By M. Salahuddin Khan
Lawrence of arabia is the cinematic retelling of T.E. Lawrence’s autobiography “Revolt in the Desert.” This cinematographic and breathtakingly stunning tale, with its vivid color and hypnotizing imagery of the desert, is thought by many to be the most epic story of a larger-than-life, fevering adventure. I remember it fondly when my grandfather played the VHS in his den. I also remember being God-smacked by the idea of Arabia, its exotic culture and breathtaking scenery, all so different from the Western world in which I was being reared. Simply, I wanted to visit.
After 9/11 my perspective shifted horribly. Admittedly, I was among the many Americans who no longer couple the Middle East with thoughts of beauty, wonder and spectacular customs. Foolishly, I generalized its entire people, language and culture as grounded in irrational thoughtlessness and fear. I went from emerging from my grandfather’s den with grandiose thoughts of Arabian nights dancing in my head to refusing to board a plane because the rhythm of my war drum beat too loud. I’m saddened to admit my unfair bigotry.
Author M. Salahuddin Khan knows all too well what it feels like to be a product of today’s diaspora. Born in a small town in Burewala, Pakistan, Khan moved to the United States in 1988 and found himself trapped within an outsider’s perspective inside a life where he never felt as though he belonged. His new adventure novel, “Sikander” offers a profound look at cultural divides, but more importantly it reveals thought-provoking insight,
Without consciously doing so, Khan‘s “Sikander,” aims at bridging the gap between differing perspectives. It is the story of 17-year-old Pakistani student Sikander. His journey travels through the coming-of-age paradigm and the subsequent growth over adversity as he dreams of studying and thriving in America. However, after an explosive family argument, he leaves his home, his dreams and aspirations to join mujahideen warriors in the fight against occupying Soviets in neighboring Afghanistan. After two years, with the increasing help from American allies, the Soviets withdraw, and Sikander returns as a war-wise man and aims to recapture a normal life. Then 9/11 strikes. Once again he must learn to deal with loss, which brings him to reconsider the value of his own humanity and his relationships with others.
“Sikander” allows the reader to soak deeply into the nature of the world’s routinely lived Islam without venturing into radical or heretical renditions of the religion. Most importantly, “Sikander” shows the reader it is alright to do what so many of us fear to do: step into the ordinary lives of everyday Muslims. Deliberately keeping the point of view from the native culture of Pakistan, yet by stylistically and verbally delivering narrative akin to Western style, “Sikander” accomplishes one of Salahuddin Khan‘s main goals: to give readers of both ethnic backgrounds a mutual opportunity to relate.
“I’m very comfortable in a dichotomy of cultures,” he explains. “It’s a multilayered phenomenon. In this case [in the book] it’s a big contributor but not entirely. Our main character’s name is a South Asian rendition of Alexander the Great, because I feel he represents a transcended character. I wanted to create a story that would find a home in all parts of the world. I wanted to create something that binds us together as people. To be a participant and not an observer as a reader.”
Growing up in England, Khan quickly learned to manage his emerging dual identities as a native Pakistani growing up in a British culture that still clung to its imperial outlook. In his perspective, it gave him a strong observer’s view on the nature of culture and how it informs attitudes and decisions.
“I’m a believer in people and how their lives shape them,” he reveals. “The circumstances that nurse them are part of that. I don’t believe people are innately born good or bad—circumstances and how one reacts to them dictates where one’s life leads.”
A body of work that, for all intent and purpose, can be considered a tool for cultural awareness, “Sikander” includes a glossary, maps and shockingly took Salahuddin Khan only a mere six weeks to write.
“It was as if it pulled itself out of the computer,” he reflects. “It was laborious but fun. There was a lot of effort in research; I didn’t want to misstep on historical fact. Crossing a road meant crossing the border. It was quite the experience that floated with insanity, because the characters became real people. I allowed the characters to figure out for themselves how they would arrive to each turning point.”
Make no mistake, “Sikander” is not about the fringes of religion nor about religious fanaticism. Instead, it is solely a human drama coupled with action, tension, civilization angst, love and the inversion of power. All the while, because the concentration of Khan‘s work develops around the basic human struggle to live life to the fullest, it steers clear of politics. The pain and passion revealed makes the book more than a page-turner—it’s a mind-opener. Khan’s book maintains its role of entertainment in a manner to lead one out of darkness. It reminds readers of truth, something that pulls a society beyond the darkest of prejudices.
To purchase or learn more about “Sikander,” visit: www.sikanderbook.com