon. Pakistan is no exception and internet café's are proving extremely popular places for the younger generation. While only some of these café's are involved in actively promoting pornography, most provide access to adult sites. Shah's concern is simple. The Islamic Republic of Pakistan is a country which was explicitly created in the name of religion. The people behind its creation had a dream of making it into a land where Islam would flourish. How then can such brazen activities, contrary to the spirit of Islam, be prevalent in a country with such a unique history?
Jamal, is Shah's rough-edged protagonist who shares the all too common dream of an average sub-continent man: he wants to make money, make it fast, and make lots and lots of it.
With his nerdy brother Abdul, a computer expert, and his friend Yasir who provides the financial backing, they form a team and open up The 786 Cybercafé on Karachi's Tariq Road. It is against this backdrop that Shah puts forward a very important question: how do Jamal, Abdul and Yasir handle the paradox of their café's name and the pornography that customers come in to surf? Jamal simply turns a blind eye to such goings-on, because he is busy adding up the profits. Yasir, however, goes apoplectic with indignation when he finds out.
The running sectarian tension in the book echoes another alarming reality of Muslim culture in South Asia. This theme runs beautifully in the background as Shah concentrates on her main story.
The 786 Cybercafé highlights a current controversy that is developing in the sub-continent. Shah tactfully opens up a moral debate and highlights varied and often deeply flawed ethical stances people adopt on issues of pornography, religious high-handedness and the right to autonomy.
This is a challenging book that I recommend for more than just leisure reading.