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Human Narratives

M. Asaduddin

By Ikramullah . Translated from the Urdu by Faruq Hasan and Muhammad Umar Memon
Penguin Books, New Delhi, India, 2015, pp. 264, Rs. 299.00


As one opens this book showcasing two novellas from Pakistan and flips through the first few pages of each, one has no doubt that this is first rate writing from South Asia. A couple of years ago, Salman Rushdie had bemoaned the paucity of writing from the Indian subcontinent in good English translation. If he goes through these two Urdu novellas in English translation, he will have no such qualms. Without doubt these are the finest specimens of Urdu fiction in the best of translations. Ikramullah is the kind of writer who wants to hone his art away from the public gaze. A recluse by nature, he shuns publicity and public accolade to such an extent that it would make him open to charges of arrogance and unsociability. Yet it is a relief to know that there are writers who do not consider it obligatory to play to the gallery or peddle their books to prospective buyers after having written them, and who can afford to remain supremely indifferent to the demands of the marketplace. I first encountered Ikramullah in English translation in the pages of the Annual of Urdu Studies published from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, USA. Ably edited by Muhammad Umar Memon this journal has, over the years, consistently published Urdu writings in competent and good English translation. Many readers had their first encounter with writers like Intizar Hussain and Naiyer Masud, two of the finest practitioners of contemporary Urdu prose, in the pages of this journal or the Journal of South Asian Literature, in Memon’s excellent translations that helped them achieve global visibility. Though Ikramullah has achieved considerable finesse and virtuosity in his art of storytelling over the years, his style has remained the same—unhurried, ironic, looking at the vast panorama of life and recording it in a wry, sardonic tone, reminding us of the wise adage that the most civilized way of dealing with sadness and sorrow is to be ironical. Regret (Pashemaani in Urdu), the first novella, looks at the relationship between two friends, Ehsaan and Sayeed, through many vicissitudes of life that take in its fold carefree days of their school life together, their aimless wandering around Company Bagh, Ehsaan’s hopeless and unrequited love for a gypsy girl, episodes from the Bengal famine, accounts of the Second World War through the exploits of General Rommel, the fate of soldiers caught ...

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