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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

“Love is not yet a taboo in Pakistan” – Mohammad Hanif

By Raza Rumi:

In a few days, Mohammad Hanif’s new novel will be available in Pakistan. Last week, I met him at his house in Karachi. The grand dame of Urdu literature, Qurratulain Hyder, used to make fun of people who would ask writers what were they writing about. “Are writers cooks that they should be subjected to senseless questions,” she remarked in one of her essays. With this sentence lurking somewhere in the corner of my mind, I was most hesitant to ask Hanif questions about his new novel. In any case, Hanif is not known for responding to inane questions either. We found ourselves locked in this battle: me not wanting to ask; and Hanif avoiding to pontificate about his latest book. Awkward? No. Funny, Yes.

We found ourselves locked in this battle: me not wanting to ask; and Hanif avoiding to pontificate about his latest book. Awkward? No. Funny, Yes

Dressed in a flamboyant pair of shorts and a funky T-shirt, Hanif and I spoke about everything under the sun. He had been to an Iftaar party in North Nazimabad and a part of him was terribly inspired by the event. This was the ‘roza-kushai’ (breaking the first time fast) of a child and a wedding hall was the venue for a lavish Iftaar. He cited the discussions he had with a ‘buzurg’ (an elder) and quoted him. Writers play with their memories and recreate them in a most innovative manner. Thus the delightful tales of the elderly gentleman’s commentary on Karachi, its random violence, literature and society was most amusing.
[…]

Fahmida Riaz – “Her dreams of the future”

Barricaded Islamabad enveloped by the ghosts of national gloom has one little corner of hope. The Pakistan Academy of Letters, under its dynamic and committed Chairman, Fakhar Zaman, continues to weave narratives that still inspire. Even when the bitterness of our grim present affects us all, Fakhar Zaman was forthright in his views on Pakistan, its future and most importantly, its literary tradition. The venue was the book launch of Fahmida Riaz’s novel Godavari that has been translated into English. Fahmida Riaz is better known as a poet but her unique prose is lesser known. Her short stories and novels are extraordinary pieces of literary works rendered into sheer poetry. Often it is difficult to determine the genre of her ‘prose’ works as the lines between watertight compartments blur and fade away, only to reappear as a gentle reminder to the readers that our author is experimenting in her inimitable style. 

Godavari was published last year by the Oxford University Press and Fakhar Zaman organised its launch under the aegis of PAL only to ensure that there are many indigenous, native voices in English that have yet not caved in to the pressures and inducements of Western publishing houses. Godavari is a deceptively simple story of a few characters visiting a holiday hill resort in Maharashtra a little before the communal riots that shook Bombay and India in the 1980s. But deep within its lines, sub-textual connotations and shifting moods lie tales of discrimination, communal hatred and the unfettered spirits of its universal female characters. The heartening aspect of this book launch was that there were a few dozen enthusiasts present on the occasion, and a few powerful […]

Even Tamas is online now

My dear friend Bhupinder alerted me to his post that talks about Tamas, a great novel (and subsequently a gripping TV serial) on the Partition. Now the serial can be watched online. This is what Bhupinder wrote:

Thanks to the indefatigable AG, the TV serial Tamas broadcast by Doordarshan in the late 1980s is now available online. (including some  commercial ads from those days!) Based on a novel by Bhisham Sahni on the partition of India, it hit the TV screens in the backdrop of Babri Masjid- Ramjanmabhoomi imbroglio and brings back memories of some very fine TV serials made at time- Shyam Benegal’s The Discovery of India, Gulzar’s Mirza Ghalib and Arvind N Das’s documentary India Invented based on DD Kosambi’s works. Happily all these are now available at youtube and/or google videos. […]

December 16th, 2008|books, India-Pakistan History, South Asian Art, video|6 Comments

Qurratulain Hyder talking to BBC on the first South Asian novel

SG has sent me this old audio recording of Qurratulain Hyder when she visited London in the 1990s and was interviewed by the BBC.

This is a great interview, with Ainee Apa at her best: quick witted, sharp and entertaining. During […]

The tributes continue – remembering Qurratalain Hyder

The literati in India and Pakistan are grappling with the larger question of Qurratulain Hyder’s stature in Urdu, and some would say, World literature. The Daily Times, Pakistan has published an appropriately titled editorial, Quratulain Hyder, Urdu’s greatest novelist. This paragraph struck me:

…her […]

Feryal Ali Gauhar – femme fatale

Conversations with novelist, filmmaker, feline aficionado, and femme fatale, Feryal Ali Gauhar, as she prepares to launch her second novel

Who doesn’t know Feryal Ali Gauhar? A novel at the top of The New York Times international bestseller list, years of television appearances and a highly publicised marriage to Jamal Shah that became fodder for countless gab sessions, have caricatured and made famous her persona. Had I not known her personally, I too may have fallen for the half-imagined tales littering the drawing rooms of socialites in this land of the pure. But I have had the pleasure of Feryal’s acquaintance for years, and not a moment of our friendship has resembled the images painted by petty gossip and lazy misinformation.

Feryal is a celebrated actor, filmmaker, journalist, activist, development worker and above all, a renowned novelist. Our recent meeting in her Zaman Park, Lahore residence took place after a long interlude. That afternoon, with the winter sun at our backs, we sat in her garden and talked with abandon while several of her cats and pet dogs meandered in and out of the plant-life; silent witnesses to our conversation and its occasional unfettered laughter.

Feryal is the youngest child of dynamic, accomplished parents. Her late mother, Khadija Gauhar, was a leading intellectual in Lahore who came to the city from South Africa after marrying her father, Sayyid was a military man from the NWFP who later retired from the army and took to farming. Her elder sister, Madiha Gauhar, is a talented theatre personality who founded theAjoka theatre group and has managed it for over two decades. Feryal was initially associated with Ajoka as its first female actor. The sisters also have an older brother, Aamir, an industrial engineer who operates a business in alternative energy products.

As a young woman Feryal attended the Lahore American School. Her experiences there included a reaction to the school’s requirement that all students, regardless of nationality, pledge allegiance to the United States. In response to this practice, the eight year old Feryal insisted that the Pakistani national anthem be played for the entire school as well. Later, Feryal was the first Pakistani and first female to head the school’s Student’s Council. She was an honour role student and captain of several sports teams. Several scions of leading feudal families at Aitchison College at that time remember Feryal leading her team into the school grounds to play soccer. What they especially remember is the soccer team uniform which revealed a rather shapely pair of legs. “Some have never forgotten that sight,” she chuckles. […]