"Want to review some queer fiction?"
"Sure", I said, and that's how I got reading Six Metres of Pavement by Farzana Doctor. But the book defeats easy stereo-typing and it's as much about queers as Hum Aapke Ke Hain Kaun! is about Hindus. Yes, there are plenty of them in the film but that's not the point is it?
To my mind, what Six Metres of Pavement is mostly about, is forgetting & absolution. The central character Ismail Boxwala is a government engineer in a Canadian city. As the novel begins, he has lived a lonely & miserable life for two decades trying to forget that his two-year old daughter died in his cars back seat, all because " he forgot.
When Celia, a recently-widowed Portuguese woman moves in to the apartment close by (six metres of pavement away to be precise) and when Fatima, a lesbian student who's been chucked out of home appeals for help, Ismail is put into a situation in which he must act. You sense there's a chance here for absolution, and you desperately want Ismail to take the seemingly simple steps that will alter his life.
But Ismail's rebirth is not entirely up to him, which is a compelling aspect to this novel. The two other characters, Celia and Fatima, are fully developed, and Farzana Doctor reels you into their worlds too with empathy. And there are the others with cameo roles. It is through one of these 'minor' characters that you're given a glimpse of the internal churning that is part of the transition of someone who is 'coming out of the closet:
Ismael: 'So Ashton, um, is he, uh, he's a guy, right? Er...sorry, that's none of my business, I just wondered?
Fatima: 'He's transgendered. Born female, but doesn't really fit into the gender binary. He's transitioning. So, he prefers a male pronoun,'
Yet you never get the feeling that Ashton's character was thrown in by Doctor simply to show that in some cases, gender identities are not static. Ashton's story is a part of Fatima's & Ismail's stories, and you're never allowed to forget that it is these two, and Celia, who are the protagonists. In the end, you're hoping there's a happy ending here, and even though you might not have anticipated it, there is an ending I'm betting you will like.