The Visitors

01 March 2014

ABOUT THE STORY The most constant and pressing of life’s quotidian tasks: that of running a household. Meals perpetually to be made, the furniture and floors to be kept in shape, surfaces tended and the depths beneath scrutinised. And visitors always coming and going, including those employed to ensure the house’s upkeep and and uphold the householder’s honour and prestige.

In Aamer Hussein’s story, domestic thinking is beautifully mingled with the thinking of domestics in a series of tableaux from the residence of Mrs Meer of London, featuring its many visitors, mostly from the subcontinent. Some characters age visibly over just the span of a few pages, while others seem to stay just the same, the progress of time and human alliances marked unmistakably by the changes that appear in such things as moustaches, carpets, dress and deference. Pleasingly, the narrator measures out his warm mockery even-handedly across classes and genders, and even Mrs Meer, who otherwise controls the world of the story, is subjected to a moment of unconscious self-exposure when she claims she cannot train a new servant because “my time is fully occupied already.” As the story winds down, we are shown an orange being cut up into segments; but the narrative effect is just the reverse, and we have pieced together in our minds a physical space, a social world, and a view of human nature that we continue to imagine into life beyond the boundaries of the story.

‘The Visitors’ was first published in 2012 as ‘Hauslamand’ in the Karachi literary journal Dunyazad. The translator, Sabeeha Ahmed Husain, is also the author’s mother, and has long presided over a flourishing household in Maida Vale in London.

Aamer Hussein  is the author of six works of fiction, most recently the novel The Cloud Messenger (2011). He is a Professorial Writing Fellow in the Department of English, University of Southampton.

Keywords: london translation Urdu literature short story food