Published by Neem Tree Press in July 2023, Safinah Danish Elahi’s The Idle Stance of the Tippler Pigeon explores the breakdown of family ties and friendship in the wake of grief.
Misha’s untimely death shatters the world inhabited by the three central characters. The impossibility of coping plagues in Nadia and Zohaib’s lives, while being witnesses to Misha’s death, erases any feeling of being grounded in the world.
The novel shuttles between Lahore, a city of both prosperity and open drains, and Karachi, a city of salty air and starless skies.
Being a Woman, Being in Pain
Nadia remembers her life through sounds. But her current moment is always plagued by the question of being seen. Taking the stairs while leaving her office or getting an Uber depends on whether the male gaze will find its way to her. Her husband squanders her wealth on alcohol as her living conditions get worse with time.
She tries to refuse the misery life has promised her. Nadia knows that being a woman makes her life incredibly difficult, but she tries to refuse that reality, “with every baby girl’s birth, there is a measure of violence the world allots her. I reject this allocation of violence.”
But Nadia loses her job after she gets pregnant. Her office does not provide maternity leave. Pain and dejection keep following her like a shadow, she keeps meeting the measure of violence allotted to her.
Who’re we, once we take responsibility for ourselves?
Zohaib’s grief has become a part of his body. It warps his sense of time and space. He’s constantly shuttling between being a person for himself and negotiating the histories his parents have lived through. “Mama hid in her room and Baba in his work. Me? I was so young then. Now, I’m just a guy who still has no clue about life.”
His mother is a figure of self-punishment and self-exile. The family is broken by the loss of a child, and the mother’s choices only exacerbate the wounds of circumstance.
Zohaib finds himself at the crucial junction where he can continue to live in a world built by his parents or branch out and take responsibility for his own life.
No Easy Answers
Elahi’s novel doesn’t serve us a resolved ending on a platter, we leave these characters in the midst of their struggles.
There is an acceptance of the fact that life hardly ever ties its loose ends. Things fall apart and barely come back together. All they can do is keep moving.
Zohaib and Nadia show the kind of endurance that one sees in tippler pigeons, their unassuming appearance veiling a deep capacity to bear with fate. But this kind of Sisyphean approach is not a cause for despair. There is always an expectation of flux, paths crossing again, no matter how much time has passed.
Near the tail end of the story, Nadia wonders, “What are the chances, in a city of fourteen million people, that we would ever meet again? Does life allow second chances like that?”
While the ordinary nature of despair remains at stake in the novel, it builds its meaning starting at that void itself.
However, the book does run over its ideal length. The energy drains from the final moment of revelation because of the story lingering in the build-up too much. Instead of dwelling so much on the present, the book could have focused on the material details of the past and developed the stories from there.
By the time the reader comes face to face with the nature of Misha’s tragedy, the attention has already been diverted from it.
The Idle Stance of the Tippler Pigeon is for readers invested in topics of fate, family dynamics and loss. Its plot might lose energy at the halfway point but the themes leave the reader with lingering questions about existence and endurance.