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Displacement & Discontent – Basti by Intizar Husain

 

THE publication of Basti’s translation is an important literary milestone. The author, Intizar Husain, is perhaps the greatest living Urdu writer and his genius rightly deserves a wider audience than just readers of Urdu or Hindi fiction. Intizar Sahib’s stories have been translated earlier and they showcased his taut, lyrical, hauntingly evocative prose to those who were not familiar with the world of Urdu. However, the novel as a genre and as a kaleidoscope of society conveys a discreet vision of the world. This is why Basti’s publication by New York Review Books is a landmark with respect to globalising the beauty and intricacy of Urdu literature.Basti

Earlier, Qurratulain Hyder had translated her own novels (Aag ka Darya and Aakhir-i-Shab ke Hamsafar among others); her many admirers had been quick to point out that in the English translations she had been unfair, above all, to herself. The original Urdu novels are far more majestic than their translations. Except a few other novels, such as Abdullah Hussain’s Weary Generations (Udas Naslain), there is little that the world knows about Urdu literature. The Urdu short story has had a better deal in terms of translations, but the Urdu novel has largely been ignored.

Basti, at the outset, is the tale of a reminiscing Zakir, the novel’s protagonist who is a professor of history and a migrant to his new homeland from across the border. The novel primarily relates the various stages of his life.

Zakir lives in a dynamic, conflictual and contradictory world. There is no Hardyesque feeling of an individual pitted against the larger forces at work. Instead, throughout the novel, there are threads of nostalgia, displacement and ruptured continuities. The Partition of India in 1947 is the centre of the novel’s sombre, impressionistic landscape. That year turns everything topsy-turvy, and more so, it transforms the fate of the basti (settlement). Unlike other Partition literature, Basti avoids direct, graphic reportage on the psychological and physical violence inherent to Partition. The political chaos at one level is also interiorised by Zakir. There is, then, an intense feeling of alienation and emptiness that Zakir, as a migrant in a new country, feels. It should be remembered that Husain, now considered a torchbearer of progressive thought in Urdu language and literature, was never a firebrand revolutionary in the way that other luminaries in Urdu are known as. In fact, Zakir’s ambivalence towards politics and resistance is partly reflective of Intizar Sahib’s ideological moorings in the new discourse on jadeediyat or modernism.

Basti was criticised when it was first published in Urdu. Critics, often driven by ideological imperatives, considered it to be a lesser novel for its evident refusal to apportion blame or affix responsibility. However, the novel has proved to be a formidable work of art. Almost like “rocks beneath” (to borrow a phrase from Emily Bronte), it is a narrative that is neither noisy, nor voluminous or polemical. Its melancholy mood, layered plot and composite portrayal of human emotion ensure its timelessness and universal appeal. […]

March 6th, 2013|books, India-Pakistan History, Pakistan, published in DAWN|1 Comment

South Asian Cooperation and the Role of the Punjabs

South Asian Cooperation and the Role of the Punjabs. Tridivesh Singh Maini. New Delhi: Siddharth Publications , 2007 

South Asian Cooperation and the Role of the Punjabs is a book that approaches the topic of conflict resolution with a difference. Trividesh Singh Maini’s book does not approach peaceful cooperation from the normative security framework. Nor, for that matter, does the author take the increasingly emergent economic approach to conflict resolution despite the fact that the book’s content deals with the subject of regional cooperation. Alternatively, Maini’s book helps its reader understand the dynamics of cooperation and peace among members of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation or SAARC (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Afghanistan and the island nations of Sri Lanka and Maldives) by presenting a cultural analysis.

This use of culture is persuasive. The author posits himself and his book as scholarship that thinks outside the bureaucratic box of normal research on South Asia with its vested interests in the region to reveal the “emotional” trajectory of cooperation that is occurring in this region. Using culture to support his thesis, Maini illustrates for the reader various cultural exchanges between two cities, Amritsar in East Punjab in India and Lahore in West Punjab in Pakistan. These include visits to religious shrines, literary exchanges and especially recent transportation events such as the initiation of bus services to help people meet their relatives on the other side of the border. […]

July 6th, 2008|books, History, India-Pakistan History, Indo Pak peace, Peace|3 Comments