Wednesday, 30 August 2017

The Greatest Urdu Stories Ever Told

The Greatest Urdu Stories Ever Told is undoubtedly a gathering of the finest stories I have ever read. There are twenty five stories in this collection. The introduction to the book by the translator is also worth being treasured. It offers hereto unknown insights about Urdu stories. I knew Munshi Premchand as one of the greatest writers in Hindi. The introduction told me that he is the first professional short story writer in Urdu. Now, this completely shattered the image of the man who portrayed poverty in most of his poignant works.

The story which I liked the most is Beyond the Fog by Qurratulain Hyder. Until now for me short stories were good only if they had a very strong emotional content. I don’t mean to say that the aforesaid story lacks it. But this story of rags to riches of a sweeper woman’s daughter is packed with entertainment quotient. I could not control the mirth which aroused after reading this story. This story for me is a course in story telling itself. Purists may prune it aside saying this story tells and doesn’t show. But as a reader I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Toba Tek Singh another story in the collection by Saddat Hasan Manto narrates the plight of lunatics in an asylum in pre-partition India. On partition the Hindu lunatics will be swapped for the Muslim lunatics in India. This story is quest of a lunatic to know on which side of the border his town Toba Tek lies. Premchand’s The Shroud is different from the rest of his work that I have read. This story if of two lazy men, a father and son. They strangulate the humanity by feasting upon the funeral expenses of the wife of the son. Obscure Domains of Fear and Desire by Naiyer Masud demonstrates how the mind both desires and undesires the desires. In Rajinder Singh Bedi’s Laajwanti the wife who has returned from her captor says. ‘He never hurt me. And yet I was afraid of him. You used to beat me, but I never felt scared of you.’

Banished is another jewel in this collection by Jamila Hashmi. In this story set amidst the turbulent times of partition, Sitaji accepts the life with Ravan. Anandi by Ghulam Abbas shows how remote areas turn into magnificent suburbs. The Saga of Jaanki Raman Pandey is another masterpiece in this collection. This is a tale of Muslim junior wife of a Hindu and the walls that stand between them, the walls which are not pulled down even after his death.

A startling fact about this collection is that the stories sound very contemporary, even after years of their publication. In the Fable of a Severed Head by Sajid Rashid, a family is left with a tough choice, whether to admit that the head is of a family member, who the police say was a terrorist. The Vultures of Parsi Cemetery by Ali Imam Naqvi reflects how humanity is dying on the streets. The Tree by Tassaduq Sohail is about a tree which thinks there is nothing after death. I really liked this story for its treatment.

Ismat Chughtai’s Of Fists and Rubs is a hard hitting tale about botched up abortions carried out at home. Poignancy, disgust, anger, disbelief all this welled up inside my chest while reading this story.

Yes some of the stories are too prosaic and difficult to comprehend, yet they are outnumbered by stories which are literary marvels. I knew Urdu literature was rich. But this book told me that it is prosperous beyond my imagination. This book is surely not to be missed.

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