Guest Post by Arun Kumar
Arun Kumar is a Software professional with an unbridled passion for the world of cinema and books. He believes in an enriching film culture – from watching great cinema to engaging with its connoisseurs. Currently, he blogs at Passion for Movies and Passion for Books.
“These exalted humans are really something, she thought, when they don’t believe in God they even consider the very word ‘God’ to be false, but when they do come around to believing, they begin to see divinity even in the threshold beneath the feet of saints.”
Urdu novelist Khadija Mastur’s The Women’s Courtyard (originally published in 1962 under the title ‘Aangan’ and succinctly translated to English by Daisy Rockwell in 2018) is set in the backdrop of the final stages of the Indian Independence movement. But this isn’t a narrative that offers a familiar retelling of the political uprisings to break free from the British Raj or provides an account of the communally charged politics that lead to the trauma of Partition. That also doesn’t mean Khadija’s poignant literary creation is apolitical. The novel rather speaks of how a society that demands freedom from its colonizers is firmly bound to the rigid codes of class hierarchy and patriarchy.
The Women’s Courtyard, as its title suggests, revolves around ordinary Muslim women, confined to their house’s inner courtyard. They are largely cut off from the outside world and deeply embroiled in the narrow-minded cultural practices. Aliya, the young protagonist of the novel, dreams of breaking away from the chains of domesticity. She identifies the traditional romantic legends as the means to dis-empower women. Her skepticism about love is aroused after the suicides of her elder sister Tehmina and her best friend, Kusum, whose lives are overturned by the traditional narrative of romantic bliss. Aliya’s father and uncle are swept up under the ideological storm and the politics of freedom struggle so that they only exhibit aloofness when it comes to dealing with their family’s economic ruin.
Crisp, clear and courageous is one way to describe Ismat Chughtai’s writing. Penguin Evergreens have brought out a collection of short stories by her in a slim volume titled: The Quilt: Stories by Ismat Chughtai. A member of the Progressive Writers’ Movement, Ismat was a bold Urdu writer whose stories were often a frank examination of women’s issues along with many several other topics such as Partition and the fight for independence. This collection includes a good range of her stories showing her deft writing skills and her eye for emotional detail. Much can be lost in translation but that will not deprive the reader from enjoying these short stories. The title story very cleverly implies and hints at homo eroticism. Quit India is surprisingly not the run of the mill story about freedom struggle but quite a sensitive portrayal of an Englishman in India and how he finally quits India. Here she uses that very slogan quite wittily to show the English soldier in a different light. The Mole and The Homemaker explore female sexuality. Mother-in-law shows the much stereotypes saas with all her whims and fancies sans the evil tag. Roots deals with the sad ache of Partition and how it tore apart communities.
With a collection of 10 interesting stories, this book is quite a good way to get a quick introduction to Chughtai’s work and gauge the vast range of the topics she dealt with. Its a quick and thoughtful read; one that will take you on a ride from the nightmarish fright of a child under the quilt to the frustrated and deranged painterly efforts of Choudhry; from the bylanes of the then Bombay to all across the seas to England. While on that journey, you can if you pay enough attention, just get a subtle glimpse of the orthodoxies that run women’s lives, of the pain, struggle and love of ordinary people.
To explore further,click here to check this useful website dedicated to her works.
No other person in Indian English literature is as closely associated and identified with the Partition as Sadat Hasan Manto. He has to his credits a novel, radio plays, essays, film scripts but he is synonymous with the Partition short stories he penned.
Penguin Books has recently come out with a collection of cheaply priced books-Penguin Evergreens. The few books in this collection are mostly (not necessarily) short stories by numerous Indian authors. It also includes stories by Manto . The collection is titled-‘Toba Tek Singh: Stories by Sadat Hasan Manto, Translation by Khalid Hasan.’ It is quite commendable that Penguin has come out with easily affordable collection of short stories by renowned authors. This will hopefully make the Indian readers take up short stories by Indian writers.
There is a good variety of stories in this collection and are not confined only to the Partition. They deal with many subjects-Partition being one of them, human nature being another subject etc. His most famous stories like Toba Tek Singh, Colder Then Ice, The Dog Of Titwal etc., are included in this collection. Others may not be well known but are equally well written and give a startling glimpse into tender human moments or into the twisted human mind. The great advantage of short stories is that it can capture the boldest, the most essential and deliver it with a bang in a few words which immediately hits the reader. This advantage Manto exploited thoroughly to make his point to the readers. Toba Tek Singh is a brilliant example of how Manto comments on the issues of nationality and the futility of constructing them arbitrarily. Odour captures Randhir’s wistful reminiscences of a girl he met on a rainy day and how the peculiar odour she exuded completely enchanted him and how he searches for that in his bride. The Gift borders on the comic as it narrates the story of Shankar and how he cleverly dupes two prostitutes by giving them gifts that belonged to each other. Bitter Harvest is a poignant story of the manner in which hatred and violence can consume the best of friends leaving only animals raging with vengeance. A Woman For All Seasons is about the vagaries of fame and fate from the point of view of an actress. There are in all fifteen stories that will surely give you a fleeting glimpse of a range of societal mores and characters. These stories depict how Manto wrote about all subjects, all sorts of people-whether the hight, middle, low class etc. There shines an honesty and an ache for humanity in his stories. His approach to writing his not selective as he wrote about everything under the sun be it taboo subjects like sex, prostitution or sensitive topics like the Partition.
This Penguin Evergreen is sure to delight everyone. What may not be delightful is the simplistic translation by Khalid Hasan. It is too banal and often fails to capture the mood and feel of the story with the same bitterness that Manto suffuses them with. The only stories that felt like a good translation were Odour and The Dog Of Titwal. Others had something or the other lacking in them. They didn’t make you sit up and feel shocked. They somehow lulled you into numbness which is not a reaction to be elicited when reading a Manto story. The latter always makes you think and imposes on you a new idea, a new viewpoint that you are compelled to ponder over. This translation fails to do that. The reader will only be able to take a momentary pleasure from them and not a sustained, lingering and fresh perspective. I don’t have any other recommendations to read other translations as I have forgotten the translators’ names of whatever few stories I have read in different collections. Recently in 2012 a collection, ‘Manto: Selected Short Stories’ was released and it is translated by Aatish Taseer. How good it is is yet to be ascertained. But it is worth giving it a shot.
Despite the translation flaws in ‘Toba Tek Singh: Stories by Sadat Hasan Manto’, it is worth picking it up (and not just because it’s cheap) as it will acquaint any reader with some of Manto’s works and his style of writing. Hopefully, this book will generate more interest in Manto’s writings.
Try and remember the feeling you get when you touch or see a family heirloom, smile at at old, mildewed photos of one’s ancestors, open an antique cupboard stocked with old, hardbound books or turn the fragile yellowing pages of those books.
These actions unleash a sense of a bygone era, preserved so remarkably that you can feel it coursing through your very veins by the most mundane of actions like brushing your fingers through your great grandmother’s necklace or running your fingers on the spine of an old book of poetry. For many people, the past is living with them through people or through certain artifacts. For others, it is completely dead and thus doesn’t matter. It represents different things for different people:pleasure, nostalgia,joy, passion,charm,love,heartache,anger,resentment,hatred…the list is exhaustive.
For Attia Hosain,it was meant to be remembered and written about. Her only novel, Sunlight On A Broken Column celebrates the past – a harmonious and elite life in an undivided India. The novel elaborately describes a past which Attia has lived in and talks about the changes that her particular lifestyle experienced. The story reveals the ways of a bygone world which she lived in and through the written word, Attia has managed to preserve it and let the future generation know about it.
Ever wondered how a child reacts to violence? What are the effects of cruelty, brutality on a child’s mind? His/her psyche? How it scars them? What they think of it ? How they interpret it? Ok..now you must be wondering why I am babbling child psychology cum emotional talk in a book review blog. But don’t worry I intend to write a book review only which will partially answer a few of those above seemingly unrelated questions. So what’s the book? Is it a psychology book? Or a EQ book?
Taken from mouthshut.com
Definitely NOT! Its a fictional novel produced by an astonishingly talented writer. The book’s name is ‘Ice-Candy Man‘ or ‘Cracking India’ written by Bapsi Sidhwa.
Partition was a big blot on Indian history. A lot of books were written during that time that were devoted to the sentiments, pain and grief of the common people. While most Partition literature prominently deals with adult perspectives, ‘Ice Candy Man‘ provides a rare child’s perspective of the Partition. Of course, this perspective is more or less colored by Sidhwa’s adult perspectives and ruminations too but nevertheless the book is essentially from a child’s point of view.
In a nutshell, ‘Ice Candy Man‘ is narrated by a Parsi girl, Lenny Sethi, living in Lahore. She has polio and an Ayah-Shanti-looks after her. Shanti is an attractive female constantly surrounded by a medley of male admirers who are mostly employed in Lenny’s house. Lenny learns about the news of the division, the spread of hatred as they unfold through the events she herself witnesses or hears from adults. But mostly Partition is represented or personified with Ayah’s life. How Partition, how one person’s love for her ruins her life to a large extent is a metaphor for how things turned from bad to worse, how religion got entangled with love during the Partition. Sidhwa has cleverly represented Ayah as the complex inter-cultural and inter religious background of Lahore in the pre-Partition days. Lenny’s thoughts not only reflect her childlike, sometimes confused, innocent perceptions but also depict Partition in a different light. Its gruesomeness is heightened when a child describes it. It seems even more mindless, awful and unnecessary.
Sidhwa’s style of writing can be difficult to digest as it seems desultory, jumping from one topic to another, one time frame to another in a flash. It can appear unconnected and difficult to keep track of but perhaps through this style, she is trying to portray a child’s mind and how rapidly it jumps from one interesting aspect to another. The randomness of children and their short attention span is marvelously portrayed in their writing style.
‘Ice Candy Man‘ is worth reading. it may be hard to find as it was first published in 1988. But one can easily get it online and if one searches diligently, one is bound to find one copy in some well managed library.
One word that can best describe ‘The Shadow Lines‘ by Amitav Ghosh is-Nostalgia. The opening lines set the tone of the book. It seems less of a novel and more of an elaborate anecdote from a family’s history. Its narration is very lifelike. The reader feels as if the events in the book are being narrated right there orally by an actual person. The book has an old world charm to it and seems authentic.
‘The Shadow Lines‘ is set in Calcutta and takes one to places like Dhaka, Delhi, London etc. The narrator recalls the events of his life. He recalls Tridib, Ila, his parents, his grandparents. These recollections focus on 1 single event that possibly marred his life. These recollections seem random and purposeless but that is not so. The end of the book is when these recollections start making sense and the reader understands why the narrator is talking about them. The nostalgia that the book evokes is incomparable to anything I have read. It has a curious sense of history, a tender love for the past and all things familiar in childhood and the good old days. The writing is simple, descriptive and beautiful.
The only con noticeable is the difficulty of establishing a chronology. The narrator jumps from one event happening in the present to another that happened 10 years ago to another that happened about 2 or 3 years ago. There are extracts from different time periods and about different people which can be difficult to piece together.
Other than that, ‘The Shadow Lines‘ is a good book suffused with nostalgia.