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Stories Across Time, Between Worlds


Anuradha Kumar

THE IDOL LOVER AND OTHER STORIES FROM PAKISTAN
By Moazzam Sheikh
Ithuriel's Spear, San Francisco, 2008, pp. 140, $13.95

VOLUME XXXIII NUMBER 8-9 August/September 2009

Pakistani writers are of course in fashion. They are writing in all genres—the serious novel of note, rambunctious social novels, epic sagas, and of course, the simplest and yet the most complex writing form of all—the short story. Daniyal Mueenuddin’s In Other Rooms, Other Wonders is a wonderfully worked set of interlinked stories that tell of characters caught in a time warp, set in the feudal world of rural Punjab. And there is also Moazzam Sheikh who in his stories straddles several different worlds, across continents.   I have read Moazzam Sheikh’s first edited collection, A Letter from India, that appeared in 2004 (Penguin Books, India). Besides his own story which is reproduced in this collection as well, Moazzam had also introduced several Pakistani writers to South Asia in this collection. In his very insistent, angry introduction to the book, Moazzam talked of the new post-independent Pakistani writing that was different, defiant and also fully expressive of the many different identities that make up the country. The book was an introduction to the richness that existed in Pakistan, at a time when the elite was veering more and more towards English.   Sheikh is now based in San Francisco and he continues to write and translate fiction across English, Urdu and Punjabi. In The Idol Lover, which is his first collection of short stories, he travels as do his stories from Pakistan to varied worlds that include—the dry, desert-ridden, intensely patrolled, and terribly divided areas that obviously signify West Asia for the reader, and the more disembodied, disenchanted, coffee-smelling worlds of New York and San Francisco. The settings in these latter stories are the common anomie inducing fixtures of our globalized world—the airport and the cafe.   ‘Monsoon Rains’ begins with the rains lashing Lahore, and Masud Sheikh waiting for Nasima, the Christian sweeper woman, with whom he is having an affair. The rain forms a motif to his every emotion, as they torment and taunt him, when he leaves in search of her in the city’s flooded streets. When Masud does find out about her husband, he is startled but only momentarily. This is a story of how our own emotions play deceitful games with us. Nasima’s husband knows of her affair but it seems he is a conspirator too, in this charade.   Masud in turn hates himself for his desire but knows he cannot ...


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