Lot many South Asian writers have written about the South Asian diasporic migration stories and have covered varied theme, including, but not limited to alienation, racial clashes, hybridity, third space, ambivalence, displacement etc. ‘Wake Up Ali…Wake Up Now: A South Asian Disporic Story by a Nepali author Sumit Sharma Sameer (trans. From Nepali into English by Sushrut Acharya) and published by Vitasta Publishing in 2022 is another addition in the list.
However, ‘Wake Up Ali…Wake Up Now’ is different in many ways. The greatest strength of the book is its readability. One cannot drop the short and succinctly narrated story of migrants unless one finishes it. And, to surprise such a small work of fiction has dealt with various issues in depth. It’s a very simple and well narrated story that each South Asian migrants can relate to, but yet philosophically grounded.
‘Wake Up Ali…Wake Up Now’ has been translated from original Nepali work ‘Prabas’, meaning migration in Nepali. But, the story is not merely about the external migration of a protagonist, Ali who migrates from Lahore to Canada and towards the end of the novel returns back to his country. Ali is a split personality who is introspective in nature and engages in self-reflection, like most of the other human beings do. ‘Wake up Ali…Wake Up Now’ is a voice that constantly echoes from wtihin throughout Ali’s life sking him to wake up to his real ‘identity’. In a globalized world, this is a search of identity of ‘alienated’ man that is constantly in conflict with its material existence. Hence, at the end of the novel when the protagonist Ali claims that his migration has ended, it does not merely mean that he is happily settled in Lahore, but in reality, it means that he is happily settled within. He had enough of the world.
The novel has five chapters- Search, Experience, Love, Separation and Emergence and a handful of characters. Ali is a middle-aged Pakistani engineer from a lower-middle class background, the Protagonist, and the Narrator of ‘Wake Up Ali…Wake Up Now’ who reflects on his life through his experience as a migrant worker in Canada. He narrates how he came to leave Pakistan seeking economic opportunities in Canada.
Zara, is another important character in the novel who is Ali’s wife younger by about a decade. Ali and Zara live a strained life, brought forth by the complexities of day to day life. To mend the fences between husband and wife, Ali is compelled to travel to Canada for better earning where he meets his childhood friend Aahil, Riya and William who is born and brought up in Canada.
‘Modern’ men and Women as displayed by main characters of this novel are multi-layered individuals who have masked themselves in a certain way. They operate in society as expected by society, but privately they act with their impulses. And, hence most of the ‘modern’ men and women of free world have multi-layered stories. This is aptly captured when Ali converses with Riya, he says, “Look, Riya, everyone in this world leads a double life. I do and so do you. We all do. One life operates physically, the other spiritually. One runs according to your brain, the other according to your wisdom. One runs according to your mind, the other according to your conscience. Whether we articulate that for ourselves or acknowledge it in front of others is a different matter (76).”
The novel also speaks on the theme of alinetation and narrates how modern individuals are living in the illusion of ‘freedom’ in the free world, but in fact they are forced to choose only options that are available and not invent the new options for them. Writer Sameer expresss his world view through protagonist in the following lines- “Like a caged parrot, humans are able to fly but within the confines of the cage. In the end the parrot slowly but surely is diminshed (16).
And, he further reacts, “Isn’t civilization today similarly cramped and bogged down? Humanity is looking for freedom- from those present-day ideas that in the name of liberty have robbed humanity of its dreams. Yet civilization today is so helpless and paralyzed that it cannot counteract the norms it has created itself. For want of knoledge and conscience. This conscience will now be borne by a new age. And in the throes of that birth, the age will ask for another sacrifice. Of the common man. Of his dreams. The earth will be bathed in blood. After a century, this process will be repeated. It is an uninterrupted process- man’s life, the life of a civilization, revolutions, change, corpses, blood, sacrifice- continuous, uninterrupted. The earth is an abattoir; man is a holy offering prepared for sacrifice. Everywhere death performs its terrifying dance (16).”
The novel has represented a time frame. The story begins through 1960s of Lahore travelling through the 2020s in the first world countries and settles in Pakistan again. However, it could be summed up as a story that represents the history of 300 years of modernity as towards the end the protagonist asks important question- is this all what a human life is all about? Ali stresses that this is not merely his question, but the question of an ‘age’ because he is a ‘modern’ man who is representative of modern time.
A key message of this novel that the death of ‘modern men’ is inevitable is finally revealed at the end. There was a time when men used to influence future with their action, thoughts and emotions and men were alive. Now we have entered an age when ‘modern men’s’ action, thoughts and emotions are hijacked by AI, biotech and information technology. Can this hijacked man influence larger historical and cosmic design? Aren’t they merely spectators of the time dancing with the tune of life that we call time? Or can we altar the path of future?
‘Wake Up Ali…Wake Up Now’ is a very simple story of a common man that has elements of love, romance, deceit, introspection, alienation, the breakdown of instituion of marriage, friendhsip, and yet reflective, grounded, powerful and moving. A Nepali writer has picked up a setting (Pakistan) that is new to him, but without delving into the cultural intracies has touched upon the theme that’s relevant to all the South Asian countries.