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Speech at FOMMA-DHA Art Centre, Karachi, 17 March 2007

When Durdana asked me to speak at this book launching, I was reminded of someone who had received a similar invitation to speak at just such a function.
“Where should we send the book?” the publisher asked him.
“Oh, don’t!” The speaker replied. “I never read a book before talking about it. It merely prejudices me.”
Well, I must confess that I have read Durdana’s book and that I am prejudiced entirely in her favour, as I am in Zuby’s, for they are two of my favourite friends.
Karachi: Pleasure Gardens of a Raj City is not Durdana’s first book. Those of you who have read her first one – a joint memorial of her childhood – will know what a sharp eye she has for the telling detail, and recognize her expressiveness as a writer.
This latest book of hers is as beautiful as the gardens she writes about. Despite its very attractive and appealing presentation, it is not a coffee-table book. It is a patio-table book- a book that should be taken out onto one’s verandah or patio, and read outdoors.
Its purpose is that one should not simply view gardens from the insularity of an air-conditioned room but to see and admire them from within. Like William Wordsworth – that most romantic of the Romantic Poets – Durdana ‘sees into the life of things.’
At a more mundane level, Durdana’s book draws our attention to the tsunami of urbanization. Daily, as our population grows ( we are 160 million now and will be 250 million by the time our children are grandparents – this tsunami of mankind will have engulfed more than half our cultivable surface.
We cannot stop it. All we can do is create our own islands within it, patches of greenery that remind us of a nature that once surrounded us, and that we are slowly, and inexorably engulfing. Public gardens are gradually being replaced by the personal pleasure of private gardens.
Durdana’s book is a who’s who of such gardens in Karachi. It flits with the ease of a social butterfly from house to house, over walls, across lawns, touching a flower here or a shrub there, and then moves on, enabling us as readers to share their beauty.
I do want to imply that her book is a Social Directory of Horticulture. Far from it. If she names names, it is simply as a reference, not as namedropping. Her true friends are not the owners of the gardens but the inhabitants of the gardens themselves – those trees and plants and flowers that grow and blossom, oblivious to flattery and unmoved by transient appreciation.
To those whose gardens are included in Durdana’s delectable book, the glorious images reproduced by her (and brilliantly presented by her publisher Sang-e-Meel) will serve as a second spring.
To those who want to create a garden of their own, her notes in the chapter – Garden Features – will be a useful DYI kit.
To those who live in flats or who envy her green fingers, this beautiful book will be a perennial display of the beauty that exists in and about Karachi.
Some years ago, I visited Japan and was taken to see the preserved house of a former Shogun or nobleman. He was famous for his garden of chrysanthemums, so much so that the then Japanese Emperor sent a message that he wanted to see the garden for himself.
When the emperor arrived, he saw that all the chrysanthemums had been cut and that the garden was absolutely bare – except for one solitary, single blossom. The emperor’s immediate reaction was one of anger and then disappointment, until he realized that the nobleman had cut all the blossoms to enhance the singular uniqueness of the most beautiful one.
Durdana’s book is that single blossom. Other books pale in comparison.
Yet I hope it will not be her last contribution to the subject, nor will it deter other from researching as diligently as she has done, or from writing as forcefully as she has done. Her book, in my opinion, will be the seminal seed from which hopefully more such books will germinate. We need to be reminded that God planted us first in the Garden of Eden – not the Cantonment of Eden.
I will end here with thanks to Durdana for inviting me to speak today, and to her and Zuby. The single flower of our first contact years ago has grown into the garden of a much treasured friendship.
17 March 2007
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