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Narrating A Nation

Abdul Naseeb Khan

Edited by Intizar Hussain and Asif Farrukhi. Translated from Urdu by M. Asaduddin
Sahitya Akademi, Delhi, 2003, pp. xix 334, Rs. 150.00


As a distinct literary form,the Urdu short story is of comparatively recent origin. But it has left its indelible mark on the literary map of Urdu literature and has now become a primary vehicle of literary expression. Though there were practitioners of the genre before him, it was really Premchand  who created invigorating conditions for it to find its place as an independent genre. After Premchand, those who made notable contributions to this literary form are: Krishan Chander, Saadat Hasan Manto, Rajender Singh Bedi, Ismat Chughtai, Intizar Hussain and Ahmed Nadeem Qasimi among others. Their stories grapple with contemporary issues, depict cultural and psychological truth and explore newer dimensions of reality and deeper recesses of human relationships.      The book under review contains thirty-four stories in English translation, twenty-three of them written originally in Urdu and eleven stories from the regional languages—Sindhi, Punjabi, Saraiki, Pushto and Balochi of Pakistan. The stories, written after Independence, “chronicle”, as the blurb reads, “the birth of the Pakistani nation in traumatic circumstances and its chequered history over the past fifty years, through depicting the “desire and aspirations, fear and horror, pride, shame, hopelessness and a thousand unnamed feelings of their protagonists.” On display here is also the entire gamut of narrative modes—from the traditional realist mode through the impressionist, the symbolic, the stream of consciousness to the postmodernist self-reflexive modes, indicating the formal sophistication that this genre has achieved in Pakistan. As the volume endeavours to narrate the Pakistani nation in the fictional spaces offered by a wide range of gripping narratives, in addition to lovers of literature it will be of equal interest to historians, sociologists and ethnographers as well.      The collection appropriately begins with ‘Open It’, by Saadat Hasan Manto, the irrepressible and pitiless chronicler of Partition. The story can be read as symbolic of the birth pangs of the new nation of Pakistan, and offers a striking example of Manto’s uninhibited realism, economy of narration, and masterful deployment of irony.   Without obviously striking a sinister note, the narrator obliquely hints that some catastrophe has struck the world as well as Sakina – the seventeen years old girl who is separated from her father during the catastrophic journey, while migrating from India to Pakistan.  Her father Sirajuddin, flung into a baffling environment, meets eight volunteers during his search for his daughter and implores them to trace her.   She is, one ...

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