Punishment At Every Step: Urdu short stories from J&K

Book; Qadam Qadam Tazeer: Urdu Afsaney (Awaiting Punishment at Every Step - Urdu)
Author: Maqbool Sahil
Distributor: Meezan Publishers, Srinagar, Kashmir
Year of Publication: 2012
Pages: 308                                                           
Price: Rs 375

The genesis of the Kashmir Dispute goes back to the partition of the Subcontinent which resulted in the independence of India and creation of Pakistan in 1947. Since then the conflict has an overwhelming impact on the lives of the inhabitants of disputed territory of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K). The tussle among those who support  maintaining the status quo and those who want a change has been a decisive feature of this conflict. This tussle has witnessed many phases and in future too it will continue to define the character of the resistance and political struggle of J&K.

The dispute though being political in nature but its impact on life,  particularly on literature, cannot be sidelined. It is also a fact that the people’s narrative and history hasn’t been yet penned down, neither the influence of the dispute on life and its various dimensions has been recorded. No professional historian has taken the burden of writing in black and white about the history of Kashmir, and there has been no poet who could voice the concerns of the bruised souls. There are writers who have been expressing people’s agony through verses, but they remain confined to local languages and lack the vibrant mechanism of translation. Hence they fail to reach out to the wider audiences.

The present collection of Urdu short stories by the seasoned journalist, author and poet Maqbool Sahil, tries to relate the miseries, problems, agonies, concerns and issues of people through fictional stories. All these stories seem to be inspired by real life events and political tinge and the impact of the conflict on common lives have been depicted judiciously by Sahil. These short stories though belong to the fictional genre but we can term them as “Factual Fiction” because it has been inspired by real life events and the impact of conflict is evident in every line of these stories.

In his foreword, the noted short story writer, Noor Shah states that “These stories have been written behind the bars. They contain and depict the agony and pain of Kashmiris. Sahil being a poet too adds to his credentials as a short story writer”. Shah surmises that “In future Sahil’s pen will deliver much more powerful, enchanting and diverse stories”.

Noted journalist of Kashmir, Shujaat Bukhari states that “Kashmiris have contributed a little to the short story genre of Urdu or even Kashmiri language, but now new people are using this genre to express themselves”. He  delves into the history and habit of short story, both in Urdu and Kashmiri languages. Bukhari further writes that “These stories depict the change around the author, but the political changes and its impact on Kashmiris haven’t been yet depicted in the genre of short stories… and Sahil tries to do the same”.

In his introduction to the collection, Maqbool Sahil brings out the difference between a short story writer and a common man. Both are affected by the surroundings but a writer tries to capture, depict and address the changes. While depicting the qualities of a short story writer, Sahil writes, “One must always stand for truth and a writer must be a mirror of his society. One should only expect truth from a mirror… No expectations or hopes must be adhered to a writer… nor should he be treated as a spokesperson of a whole community.

….Also people must help a writer to be a writer only, not a person from whom Fatwas of Morality can be expected”.

These words resonate the immortal words uttered by the famous short story writer of Urdu Saadat Hussain Manto when he was asked in the court about his stories being pornographic and depicting immorality. He replied that “I write and depict what I witness in society”. The court had to acquit him. Sahil appears to be Manto incarnated in his stories though there are very few depictions of intimate physical or illicit relations in his stories.

This collection contains 20 stories of Sahil and each story is woven around a particular theme. They range from political contours of Kashmir conflict, killings, unmarked graves, conditions of the families of victims of violence, widows, orphans, militants, military and violence which are evident from every word of the stories. Then there are few general stories too where the relationships and emotional expressions of love, hate and jealously are expressed quite lucidly with economical use of prose. Sahil also being a poet and it is generally a norm with poets that they depict the feelings of love and relationships among couples. So Sahil too depicts the same in few of the stories. Then there are stories that are metaphorical, allegorical and transcendental in character. A few can be noted as biographical. Also in some stories, those who have read previous books of Sahil can find the influence of previously related actual incidents too.

The way in which the ongoing Kashmiri conflict has been depicted in the stories and its various dimensions on the lives of common people, is what keeps the reader glued to these stories. Add to it the fact that these miseries and problems of the common people can in no way find space even if a factual objective history of the dispute is written. This is where the role of writers like Sahil becomes more important in recording and writing about the various facets of lives of voiceless people, who bear the brunt in any conflict but whose contribution remains unaccounted and unrecorded.

Sahil has rendered a yeoman service by making the lives of these voiceless people the plots of his stories.

Overall, the book is a welcome addition to the Factual Fiction literature on the contemporary conflict of Kashmir. Sahil must be congratulated and appreciated for his efforts as he is among the rare writers of his generation who have made conflict and its victims a subject of their stories.

This book is a new addition to the conflict literature, and it needs to be translated into English to make its reach wider. I hope in future we will have more such stories delivered from the pen of Sahil.

M.H.A. Sikander is Writer-Activist based in Srinagar, Kashmir
and can be reached at