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Published in the 16-29 Feb 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Book Review
Literature Defies L.O.C.
By A Naseeb Khan

Short Stories from Pakistan
edited by Intizar Husain & Asif Farrukhi
translated from Urdu By M. Asaduddin
New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 2003 
Pages: xix+334
Price: Rs 150.00

As a distinct literary form, Urdu short story is of comparatively recent origin. It was Prem Chand who created, with his consummate skill, invigorating conditions for it to assert its place as an independent genre. He imparted it compactness, exactitude and set up a natural and realistic tradition. After Premchand, those who made most notable contribution to this form of art are: Krishan Chander. Saadat Hasan Manto, Rajendar Singh Bedi, Ismat Chughtai, Ahmed Nadeem Qasimi and so on. Their stories give a comprehensive insight into contemporary issues; explore cultural and psychological truth; expose the interplay of social and political forces which threaten to tear apart the well woven fabric of life.

Short Stories From Pakistan: As for translation, M. Asaduddin's translation of a substantial collection of Urdu short stories tilted Pakistani Kahaniyan (edited by Intizar Hussain and Asif Farrukhi)-contains thirty four stories in all, including eleven stories from regional languages-Sindhi, Punjabi, Saraiki, Pushto and Balochi. The stories, written after independence, "chronicles", as the blurb of the collection 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."

As for translation, M. Asaduddin's translation of a substantial collection of Urdu short stories tilted Pakistani Kahaniyan (edited by Intizar Hussain and Asif Farrukhi)-contains thirty four stories in all, including eleven stories from regional languages-Sindhi, Punjabi, Saraiki, Pushto and Balochi. The stories, written after independence, "chronicles", as the blurb of the collection reads, "the birth of the Pakistani nation in a traumatic circumstances.

The collection begins with "Open it", a striking example of Manto's uninhibited realism, economy of narration, precision irony and sarcasm, indicates topsyturvydom following partition of the country, communal riot, orgies of volunteers and so on. Without obviously striking a sinister note, Manto hints that some catastrophe has struck the world as well as Sakina- the seventeen years old girl who is separated from her father during 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, implores them to trace her. She is, one day, carried to the doctor's camp from near railway line where she was lying unconscious. She was subjected to successive rape by the volunteers belonging, ironically enough, to her own community. The oft-repeated rape forces her to be so attuned to the phrase 'open it' that she unties her waistband on hearing the doctor say 'open it' (meaning open the window). The end presents the image of the death of essential good adroitly combined with the hope that courses though Sirajudeen's veins, who shouts, ' my daughter is alive'.

'Open It' (Manto), 'Bhagwan Das Darkhan' (Shaukat Siddiqi), 'Bhag Bhari' (Hajira Masroor), 'Soul Weary' (Bano Qudsiya), 'The Thirty-fourth Door' (Naseem Kharal) 'The Crooked- Footed Witch' (Afzal Ahmad Randhawa) are linked with one another in a sense that they expose ruthless violence against women. Shireen in 'Bhagwan Das Darkhan' is given into marriage as a punishment for the murder committed by men, to 'a grey-haired old man, with two wives, and a chronic patient of asthma, who subjects her to all kinds of torture and insult throughout the first night and shoos her away from his home. He never meets her nor does he divorce her. She loses her mental balance. Someone makes her the target of the sexual lust even in her tattered state. Her miserably pathetic condition abets her father to pierce the dagger. Bhag Bhari in the story 'Bhag Bhari' is subjected to rape. Though her blue tehmad has turned crimson with bloodstains, she is hushed into silence by the lady of the house. Hajira in 'Soul-Weary' is given into marriage to an abnormal and invalid man whose father establishes relationship with her in the name of the perpetuation of the race. 

Ahmad Nadeem Qasimi, acutely alive and aware, desirous of social regeneration, expresses his deep involvement with the social and moral problems. His story 'The Desert' included herein is a rich and acute observation of life and people of a closed and isolated village untouched by urban life, until the railway tracks are laid there. It deals with the social change—upward mobility of agricultural labourers effected by the extension of colonial economy with industrialization and urbanization; gradual separation from outmoded traditions and illogically ordered belief in the institution of Pirhood and magical power of amulets. Those who resist the change and are against the continuity between rural and urban social structure cherish the values favoured by feudalism and exploitative institution of Pirhood.

Written in candidly genial and delightful humour Ashfaq Ahmad's 'Gatto' reveals exploitative nature of officials. It presents a sort of colonial situation through the relationship between the officer and lower sub-ordinate, who is forced to deprive his son of his happiness, as he gives his son's loved gatto (cat) to his boss's wife—not to curry the favour but to shield himself against losing the job. The son's fierce grappling with the boss's wife for his cat stands for impotent and suppressed supra consciousness of his father to pluck our unscrupulously constructed official and social ostracism. 

'Siberia', by Salimur Rahman, almost a comic description of a poor clerk who also works as a part-timer, depicts his introspection—fear of the ghastly bleak future, inexorable fate of a poor man, starvation and miserable death, with underlying sarcasm at the dilapidating state of the country, social and economic inequality and subtle satire on human nature. It also has the thematic analogy with 'City Grown on a Flower' (Rasheed Amjad), and 'The Boat' (Intizar Husain), for they present unexpected depth of human desolation; contingency, vision of sordidness and meaninglessness of human existence; nihilistic future, pointlessness, absence of meaningful patterns of life, fear of annihilation, man's bewilderment in the contingent world and so on. The population of human race in both stories 'City Grown on a Flower Pot' and 'The Boat' is reduced to some helpless men crippled by social system ruthlessly indifferent to the neglected, and inscrutable human fate respectively. The grave diggers in 'City Grown on a Flower Pot', awaiting a dead body, witness erosive death on one another's face.
'History's Shroud' (Amar Jaleel) and 'The Day of Judgement' (Ghaus Bahar), the last strory of the collection, are caustic satire on human nature, shallowness, falsity and emptiness of their behaviour in practical life. 

Asaduddin 'adopts the very soul of the writers,' gives the stories the same force and effect in the target language and makes his version a true work of art approachable and cordial to every reader. He processes individual words, recognizes them in terms of their perspectives and captures the compression and pointedness of the narration along with the writers' relationship with their subject-matters. For getting across symbolical, and metaphorical social and cultural meanings he borrows lexical items from the source language and incorporates them with such ingenuity that they are not at all jarring nor do they hamper the readability.

At the same time linguistic study of his version reveals the problems he has encountered. Very true, stories like "Fitters of Time" (Mumtaz Mufti), "Matarani" (Ikramullah) and "Honour" (Jamal Abro) abound in such expressions as defy adequate transference. Still except for sundry exceptions of inadequate transference and omission, he renders them competently. The core meanings and focus are not impoverished.

Every text has a certain feature. Sometimes the translated text loses it, not because of the inadequate translation but because of its peculiarities. Such an instance is found in Ashfaq Ahmad's Gatto'. The writer uses English words in the story for exposing the snobbery and affectations of a character but the effect of the humour is lost in the translated text. On the whole, Asaduddin competently deals with the 'three dichotomies—the source language and target language culture, programmar, lexicon and personalities of two writers. Since translation to him seems to be a primary creative act and a natural endeavour, the stories find original characteristics—ease, style, flow and complete transcript in his translation. 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. 
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