KT staffer's debut novel chosen for Emirates LitFest 2023

Muhammad Ali Bandial’s book I Dream of Rain touches upon untethered bonds between father and son


Rhonita Patnaik

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Published: Fri 16 Dec 2022, 7:34 PM

Last updated: Fri 16 Dec 2022, 7:35 PM

Books are a mirror of the soul” — as Virginia Woolf quoted in her book 'Between the Acts'.

This is precisely what Muhammad Ali Bandial, reporter at Khaleej Times, has depicted in his deeply personal debut work of fiction which traces the faultlines of a father-son bond that goes awry. Keeping up with the theme of the famed Emirates Airline Festival of Literature 2023 — ‘Old Friends’, Bandial’s book I Dream of Rain captures the meaningful but complex relationship between two generations. It is also a poignant tale of love, betrayal, and finding the path back to forgiveness.

Bandial grew up in military cantonments in remote areas of Pakistan, assimilating the varied cultures and practices of the five provinces of Pakistan. He worked for more than a decade as a federal government officer before switching to the private sector. He currently works as a reporter at Khaleej Times.

At the ‘Author Reveal’ for the 2023 Emirates LitFest in November, Bandial was selected as one of the speakers for the LitFest Launchpad, an initiative to promote UAE-based writers. He is one of the four authors whose debut work has been selected for the event next year.

The famed Emirates LitFest is one of the most prestigious events in the literary world and the biggest in the Arab world. Held under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, every year, the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature brings together people from four corners of the world to Dubai to entertain, captivate and inspire us. These extraordinary writers bring new ideas and different perspectives, promoting dialogue, sharing their works, their thoughts, and their words, building bridges across cultures.

About the novel

The story starts with the main protagonist receiving a phone call, but even before he picks up the receiver, he knows that something bad has happened.

Bandial talks of his own experience: “In 2006, my father had a serious accident and I received news of the event via a phone call in exactly the same way. I had a premonition about something bad happening when the bell rang, and I guess writers are wired weirdly, because, while a part of me was processing the news, another part had separated from my body and was analysing the whole situation from above, noting the feelings and emotions and storing them away for later. And this phantom limb of emotions that warns us of danger to our loved ones even when we are miles apart, forms the basis of the story that I wrote 15 years later,” said Bandial.

The undercurrent of the book deals with forgiveness and finding closure, says Bandial. “Betrayals are like cancer; they keep eating you up from inside even though on the outside, you may seem healthy and functioning. The book deals with the question of whether mistakes made with the best of intentions are forgiveable, and sheds light on the effect of carrying hurt and resentment like a constant burden on your shoulders. “Also, by giving people a second chance and allowing the air of forgiveness to flow between us and them, and understanding how to filter the dark, damp, and gloomy basement where we hide our resentment, we enable ourselves to break free of the invisible shackles that limit and stunt our development.”

The motivation

Bandial finished the entire book during the 2020 Covid-19 lockdown in Dubai when, ‘besides eating and watching TV, there wasn't much else to do, besides introspecting on life and our relationships’. “Being away from family and having to hear about loved ones being sick and worrying about them opened up a lot of past emotions and feelings and made me realise how much those bonds mattered. So, writing the book was a therapeutic process for me, and through the emotions of my fictional character, I was able to distillate the bond between my father and myself, and also maybe, in my own way, let others know that there is nothing big enough to come between bonds of love. That sometimes the longest distance between two hearts can be covered with forgiveness in mind. In the backdrop of the pandemic, the overarching message of the book is that there is no place for resentment in our hearts,” he said.

Speaking about his current work in progress, Bandial said that his second book will be out next year. He is also working on his third book, he revealed.

Talking about the honour of being selected as one of the debut authors for the LitFest Launchpad, Bandial said: “It is literally a dream come true and something I could never have imagined when I sat down to write the story. All I knew was that I had to be completely vulnerable and honest and let the words flow out unencumbered. The rest, I left to the universe. And I’m glad to say that the results have far surpassed my expectations.”

The LitFest Launchpad

The LitFest Launchpad provides UAE-based authors a chance to introduce their latest works to audiences. The authors in this session write in a variety of genres, but all have a common mission to bring to life characters from different times and places whose stories can teach us something important. Through the session, each of the selected authors gets an opportunity to shed light on their work and interact with the audience, answering questions about their own book.

Tamreez Inam, assistant festival director and head of programming, Emirates Literature Foundation, said about Bandial’s selection: “We were impressed by his original voice and the emotional appeal of the story. He is a fantastic writer who gradually layers his sharply observed narrative travelling back and forth in time. Bandial beautifully captures a complex father-son relationship with a fresh take on the coming-of-age tale where the reader feels compassion for the young protagonist Bunny as his life turns upside down when he is ‘abandoned’ at a nightmare of a boarding school. While full of tender and heart-wrenching moments, the story never feels heavy as Bandial laces the narrative with wry humour.”

Highlighting the theme, festival director Ahlam Bolooki said: “Our theme for this festival is perfect for our anniversary edition. A symbolic tribute to our old friends, our loyal friends, the books that have kept us company in good times and bad times. And it is a gesture of gratitude to our sponsors, partners, authors, and volunteers for their unwavering support. The speaker line-up will be our biggest yet, with old friends and new friends gracing the Emirates LitFest stage for a diverse programme of insightful discussions, unique workshops and special events that truly befit this special occasion.”

The author line-up at 2023 edition includes Brian Cox, Emmy-award-winning patriarch of the hit streaming series Succession; storytellers Cecelia Ahern, Mohsin Hamid, Alexander McCall Smith and Jeffrey Archer; Indian politician and author Shashi Tharoor, notable Bahraini poet Qasim Haddad and Emirati author and poet Maisoon Saker Al Qassimi, 2022 winner of the Sheikh Zayed Book Award.

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