The gentle stories of Irshad Abdul Kadir have recently been published from India, adding another voice to the growing corpus of Pakistani writing. Kadir happens to be another of senior writers to have made a late entry in the world of fiction. Earlier, the beautiful, picturesque prose of Jamil Ahmad was introduced via The Wandering Falcon. Not unlike Jamil Ahmad’s story of ordinary lives invisible from the glare of mainstream media and discourse, Kadir’s stories are about the travails of common Pakistanis. A major dilemma with the characters in Clifton Bridge: Stories of Innocence and Experience from Pakistan is that they are neither aiming to espouse fundamentalism, nor thinking of planting bombs in their shoes, and thus remain marginalized in the global image of Pakistan.
Kadir’s prose is simple and the structure of stories is taut, reminding one of the original art of storytelling when the frills of literary cobwebs were avoided to retain the originality of the theme and authenticity of a character. Luckily there is a wide range of characters in Kadir’s stories, and they are not restricted to upper-middleclass households or the domestic servants working there-in. Instead, together these characters weave the mosaic of contemporary Pakistani society with all its contradictions, ugliness and dynamism. From frustrated housewives to slum dwellers, and from large land owners to babus, Kadir uses little brushes and measured strokes to present a tale which is familiar and yet a discovery. A total of 10 short stories with every day themes enabled me to read the book in one go. In Clifton Bridge, the story that inspires the title, a family of beggars informs the view of the metropolis. Kadir’s portrayal of beggars living under a bridge is humanistic as well as fulsome, for it does not judge the dregs as the privileged classes tend to do across South Asia. Instead, Kadir gets under the skin of his characters and presents a tale of intra-group dynamics and how adversity brings its own strengths.
“Their first ‘home’ – a lean-to against the boundary wall of a cement factory came about when Rana joined the ragged duo. Peeru always remembered the first meal – boiled rice and lentils – prepared by her. She told him to call her ‘Amma’, and later enrolled him in classes at the factory mosque.” […]