Shaukat Ajmeri logoShaukat Ajmeri

Powerful tale of love fraught with societal distress

When religious dogmas and rituals pervade a man’s personal life and go on to completely suppress it, love and emotions get pushed into submission leading to heartbreak and unhappiness. Shaukat Ajmeri’s debut novel Keepers of the Faith is a story of such suppression and suffocation which can have only one consequence - emotional trauma that threatens to destroy lives! Based in Udaipur of the 1970s, the story revolves around the story of two teenagers Akbar and Rukhsana who belong to a Shia Muslim community and are madly in love with each other.

The two are able to steal beautiful moments of togetherness despite living in a closed neighbourhood till disaster strikes in the name of social boycott after a split in the community following a local election. Resentment, which had been brewing in the community for some time against the unreasonable diktats of the religious head, comes to the forefront and all hell breaks loose.

Akbar and Rukhsana find themselves in opposing groups and before they can overcome their bewilderment at the happenings around, they are torn apart by the two families. A heartbroken Akbar moves out to Mumbai to pursue a career in journalism while Rukhsana goes on to marry a blind follower of the priesthood and shifts to the US. Years later their paths cross again under different circumstances. Everything has changed for the two, yet a chance meeting rekindles the old fire within the two hearts threatening to destroy what they had carefully and painfully preserved over the years.

Keepers of the Faith is not a mere tale of two lovers. It is a story of the underlying pain and social trauma that result from an oppressive religious clergy which ruthlessly destroys everything that stands in its way. The novel describes how a community steeped in blind faith can be manipulated to fulfill selfish motives regardless of the consequences and emotional casualties. It speaks of exploitation, blackmail, fear, wrecked families and broken hearts.

Ajmeri does a wonderful job in highlighting the emotional angle of a rebellion which has fraught the community of Udaipur for the past five decades. Such a take on the movement - which has so far seen documentaries, chronicles and documentation of facts - is the first of its kind. The writer uses the rebellion in Udaipur to spin his tale of love. And he does this with an amazing skill which stirs the very soul of the reader leaving her teary eyed and shaken.