Home » short-story

The art of short story

A review of Irshad Abdul Kadir’s recently published collection of short stories that I wrote for TFT


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.

Article Box
Article Box

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.” […]

A universe with four moons

By Raza Rumi

Neelam Ahmad Basheer is best known as a short story writer with a new voice in Urdu fiction. She has been writing all her life but established herself after she moved back to Pakistan from the United States during the 1980s. She spent a “lifetime” in the US married to a doctor who was not appreciative of her writing talents. And, we now know her better through the publication of Char Chaand (four moons) – a collection of autobiographical sketches and essays on her life, family and friends. Barring a few exceptions, few women venture to be as candid in Urdu writing as Neelam is in her new book. There is certainly no glorification, self-promotion or desperation to weave a halo around her persona. In fact, the author emerges as a vulnerable, melancholic and nostalgic character at the outset. The honest and self-fledgling tone of these sketches makes Char Chaand more than just a memorable book. It is in fact a testament to the tribulations of middle class women in private and public spaces and the kinds of struggles they have to wage to survive in a patriarchal society such as Pakistan.

Article Box

Article Box

Neelam’s greatest and perhaps the most ever-lasting influence is her father late Ahmad Basheer, a revolutionary writer, journalist and film-maker who was widely respected in Lahore’s literary and journalistic circles. One gets to know him through Neelam’s loving recollections in Char Chaand, also the title of the leading sketch. The four moons here are Neelam and her sisters: the uber-talented Bushra Ansari, Sumbal, a singer and known TV persona now; and Asma who has made her name in performing arts (but is unforgettable for her legendary performance in the famous parody of Malika Pukhraj and Tahira Syed with Bushra Ansari). Neelam weaves the narrative as if it were a piece of fiction and recreates her inner sanctum where this well-knit family lives in a relatively more tolerant Pakistan. It is amazing to read that Ahmad Basheer Saheb insisted that his wife should be trained in classical music; and an Ustad was hired for this purpose. The four girls grew up with this set of highly cultured parents. Ahmad Basheer was also a radical man at home. Neelam recounts how she was forced to go out of the house by the father when she was a teenager to run errands and how petrified she was to travel alone in a bus. Remarkable for the urban middle class culture where unmarried girls rarely leave the house without a male companion. Neelam is brutally honest about her insecurities growing up with prettier and bolder sisters who are eccentric in their own ways. She tells us how quiet and responsible she was as the eldest them of all. […]

January 20th, 2012|Published in The Friday Times|0 Comments