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Storyteller with a Difference

Nishat Zaidi

By Naiyer Masud. Translated from the Urdu by Muhammad Umar Memon
Penguin Books, Delhi, 2006, pp. viii 243, Rs. 250.00

VOLUME XXXI NUMBER 10 October 2007

Naiyer Masud is a great scholar of Persian and has three collections of short stories to his credit which include Seemiya, Itre Kaafoor and Taa’uus Chaman ki Mayna. A two-time winner of the Katha Award (1993 and 1997) for his stories ‘Ray Khandan ke Asar’ and ‘Sheesha Ghat’ and the winner of the Presidential Certificate of Honour (1997) for his ‘outstanding contribution to Persian’, Masud is not a very prolific writer by his own admission, (he has written only twenty-two short-stories in twenty-five years). He has, however, made a mark as an intense storyteller with a difference. Urdu short story, unlike other genres of the language, such as ghazal, marsia and nazm, has not been able to gather inspiration from the literary traditions of source languages, Persian and Arabic, and therefore has lagged behind despite occasional drops of excellence from writers like Saadat Hasan Manto and Ismat Chughtai. Naiyer Masud is a writer who has gone beyond the conventional styles of story telling in Urdu and seems to invoke Kafka (whom he has translated), Marquez and Borges on the one hand and the tradition of Dastan and Arabian Nights on the other.   It is in this context that the present volume Snake Catcher is more than an attention catcher. It is a reiteration of faith by Naiyer Masud’s enthusiastic reader and translator Muhammad Umar Memon. Lack of good translators has been a major impediment that has kept Urdu short story from gaining international recognition and Muhammad Umar Memon has been a life-time crusader in this regard. He has translated and edited several volumes of Urdu short stories. He was the first to translate and publish Naiyer Masud in his journal The Annual of Urdu Studies and this is his second collection of the translation of Naiyer Masud’s stories. Eleven stories in the present collection, taken from all the three anthologies of Naiyer Masud, also include some of those published in various literary journals. While ‘Nusrat’ is the author’s first published story (Shabkhoon, 1971), ‘Allam Aur Beta’ is the latest published in quarterly Aaj in 2001. Thus, covering a span of thirty years of Naiyer Masud’s literary output, these stories provide readers a good overview of the range that Masud’s works offer.   As one enters the fictional world of Naiyer Masud, one feels lost in the maze of somber dreamlike surreal world where characters and places are mostly nameless, speeches ...

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