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Of Senseless Upheavals and Lost Identities

Baran Rehman

By Intizar Hussain Translated from the Urdu by Moazzam Sheikh
Katha, Delhi, 2004, pp. 232, Rs. 250.00


Seventeen of Intizar Husain’s short stories have been translated from the Urdu into English by Moazzam Sheikh. One story in the volume ‘Clouds’ has been translated by M. Asaduddin, whereas another ‘The Account of a Senseless Upheaval’ has Elizabeth Bell collaborating with Sheikh as translator. In the world of Urdu fiction, Intizar Husain (b. 1925) is a name which needs no introduction. Many would acclaim him as the greatest Urdu short story writer of the second half of the 20th century. Husain was born in Dibai, a small town in Uttar Pradesh. As Husain grew up, his sensibilities developed in tune with the euphoria of a nation state aspiring to come into existence. He probably never contemplated that his home town or home state would ever become alien to him. His earliest literary ambition was to become a critic of Urdu literature. Caught in the snare of time, Husain migrated to Pakistan in late 1947 and settled in Lahore.   As with most writers of his generation, Husain’s early youth was influenced by the Progressive Writers’ Movement. Premchand was the towering literary figure of the times and the Urdu short story was coming into its own as an instrument of protest, reform and redress. Premchand’s vigorous voice blended well with the emergent symphony of nationalism of the times. Had the Partition not happened, Husain may have stuck to his earlier decision to become a critic. The stark brutality and the senselessness of the events of 1947 all but paralysed Husain’s critical aspirations. He was forced to question himself again and again about the implications of such a dire turn of events. Mohammad Umar Memon, probably the first translator of Husain says in this context: He [Husain] did not pose the question as a Muslim, but neither did he pose it as a Hindu. And certainly not in political terms. He posed the question in anthropological terms. In the sobering aftermath, his mind was made up. Creative writing, not criticism, offered the only possible way to deal with the Partition.   Moazzam Sheikh, the translator-editor of the current volume describes Husain’s “essential” experience as the experience of hijrat (migration). The themes that emerge as the natural outcome of this experience are the themes of reclamation of memory, “erosion of identity” and “loss of selfhood”. Though Sheikh refers to hijrat as the governing experience of Husain’s creative ambit, his probing of ...

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