Of Necessity & Wanting is a collection of lyrical, atmospheric stories of varying lengths set in urban Pakistan. At its forefront are the concerns of people who are lower down on the metaphorical ‘chain’ of status and power, especially in the context of their symbiotic relationship with those they see as ‘other,’ ‘ privileged’ or ‘fair.’ Akhtar’s breathtaking prose, which combines social realism with complex and intricate plots, desires, and psycho-geographies — represents a groundbreaking exploration of women’s rights, such as independence and emancipation, in South Asia.
Extract from ‘The Epilogue’
There is that moment between waking and sleeping when you feel fully aware of everything and yet are dreaming. The hypnagogic state. She is in a vast sand desert — desolate and bewilderingly beautiful at the same time. Her feet are not touching the ground. She glides along searching feverishly for something — swooping around large tangle weeds — changing direction for no reason at all.
The desert is shimmering in a heat sheen. She realizes she is naked. That alarms her. But there is nothing she can do. She sees a black shape very far away and no matter how fast she propels herself — she cannot reach it. The shape constantly changes form. It is long and human-like, then it becomes round and blob-like.
A large lizard, completely white, scuttles by. She is terrified of lizards and so becomes motionless, hoping it won’t notice her. It moves on. She looks back at the horizon and there is no black shape anymore, only a massive white rock cliff.
On top of the cliff is some kind of structure with a door. The door is glowing. She knows she has to reach it. As she feels she is getting nearer, she can hear a throbbing — as if the door is emitting the sound.
She does not know how to reach the door, but once she reaches the foot of the cliff — she starts floating lightly upwards. The deep pulsing sound gets louder and louder. She realizes she is holding a kite in one hand. It is a magnificent viridian, gold and blood-coloured structure — each corner of it flapping like wings. She can go anywhere she wants with this kite. She can go to the door if she chooses or fly higher.
But she wants to open the door. She has to know what is behind the door. She is standing outside it now, and the kite has left her hand. She finds she glides through the door as if it were made of air.
On the other side of it is a mirror in which she can see a heart beating. She believes it is her own, and gasps clutching her chest with fear.
Her grandmother appears an apparition in white. ‘What colour is the heart Rumina? What colour is the heart?’ She notices with alarm the heart is turning black before her very eyes.
Sascha Akhtar is a Poetry School Tutor and judge for the Streetcake Prize for Experimental Writing. Her course ‘Breaking Through Writer’s Block,’ has been published by The Literary Consultancy, London as part of their ground-breaking #BeingAWriterprogramme. Known for her prolific poetry, Sascha Akhtar has also had her fiction published in BlazeVox, Tears In The Fence, The Learned Pig, Anti-Heroin Chic, MookyChick & Storgy. A book of translations of pioneering feminist fiction writer Hijab Imtiaz from the Indian Subcontinent is due in 2021 with Oxford University Press, India. Her short fiction collection Of Necessity & Wanting is published by the87press.