Homelessness and sense of Belonging. A Liminal Analysis of Jamil Ahmad’s Wandering Falcon

Bachelor Thesis, 2017

28 Pages, Grade: A


Table of Contents

Research Completion Certificate



Chapter 1: Introduction

Chapter 2: Literature Review

Chapter 3: Research Methodology

Chapter 4: Discussion and Analysis


Work Cited


The completion of this thesis would not have been possible without the blessing of God Almighty to whom I am truly thankful. I am thankful to my family members, especially my parents who encouraged me at every moment, and calmly bore my absence when I was engaged with my thesis work. I am greatly obliged to my thesis advisor, Mrs. Sadia Ghaznavi, who guided and helped me in every possible way. She is a wonderful person and teacher to work with and I feel fortunate to have her as my thesis advisor. I am grateful to my friends who supported me throughout.


This research analyses the concept of homelessness and liminality in The Wandering Falcon by Jamil Ahmad (1931-2014).This project is a post-colonial study of Jamil Ahmad’s narrative using Victor Turner’s theory of liminality.The aim of the research is to analyse by juxtaposing the Baluchi tribal community and the urban Pakistani community to reveal the façade of civilization. It also aims at exploring the sense of belonging of the people residing on the Baluchi-Irani border-zone. It examines the different forms of boundaries that appear in the narrative. This research is significant in evaluating the tribal social setup in the Baluchi border region and the liminal existence of the natives

Chapter 1: Introduction

The Wandering Falcon was composed in the 1970s, the most implosive decade of the 20th century, according to historians. It was the period in which various ideologies fought their most decisive battles. The condition was not very different in Pakistan. In this decade the first ever elections were held in Pakistan, East Pakistan got its independence, the Baluch nationalists’ rebellion started in 1970. The atmosphere of the entire country was chaotic. However it was the 20th century in which the Pakistani Literature flourished the most.

The research aims at exploring the homelessness and sense of belonging, depicted in the book, and its impact on the characters. It also endeavors to explore the liminal experiences of the people residing on the Baluchi-Irani border. It also endeavors to analyze the façade of the civilized world by juxtaposing the Structure and Communitas.

This scope of the study is the border-zone lives of tribal communities in Pakistani society. The focus of the study will be the border of Pakistan where Baluchistan, Iran and Pakistan meet. The research will focus on the 20th century but importance will be given to the 1970s, the decade in which the book was composed, along with the political chaos which was widespread. The study will highlight the homeless, liminal, existences of the people living on the border zones and how this liminal existence sometimes prove to be beneficial for them.

The concept of border has always been associated with geography and law. The geographical concept of border visualizes border as a physical or visible line of division between provinces especially countries. But in the last few decades the concept of border has undergone a change, in academic studies, they are progressively seen as constantly changing phenomenon that can emerge, disappear and re-emerge. They are no longer perceived as barriers but contact zones. So in our society border zones can be seen as no man’s land or inhabited places.

Jamil Ahmad is a Pakistani novelist and story writer. He is known for his book “The Wandering Falcon” which was short listed for Man Asian Literary Prize in 2011. He was a civil servant who was appointed for 18 years in the tribal areas of Pakistan. He was a political agent in Quetta, Chaghi, Malakhand, Khyber and finally in Baluchistan. The book was composed in 1970s but it was published in 2011, three decades after its composition (Wikipedia).

In 1970s the country was in its most chaotic phase: on one hand the first ever elections were held, and on the other, East Pakistan got separated. Not only this in 1970 the Baluch insurgency which was a separatist movement emerged. The movement was highly coordinated by the chiefs and sardars of the Baluchi tribes and targeted Bhutto’s operation. In 1977 the Baluchi tribes suffered a lot casualities but when Bhutto’s government was disposed by General Muhammad Zial-ul-Haq an amnesty was declared to the Baluch tribes. Jamil Ahmad’s humane portrayal of Baluchistan appears to be an apology for the destruction done to this beautiful land by the government. Ahmad’s portrayal of the Baluchi tribes is full of honor, integrity and principle.

In Postcolonial studies, Victor Turner’s theory of liminality holds great significance. The concept of liminality gained popularity in the second half of the 20th century through the writings of Victor Turner. Turner expanded Van Gennep’s concept of liminality depicted in Rites of the Passage in three-part structure i.e, separation (pre-liminal stage), transition( liminal stage) and re-integration (post-liminal stage). According to Victor Turner liminality is a “passage”, “transition”, and a “movement”, a “moment in and out of time”. In a liminal state humans, liminal individuals, have nothing: “no status, insignia, secular clothing, rank, kinship, and position, nothing to demarcate them structurally from their fellows” (Turner 355). In “Liminality and Communitas” he begins by defining liminal individuals or entities as “neither here nor there, they are betwixt and between the positions assigned and arrayed by law, customs, conventions and ceremony” (Turner 355). In addition to this liminality is also attached with the concept of freedom and mobility. Palmer says “an individual who moves to the liminal phase has the potential of an individual, but finds himself in gaps between the worlds, he is a certain medium between the alternative structure of “here” and “there”.

The key terms for liminality are “transitional state” as it is a state between two states as depicted in the book through the border zoned existence of the characters. There are situations in which this transition is hindered in such cases the individual feels marginal, excluded and identity less. “Alien territory” or territory is also a key term because the liminal existence has no particular name, it is alien to the individual residing in it and in this unknown alien land he/she discovers their true selves. “Ambiguity” is also a key term because uncertainty or doubt become a part of a person’s life who is discovering himself. Along with this “asymmetry” or imbalance can said to be another key term because liminal existence is an inbetween state and this state in which you have to strive to keep a balance between both states is doomed to be asymmetrical. “Anti-structure” is another key term. It is an idea developed by Turner according to which human life is characterized by an alternation between the structured social roles and the blurring of the social roles. According to Turner anti structure is essential because through it only human beings gain an understanding of their humanity and spirituality.

The Wandering Falcon takes us to the mountainous heights of Baluchistan where the borders of Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan meet and depict the lives of people wandering there. The border zone existence, when its temporary and temporal aspect is highlighted, it may be called the liminal space. This liminal space is depicted in the lives of each character of the book, especially Tor Baz.

The project aims to research the following aspects of the narrative: How is the façade of urban civilization revealed in the novel? What are the different forms of boundaries presented in the narrative and are used by the characters? How is the sense of homelessness and belonging of the people residing on the Baluchi-Irani border-zone portrayed in the novel?

The next chapter of this study is the “Literature Review”. The third chapter is of “Research Methodology” in which the nature of the research is discussed. This chapter is followed by the “Discussion and Analysis”. The fourth chapter is the conclusion of the research.

Chapter 2: Literature Review

Jamil Ahmad has made a place for himself, in the Pakistani literary sphere, in a very short span of time through his sole novel The Wandering Falcon. There is not much criticism available on his work. The book was composed in 1970s but no publishing house was interested in publishing it. But in the post 9/11 scenario this part of the world became prominent and so the book aroused a lot of interest and finally got published in 2011. Ahmad had served as a government agent in the Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) for almost 18 years of his life and his experience is manifested in the nine loosely connected short stories. The study endeavors to highlight the homelessness and sense of belonging depicted in the novel through the life of the protagonist, Tor Baz, and other characters in light of Victor Turner’s theory of Liminality.

The little critical material available about the novel analyzes its socio-political aspects, generally. Clement Therme in his article The Dynamics of Change in Pakistan-Afghanistan Region points out: “Ahmad’s writings seek to romanticize the Pashtun tribesmen reminiscent of the British colonial policy in the region…”. Ahmad in one of his interviews said, “Brutality exists. But how the tribes deal with it is clean and clear. There is a clear dividing line between right and wrong… each one of us has a tribal gene inside us”. The tribal world, which the so called civilized one deems to be barbaric or uncivilized, is portrayed by Ahmad to be full of truth, integrity, principle and honor qualities which we attach with decent human beings. With such an approach the book becomes a “rich picture of the mountainous, lawless tribal areas we have previously associated with bombs and bloodshed” (Inskeep). According to the Sunday Statesman “the novel is a fine balance between detachment and empathy, cynicism and innocence, despair and hope…Ahmad has not only opened a window to a world we have serious misconceptions about, but managed it with poise and rare honesty”. Mohsin Hamid remarked in his review of the book: “Superb. The work of a gifted storyteller who has lived in the world of his fiction, and who offers his readers a rare insight, wisdom and- above all- pleasure”.

The character of Tor Baz, the protagonist is best defined by William Glasser’s definition of humanity. Humanity is “driven by five genetic needs: survival, love, belonging, power and freedom”, all these needs are portrayed in the book predominantly in the character of Tor Baz. Tor Baz is a thematic protagonist. He appears in almost all of the stories but not as a hero, as a survivor. His survival is made possible because of his liminal existence. He never attaches himself with any tribe so he becomes a part of all the tribes. He becomes universal. Tor baz himself says, to an official, in the novel “ think of Tor Baz as your hunting Falcon” It is believed that in the world only identity makes you alive and an identity is what you gain through attachment but Tor Baz’s identity is different his liminal existence becomes his identity. According to A.R Ammons “you have your identity when you find out, not what you keep your mind on but what you can’t keep your mind off” such is the case with Tor Baz he establishes his own identity. As the novel takes place at the crossways of old and new customs the in-between of these crossways become Tor Baz’s existence. In this context Tor baz’s belief that “I can tell you as little about who I am as I can about who I shall be” becomes illuminating.

The beginning of the novel resembles Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy which is the survival story of a young boy like, Tor Baz, in the harsh landscape of the desert. A recurring theme of The Wandering Falcon also is survival in this harsh and unfair landscape (Inskeep). Ahmad’s book brings the lost humanity to this rugged landscape back.

In Post-Colonial studies, the Victor Turner’s theory of liminality holds great significance. The terms “liminal” and “liminality” gained popularity during the second half of the 20th century through the writings of Victor Turner in his “Liminality and Communitas”. Turner expanded Van Gennep’s concept in Rites of the Passage. Turner’s work depicts the society not as thing but a dynamic and dialectic process. For him culture represents a struggle between a “structure and anti-structure”. According to Turner liminality is a “passage”, “movement”, “shift”, “a movement in and out of time”. In “Liminality and Communitas,” Turner defined liminal individuals or entities as “neither here nor there; they are betwixt and between the positions assigned and arrayed by law, custom, convention, and ceremony” (359). In his book Location of Culture Bhabha uses the terms such as mimicry, hybridity, liminality to argue that “Cultural production is always most productive where it is most ambivalent” (qtd in. Chakraborty). For Bhabha, liminality epitomizes a probability of cultural hierarchy.

Bjorn Thomassen in his article The Uses and Meaning of Liminality shows the applicability of Turner’s theory in narrative to study how personality is shaped by liminality: liminality serves not only to identify the importance of in-between periods but also to understand the human reactions to liminal experiences the sudden foregrounding of agency, and sometimes tying together of thoughts and experiences” (10). Thomsassen further says that there are “degrees of liminality” (14) and these degrees are measure by the extent to which a liminal experience weighs against the established structures. It is imperative here to note that rebellion to the persisting structures is the most important aspect of the liminal experience. The article further provides examples of liminality in our day lives. “Liminality has been developed into an organizational theory and in approaches to business consultancy” (15). The concept of liminality, according to the article, is applicable on minorities. The postmodernist gender theory ascribes the concept of liminality on transsexual or any form of transgender. Refugees and immigrant groups all fall under the concept of liminality as they are “betwixt and between” their homes and host countries and sometimes they do not integrate with the host culture. So liminal position can be called a “vantage point of articulating diversity” (15).

Janet Wilson in her article” Postcolonial Thresholds” shows that Turner’s theory can be aaplied to study how: “…liminal experience comprises zones of exchange and transit which signify entry into and exit from existing structure” (Wilson 1). Borders are no longer seen as barriers but as a point of contact. If the border represents the third space or the liminal space than the patrolling on the border represents the state’s effort to maintain the existing structure (1).

Arup Ratan Chakraborty talks about the concept of liminality in different schools of thoughts. For Example in “In surrealist thinking liminal has been seen as a threshold stage between waking and dream, or the conscious and subliminal state of awareness”. He furthers says hat in psychology the term indicates “threshold between the senate and the subliminal, the limit below which a certain sensation ceases to be perceptible”. The article further talks about different phases of a person’s life, mentioned in Turner’s work such as “the first phase requires the child to go through a separation from his family; this involves his/her death as a child, as childhood is effectively left behind. In second stage, initiate, between childhood and adulthood, must pass a test to prove that he is ready for adulthood. If he succeeds, the third stage involves a celebration of the “new birth” of the adulthood and the welcoming of that being back into society”.

Dag Endsjo in his article “To Lock Up Eleusis: A Question of Liminal Space says that the term “ Liminality” refers to “liminal state” or “interstructural situation” (Van Gennep’s terms). As liminal state is as in between state it is defined by “what it is not”. Turner found this term apt for the in between phase a person experiences in the process of segregation and reunion with his/her society: “This is a realm ... betwixt and between ... any type of stable or recurrent condition that is culturally recognized” (234-35). According to Endsjo in a liminal state all the social status of hierarchy, gender etc along with the basic opposites such as man verses divine, man verses animal, life verses death all these concepts get reverted (235). Such reversals can be seen in Greek theories and mysteries. The reversal of gender roles, cross-dressing, and symbolic intermingling with gods are a few examples.

Rob Shields in his work “Places on Margin” says that ‘places where social orders get blurred are the best locations to discover how cultures represent themselves and to deconstruct their self-definition in terms of modernity”. Marie Christine Forney in her article “The Border as a Liminal Space” studies the concept of liminality and its relation to the terms “border” and “limit”. The article further states that liminality, as a concept, is used to represent the concept of mobile borders because, in geography particularly, it categorizes “a space resulting from passage and transition”. According to Forney liminal space is “an area where the relationship in the social structure is managed and where the social status of the relationship is determined”. So it can be said that the concept of liminality helps in accepting “the dynamics between spatial form of borders and the border function of space”.

The article further defines liminality in terms of “negatives” when it refers to “what it is not” i.e., “neither child nor adult, neither man nor woman, neither sedentary nor nomadic, etc.” As a result, in this situation, a status of ultimate “otherness” is coined but not only this at the same time of creating an othered identity it makes the acquisition of a “new identity” possible. That is why Forney interpret liminality as a state “that facilitates managing and controlling the transformation of social statuses and ensuring compliance with social norms”. It is further stated that “liminality often has its own space, which in some ways circumscribes the absence of identity and holds it at a distance”.

According to Forney “Edges, borders wastelands or no man’s land marking a spatial transition from one milieu to another” can be considered ad liminal spaces. From a geographic approach the concept of liminality can be used to study the notion of border in relationship between space and the norm. According to the article “if we consider border as a means of managing movements between territories with different norms, such as nation states, liminality can be used to describe the process of passage as a stage in itself”. In this way it relates to Focault’s heterotopia. Liminality makes border a space “where relations between parties are established and where, at the same time, the parties present are redefined.”

This research is a postcolonial study of Jamil Ahmad’s “The Wandering Falcon” and analyzes the condition of liminality of the characters. No research has been conducted on the novel. Only few articles analyze the novel generally. The socio-political concepts of the Baluchi tribal community have been discussed in early critical reviews but the liminal existence of the border lives has not been analyzed in depth. There is a dearth of research on Baluchistan literature. My research will prove beneficial to the people researching on the Baluchi literature. This dissertation contains the analysis of characters and their lives in the light of liminality. The main focus of the research is on the “betwixed” and “in-between” existence of Tor Baz, as his life progresses.

The next chapter of “Research Methodology” discusses the nature of this research. This chapter is followed by “Discussion and Analysis” that discusses the character of Tor Baz in the light of Victor Turner’s theory of Liminality. The fourth chapter is the conclusion of the discussion.

Chapter 3: Research Methodology

This research is qualitative in nature. It analyzes Jamil Ahmad’s The Wandering Falcon in the light of Victor Turner’s theory of liminality. The aim of the research is to find out whether the inception of the concept of liminality in the lives of the dislocated threshold people verifies to be a successful coping mechanism for them to survive in this hash and ruthless environment. The main focus of the research is on analyzing of the Communitas vs structure, portrayal of liminal existence, and different forms of boundaries.

Jamil Ahmad’s The Wandering Falcon is the primary text. While Victor Turner’s Liminality and Communitas from the Ritual Process: Structure and Anti structure has been used as a secondary source, for the theoretical framework, to verify the statement of the dissertation. Along with this a number of articles in the newspaper and on jstor have been used as secondary sources. The limitation faced during the course of the research is the dearth of critical material available on the Baluchi literature. Only a few newspaper articles have analyzed the novel’s socio-political aspects generally.

According to Victor Turner liminality is a “passage”, “transition”, and a “movement”, a “moment in and out of time” (Turner 355). In a liminal state humans, liminal individuals, have nothing: “no status, insignia, secular clothing, rank, kinship, and position, nothing to demarcate them structurally from their fellows”(Turner 355). In “Liminality and Communitas” he begins by defining liminal individuals or entities as “neither here nor there, they are betwixt and between the positions assigned and arrayed by law, customs, conventions and ceremony”(Turner 355)

The next chapter is an analysis of the novel in the light of Victor Turner’s theory of liminality and it is followed by the conclusion of the research.


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Homelessness and sense of Belonging. A Liminal Analysis of Jamil Ahmad’s Wandering Falcon
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Inbisat Shuja (Author), 2017, Homelessness and sense of Belonging. A Liminal Analysis of Jamil Ahmad’s Wandering Falcon, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/369717


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