Samina Mishra
ANTA GHAFEEL JI KA NIKAH by By Gulzar. Illustrations by Allen Shaw Jugnoo/Ektara, 2023, 34 pp., INR 120.00
November 2023, volume 47, No 11

From the very first spread that shows a top angle view of Anta Ghafeel, the hakim, with his horse, Allen Shaw evokes the solitariness of the character through the use of space. We see Anta Ghafeel across the book surrounded by empty space—sometimes the blank page, sometimes lightly-washed to indicate the sky, walls and diaphanous curtains. Anta Ghafeel stands out with his henna-orange hair and beard as an eccentric character, self-contained, pondering, absent-minded. His name draws upon the Urdu word for carelessness or obliviousness—ghaflat—and indeed Anta Ghafeel is so lost in his thoughts that he does not realize how he falls off a chair, or when children are teasing him while he’s half-awake. Anta Ghafeel inhabits a world in which people care about him and try to help him with the challenges thrown up by this careless self-absorption. Perhaps, they also want to rid him of what they perceive as loneliness. And so, they coax him into a marriage. But Anta Ghafeel remains ghafil—both unaware and/or unwilling. So, at the appointed hour, instead of responding like a bridegroom, he responds with his hakeem’s instinct, doles out a prescription and walks off into the sunset with his horse and solitude.
The pleasure of reading the story lies in the simple rhyming text by Gulzar that has the quality of nonsense verse or nursery rhymes. The whimsy of the character is matched by a playfulness in the way words are used, the titular character’s name included. Stories for children have always included eccentric characters, like Sheikh Chilli or Mulla Nasruddin, who allow for unreal situations and exaggerated actions to become acceptable on the page. There is a blurring of the lines between reality and imagination in such stories that mirror children’s ability to move between them in their everyday life. Anta Ghafeel is one such oddball and hopefully, there will be many more stories about him that will go on to delight readers.