The Heart Asks Pleasure First – Karuna Ezara Parikh

Sometimes, even before setting eyes on something, you know it has the potential to affect you immeasurably, much like Aaftab felt with Daya, I sensed the same with this book. As immediately as I sensed potential heartbreak, I kept putting it off just as passionately.  

I had kept tabs on the book since its first announcement but now that it was in my hands, I curiously wasn’t able to read it. It wasn’t until the Nov 22nd weekend that I sat with it, a few pages in, close to midnight and turning a year older. Nothing prepared me for this slow burn, lyrical beauty.  

A book so deeply entrenched in empathy that you can’t help but feel vulnerable as you read it.  

“Longing. Is there a fuller word in all the world? Tell me, is there an emptier one?” 

Set in the late 90s and stepping into 2000s, The Heart Asks Pleasure First is the story of Daya who meets Aaftab in Cardiff, England while there to study Ballet. They tumble gracefully into love, trying to reconcile the differences conditioned into them by their religious and national belonging while knowing that as humans, this is the most life affirming thing they’ve chanced upon, this togetherness. Daya has long seen the world through her compassionate, and fierce parents’ eyes, but moving away to Cardiff, for the first time makes Daya see the world and amble around in it through her own understanding – both wise and naïve at the same time.  

The narrative brings to us the story of Asha and Gyan, as a way to reinforce the solidity of love; Wasim, whose idea of love is to learn and share, even if that is food, culture or language. Delving gracefully to the depths of identity, the idea of otherness, kinship, love, faith, migration and even xenophobia, Karuna Ezara, the author brings us an incomparable tale of our time. Karuna entrances us from the get go, as a debut novelist and having held this story within her for 14 years, she shows us what intention in each word can turn out to be. 

Co-existence is a word that comes to my mind consistently as I read this book. Not just the obvious co-existence, that our present much lacks but this book beautifully holds, the co-existence of religion, but also varied other existences – the co-existence of timelines, of languages, of passion, of motivation, of reality and love. The book gently, much in the fashion it does anything else, pushes us to consider what co-existence means to us.  

The book speaks of familiarity between two pieces of land that were once one, it questions what differences are we choosing to hold on to? Is there truly any? “We are all the same. Bones, muscle, souls, blood, shame, hate, joy. Love”. 

Karuna Ezara uses poetry and music effectively as the bridge and shared culture that they always have been. Even as recently as the beginning of this pandemic when Pakistani and Indian musicians went online and sang together, shared panels and spread joy.  

This book that I will fail to put into words but will not worry too much for a change, is because it is ephemeral- just as music is, just as love is.   

“But this is also grace. To break without breaking. To turn your wounds invisible. To give flight to the other. To let go of that which is giving you life. To say goodbye”.