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No Story Comes to an End


Rakhshanda Jalil

BASTI
By Intizar Hussain
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2007, pp. 254, Rs. 345.00

VOLUME XXXII NUMBER 5 May 2008

Turning and turning in the widening gyre The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere The ceremony of innocence is drowned; The best lack all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity.   Re-reading Basti (meaning ‘settlement’) many years after it was first published, I am reminded yet again of these lines by W. B. Yeats. For, like Yeats’ poignant yearning (‘For surely some revelation is at hand’) in The Second Coming’, this novel too is consumed with a search for signs of revelation (basharat in its Urdu original). And meeting Intizar Husain in his own basti during a recent visit to Lahore I am struck by a singular fact: he looks as much a stranger in a strange land here, in what has been, after all, his new (?) homeland for over five decades, as he does on his frequent visits to India. Perhaps it is partly due to the bemused, somewhat perplexed, look he wears most of the time, a bit like R. K. Lakshman’s Common Man. But it may also be due to his ability to occupy a small corner of the frame, again like the eponymous Common Man, and never the centre stage.   Not given to holding forth on any subject, least of all his own writings, his worldview or his compulsions as a writer, Intizar sahab prefers to be a quiet observer contributing little to the conversation that eddies and flows about him, even when the conversation is about him or his craft as a story teller.   There is no denying, however, that Intizar Husain’s contribution as a story teller is enormous, especially in the genre of partition narratives. If Manto laid bare the ugliness of 1947 and its immediate, brutish aftermath with the urgency of a field surgeon, Intizar Husain probes those wounds ever so gingerly, peeling away layers from old memories to reveal wounds that have still not healed and may never heal, at least not in his lifetime. At least not when fresh wounds are repeatedly inflicted on skin that is still sore and tender.   Basti, written in 1979, is set in 1971 when war clouds are gathering, the new country of Pakistan is no longer fresh and pure and hopeful but soiled and weary and entirely without hope, and news from distant East ...


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