The alluring cover of Nemat Sadat’s The Carpet Weaver depicts two young men reposing in solitude. One of them is slender and clad in Western casuals with a block-patterned muffler slung around the neck, while the other is muscular, donning Afghani perahan tunban. There is a hint of romance, all overtures – fingers almost grasping, one eye perchance looking away, vigil to unwanted company. Right under this warm scene is a bleak, disconcerting image of military choppers, accompanied with broad brushstrokes of gunfire.
Is The Carpet Weaver a stirring coming-of-age story? Is it a heartrending account of queer love? Is it a sobering political drama? Or is it a condemnation of war? The mystery laid out in the cover page of the book will help you to seamlessly sail through its three-hundred odd pages!
The story is set between the late seventies and early eighties and spans three nations – Afghanistan, Pakistan, and America. Sadat cuts straight to action, placing us amid a lively celebration of the protagonist Kanishka’s sixteenth birthday. Homophobia quickly creeps into the cocktail-fueled conversations of the urban elite.
Kanishka, who is a closeted homosexual, fears being outed as a kuni, an epithet for gay men. He might be married off soon to one among the bevy of prospects arranged for by his family, even as he sets his eyes upon the strikingly handsome Maihan. Things get more complicated as Maihan also holds a secret of his own which presents both an opportunity and a point of rift for the two!
The book’s title stems from the protagonist’s lifelong passion for carpet weaving. His initial days include working at his baba’s (father’s) flourishing carpet business in Kabul. A worsening political climate compels the family to flee the country, leaving behind everything for the promise of a dignified life in the foreign shores. Circumstances get progressively challenging as the story moves forward, and any wrong step will result in execution, no questions asked! Kanishka’s god-gifted talent might just work as a shield, but for how long?
Sadat has a scintillating eye for detail. He paints a lush picture of Afghani culture, its cuisine, architecture, costume, folklore, and the changing geopolitical landscape. There is much more description than dialogue in the book, as if the setting itself speaks volumes about its people.
The writer beautifully pens the clandestine moments of forbidden male desires, in brief sauna encounters and basement excursions. Through the book, Kanishka is constantly burdened with guilt and self-blame as well as the lingering fear of abuse and sexual violence. His only hope is Maihan, who reassures him by telling, ‘We’ll get through this’, reinforcing the spirit of love.
Author Nemat Sadat had begun working on the novel since Barack Obama’s Democratic nomination in 2008, inspired by the former President of the United States to bring about a change in the world. He worked intensely on his debut over the years, attending writing courses at Harvard and Oxford among other prestigious institutes. His finished work presents a much needed hope to queer persons, and especially gay Muslim men across the globe.
You can purchase a copy of The Carpet Weaver from Penguin India’s website.