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The Penguin Book of Classic Urdu Stories
The Penguin Book of Classic Urdu Stories
Description
From the Jacket

Though barely a hundred years old, the Urdu short story, or ‘afsana’, has established itself at the forefront of Urdu literature. Emerging as a discrete narrative genre with Munshi Premchand, it gained momentum with the Progressive Writers’ Movement in the 1930s. The partition of the subcontinent in 1947 introduced new dynamics into the genre as writers grappled with emerging trends of modernism and symbolism as well as with a depleted readership in India and the challenge of establishing a new literary tradition commensurate with a new nationhood in Pakistan

The Penguin Book of Classic Urdu Stories brings together sixteen memorable tales that have influenced generations of readers. From Saadat Hasan Manto’s immortal partition narrative ‘Toba Tek Singh’ and the harrowing realism of Premchand’s ‘The Shroud’ to the whimsical strains of Qurratulain Hyder’s ‘Confessions of St Flora of Georgia’ and the daring experimentation of Khalida Husain’s ‘Millipede’, this definitive collection represents the best of short fiction in Urdu. In the process, it provides a glimpse of the works of acclaimed masters on both sides of the border - Ismat Chughtai and Ashfaq Ahmad, Rajinder Singh Bedi and Hasan Manzar, Naiyer Masud and Ikramullah.

M. Asaduddin teaches in the Department of English and Modern European languages, Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi, and writes on literature, culture and the experience of living in a multilingual and multi-religious society. His articles and reviews appear regularly in Indian Literature, The Book Review, The Hindu Literary Review and The Annual of Urdu Studies (University of Wisconsin, Madison, USA). Among his recently published books are Lifting the Veil: Selected Writings of Ismat Chughtai (Penguin Books, 2001), For Freedom’s Sake: Stories and Sketches of Saadat Hasan Manto (OUP, 2001) and (with Mushirul Hasan) Image and Representation: Stories of Muslim Lives in India (OUP, 2000). A distinguished translator in several languages, he has received, among other awards and citations, the Sahitya Akademi Prize and the ‘Dr. A.K. Ramanujan Award for translation. In the summer of 2001 he was a Translator in Residence at the British Centre for Literary Translation and lectured at the universities of East Anglia, Cambridge and Warwick.

Introduction

The Urdu short story, the youngest fictional genre in Urdu literature, is barely a century old. Hence it may sound incongruous if one applies the word ‘classic’ for it in the sense of antiquity. But within this short period of time it has made remarkable strides, and has established itself as a significant, if not primary or representative, vehicle of expression in Urdu literature. In many ways this ‘minor’ genre in Urdu has played the role usually assigned to the ‘major’ genre (the novel) in fictional literature. The near absence of a significant novel in Urdu during several decades of the twentieth century propelled the short story to centre stage where it successfully engaged with issues of colonial modernity and the emergent concept of nationhood In the context of this volume, ‘classic’ has been used to indicate enduring quality, that is, literary works of a certain standard that have drawn generations of readers to them who found them satisfactory in terms of what they expect great literature to be, what may be called its aesthetics, and in terms of engaging with issues and concerns that have both immediate and lasting appeal for the readers. The heritage of the Urdu short story is sufficiently rich to constitute such a tradition. My attempt here is to showcase the best samples of that tradition.

What I intend to do in this “Introduction” is not to give readers a summary of the stories selected, as is usually done in anthologies of this kind, nor is it feasible for me to deal with the entire history of the Urdu short story. What I would like to do, however, is to touch upon some significant moments in the development of this genre to underline broad trends and contours that constitute this tradition. This, I expect, will give the reader a wider context and a perspective in which the stories can be read with greater insight and understanding.

The Urdu short story, or ‘afsana’ (sometimes called ‘mukhtasar afsana’ to distinguish it from longer fictional works), can be seen as a continuity of the fictional tradition that existed in Urdu for several centuries, that is, literature consisting of qissa, hikayah, dastaan, etc., which drew upon the Perso-Arab narrative tradition on the one hand and the Indian tradition of storytelling as one finds in works like The Panchatantra, Hitopadesha and the jataka tales on the other. The short story proper, however, emerged only in the opening decade of the twentieth century, after a fairly long period of India’s colonial encounter with the West. There is no consensus about who wrote the first Urdu afsana. Some give this credit to Allama Rashidul Khairi who wrote ‘Naseer aur Khadeeja’ in 1903, making him the first e Urdu short—story writer. According to another view, the genre and even the word ‘afsana’ owes its origin to Sajjad Hyder Yaldaram who was the first to coin this term for the qissas that were being written at the time, and he then went on to write his first afsana in the journal, Makhzan, Lahore, in 1907. Another pioneer of the Urdu short story was Niyaz Fatehpuri. Sentimentalism, realism and romance mixed freely in the Urdu short stories of the early phase.

However, it was with Premchand (1880+1936) that the short story in Urdu emerged as a discrete narrative genre. He started his, career writing in the older tradition, as illustrated by the first short story written by him, ‘Duniya ka sab se Anmol Ratan’ (1908), but gradually divested the afsana of its excessive preoccupation with the world of fairytale romance, peopled with idealized and stock figures, and gave it the hard and gritty texture of realism. Further, his treatment of rural life and its problems as a potential subject for fiction opened newer possibilities for other writers. In thematic range and complexity, Premchand comes very near to Tagore whom he translated in the beginning of his career. Premchand’s short stories cover nearly a dozen volumes including Prem Pachisi (1914), Prem Battisi (1920), Prem Chalisi (1930), Akhri Tuhfa (1934) and Zad—e—Rah (1936). ‘Kafan’, published in 1935, a year before Premchand died, is justifiably regarded as a classic. It is a story of total dehumanization of human beings,... caused by poverty and privations. Apart from its virtue as a historical document that demystifies the concept of idyllic village life in a pastoral setting and exposes the fault lines of a social system that perpetuated the stark, almost unbearable reality of daily life of the poor in the countryside, it explores the psychological motivations that engender such cynicism in human beings whereby they begin to think that any effort to improve their situation is in vain. One cannot think of any other Indian writer who has been able to create such characters as Ghisu and Madho, and capture the complex mood where the last vestiges of their humanity get. submerged under a bout of frenzied hysteria.

The Progressive Writers’ Movement (the literary wing of the Communist Party of India) in Urdu fiction gained momentum under Sajjad Zaheer (1905-76) , Ahmed Ali (1912-94), Mahmood—ul—Zafar (1908-94) and Rasheed Jahan (l 905-52) . All of them belong to the group known in Urdu literature as the ‘Angare’ group because of the eponymous volume of short stories authored by them. In spite of their modest output they created a stir in the rather staid arena of the Urdu short story, shocking people out of their complacency in matters of conventional morality and patriarchal values. The ten stories in the slender volume, Angare (Embers, 1932), caused an uproar of unprecedented magnitude and the book was quickly banned. Some of the members of the ‘Angare’ group later joined the Progressive Writers’ Movement which, though formed by writers of conflicting attitudes and diverse backgrounds, changed the complexion of Urdu literature in significant ways. With hindsight, the stories in Angare appear to be artistically flawed, but the themes the writers picked up and the way they treated them liberated the Urdu short story from the shackles of hypocritical social values and from inhibitions on matters of sex that had plagued it earlier. Conventional values that governed social and family life were held up for scrutiny and religious and sexual hypocrisy were made the target of biting sarcasm. It is at this stage that there emerged a generation of short—story writers. Rajinder Singh Bedi, Krishan Chander, Ismat Chughtai, Saadat Hasan Manto and Ahmad Nadeem Qasimi, among others-who explored new possibilities for the Urdu short story and radically changed its texture. They drew inspiration from the Russian (Chekhov, Gorky, Gogol) and French masters (Maupassant, Hugo). Sigmund Freud was another decisive influence. Realism was the dominant mode that allowed them to explore various ills affecting the society. If Krishan Chander was influenced by socialist realism and applied it rather dogmatically in a large number of his short stories, Bedi practised what may be termed as psychological realism to delve deeper into the psyche of his characters and their conscious and unconscious motivations. Krishan Chander was a writer in a hurry, churning out volumes of formulaic narratives in unending succession, which prompted Bedi to remark, “If he could also tell a story!’ But the stories where he manages to wed his ideology to mature artistic finesse, as in ‘Kalu Bhangi’, the result is nothing short of spectacular. Bedi’s forte lies in portraying life in its everydayness, encompassing myths, rituals and the racial unconscious of the community. Manto delved deep into the lives of the marginalized sections of society such as prostitutes, pimps, outcastes, criminals and sinners of all hue. He shows us that Man, even at his most brutal and barbaric moments, cannot forget some basic tenets of humanity. Ismat Chughtai brought into the ambit of Urdu short story the forbidden terrains of female sexuality. All these writers operated within the broad framework of realism. The message was more important to them than the medium, the content more important than the form. Structurally too they were quite simple, following a linear development of the story and a sequential plot. Barring a few tentative attempts towards adopting the strategies of the stream-of— consciousness technique, we do not find any tendency towards radical experimentation in form.

Though progressivism was the general trend of the time, the writers associated with the movement at some point or the other showed great variety in their artistic preoccupations and their degree of commitment to the tenets of the PWM. In the late 1930s and 1940s, there was hardly any Urdu writer of any worth who could escape the impact of progressivism which swept the writers off their r feet with the force of a hurricane. Some of them like Ismat Chughtai and Manto had a problematic, even stormy, relationship with the more dogmatic members of the movement. Though they broadly. Endorsed the view that literature should engage with the problems of daily life, they were not ready to allow this engagement to curb their artistic freedom. The following comment by Rajinder Singh Bedi best illustrates the tenor of this relationship: ‘I took to it at first. I didn’t know until I was told that I was a “Progressive” writer and that the others were also “Progressive” writers. It’s partly true that I was, for I did write about the life of the common people and was truthful about the life I had lived and known. Later, when the movement was struck with a sort of formalism, I realized that Progressive writing was also part of a larger doctrine or ideology which was being propagated through us.’ An interesting account of Ismat Chughtai’s relationship with the PWM is available in her essays, `Progressive Literature and I’, and ‘From Bombay to Bhopal.’

CONTENTS

Introduction xi
The Shroud Premchand 1
Lajwanti Rajinder Singh Bedi 10
Kalu Bhangi Krishan Chander 24
Toba Tek Singh Saadat Hasan Manto 40
The Wedding Suit Ismat Chughtai 48
Anandi Ghulam Abbas 64
The Thal Desert
Ahmad Nadeem Qasimi
80
Confessions of St Flora of Georgia Qurratulain Hyder 93
An Epic Unwritten Intizar Husain 123
The Shepherd Ashfaq Ahmad 145
Millipede Khalida Husain 193
The Cow Enver Sajjad 202
A Requiem for the Earth Hasan Manzar 207
The Scarecrow Surendra Prakash 221
Sheesha Ghat Naiyer Masud 228
The Wind Carried All Away…Ikramullah 247
Notes on Authors 268
Notes on Translators 286
Copyright Acknowledgements 288

The Penguin Book of Classic Urdu Stories

Item Code:
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2006
Publisher:
Penguin Viking
ISBN:
0670999369
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Pages:
313
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From the Jacket

Though barely a hundred years old, the Urdu short story, or ‘afsana’, has established itself at the forefront of Urdu literature. Emerging as a discrete narrative genre with Munshi Premchand, it gained momentum with the Progressive Writers’ Movement in the 1930s. The partition of the subcontinent in 1947 introduced new dynamics into the genre as writers grappled with emerging trends of modernism and symbolism as well as with a depleted readership in India and the challenge of establishing a new literary tradition commensurate with a new nationhood in Pakistan

The Penguin Book of Classic Urdu Stories brings together sixteen memorable tales that have influenced generations of readers. From Saadat Hasan Manto’s immortal partition narrative ‘Toba Tek Singh’ and the harrowing realism of Premchand’s ‘The Shroud’ to the whimsical strains of Qurratulain Hyder’s ‘Confessions of St Flora of Georgia’ and the daring experimentation of Khalida Husain’s ‘Millipede’, this definitive collection represents the best of short fiction in Urdu. In the process, it provides a glimpse of the works of acclaimed masters on both sides of the border - Ismat Chughtai and Ashfaq Ahmad, Rajinder Singh Bedi and Hasan Manzar, Naiyer Masud and Ikramullah.

M. Asaduddin teaches in the Department of English and Modern European languages, Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi, and writes on literature, culture and the experience of living in a multilingual and multi-religious society. His articles and reviews appear regularly in Indian Literature, The Book Review, The Hindu Literary Review and The Annual of Urdu Studies (University of Wisconsin, Madison, USA). Among his recently published books are Lifting the Veil: Selected Writings of Ismat Chughtai (Penguin Books, 2001), For Freedom’s Sake: Stories and Sketches of Saadat Hasan Manto (OUP, 2001) and (with Mushirul Hasan) Image and Representation: Stories of Muslim Lives in India (OUP, 2000). A distinguished translator in several languages, he has received, among other awards and citations, the Sahitya Akademi Prize and the ‘Dr. A.K. Ramanujan Award for translation. In the summer of 2001 he was a Translator in Residence at the British Centre for Literary Translation and lectured at the universities of East Anglia, Cambridge and Warwick.

Introduction

The Urdu short story, the youngest fictional genre in Urdu literature, is barely a century old. Hence it may sound incongruous if one applies the word ‘classic’ for it in the sense of antiquity. But within this short period of time it has made remarkable strides, and has established itself as a significant, if not primary or representative, vehicle of expression in Urdu literature. In many ways this ‘minor’ genre in Urdu has played the role usually assigned to the ‘major’ genre (the novel) in fictional literature. The near absence of a significant novel in Urdu during several decades of the twentieth century propelled the short story to centre stage where it successfully engaged with issues of colonial modernity and the emergent concept of nationhood In the context of this volume, ‘classic’ has been used to indicate enduring quality, that is, literary works of a certain standard that have drawn generations of readers to them who found them satisfactory in terms of what they expect great literature to be, what may be called its aesthetics, and in terms of engaging with issues and concerns that have both immediate and lasting appeal for the readers. The heritage of the Urdu short story is sufficiently rich to constitute such a tradition. My attempt here is to showcase the best samples of that tradition.

What I intend to do in this “Introduction” is not to give readers a summary of the stories selected, as is usually done in anthologies of this kind, nor is it feasible for me to deal with the entire history of the Urdu short story. What I would like to do, however, is to touch upon some significant moments in the development of this genre to underline broad trends and contours that constitute this tradition. This, I expect, will give the reader a wider context and a perspective in which the stories can be read with greater insight and understanding.

The Urdu short story, or ‘afsana’ (sometimes called ‘mukhtasar afsana’ to distinguish it from longer fictional works), can be seen as a continuity of the fictional tradition that existed in Urdu for several centuries, that is, literature consisting of qissa, hikayah, dastaan, etc., which drew upon the Perso-Arab narrative tradition on the one hand and the Indian tradition of storytelling as one finds in works like The Panchatantra, Hitopadesha and the jataka tales on the other. The short story proper, however, emerged only in the opening decade of the twentieth century, after a fairly long period of India’s colonial encounter with the West. There is no consensus about who wrote the first Urdu afsana. Some give this credit to Allama Rashidul Khairi who wrote ‘Naseer aur Khadeeja’ in 1903, making him the first e Urdu short—story writer. According to another view, the genre and even the word ‘afsana’ owes its origin to Sajjad Hyder Yaldaram who was the first to coin this term for the qissas that were being written at the time, and he then went on to write his first afsana in the journal, Makhzan, Lahore, in 1907. Another pioneer of the Urdu short story was Niyaz Fatehpuri. Sentimentalism, realism and romance mixed freely in the Urdu short stories of the early phase.

However, it was with Premchand (1880+1936) that the short story in Urdu emerged as a discrete narrative genre. He started his, career writing in the older tradition, as illustrated by the first short story written by him, ‘Duniya ka sab se Anmol Ratan’ (1908), but gradually divested the afsana of its excessive preoccupation with the world of fairytale romance, peopled with idealized and stock figures, and gave it the hard and gritty texture of realism. Further, his treatment of rural life and its problems as a potential subject for fiction opened newer possibilities for other writers. In thematic range and complexity, Premchand comes very near to Tagore whom he translated in the beginning of his career. Premchand’s short stories cover nearly a dozen volumes including Prem Pachisi (1914), Prem Battisi (1920), Prem Chalisi (1930), Akhri Tuhfa (1934) and Zad—e—Rah (1936). ‘Kafan’, published in 1935, a year before Premchand died, is justifiably regarded as a classic. It is a story of total dehumanization of human beings,... caused by poverty and privations. Apart from its virtue as a historical document that demystifies the concept of idyllic village life in a pastoral setting and exposes the fault lines of a social system that perpetuated the stark, almost unbearable reality of daily life of the poor in the countryside, it explores the psychological motivations that engender such cynicism in human beings whereby they begin to think that any effort to improve their situation is in vain. One cannot think of any other Indian writer who has been able to create such characters as Ghisu and Madho, and capture the complex mood where the last vestiges of their humanity get. submerged under a bout of frenzied hysteria.

The Progressive Writers’ Movement (the literary wing of the Communist Party of India) in Urdu fiction gained momentum under Sajjad Zaheer (1905-76) , Ahmed Ali (1912-94), Mahmood—ul—Zafar (1908-94) and Rasheed Jahan (l 905-52) . All of them belong to the group known in Urdu literature as the ‘Angare’ group because of the eponymous volume of short stories authored by them. In spite of their modest output they created a stir in the rather staid arena of the Urdu short story, shocking people out of their complacency in matters of conventional morality and patriarchal values. The ten stories in the slender volume, Angare (Embers, 1932), caused an uproar of unprecedented magnitude and the book was quickly banned. Some of the members of the ‘Angare’ group later joined the Progressive Writers’ Movement which, though formed by writers of conflicting attitudes and diverse backgrounds, changed the complexion of Urdu literature in significant ways. With hindsight, the stories in Angare appear to be artistically flawed, but the themes the writers picked up and the way they treated them liberated the Urdu short story from the shackles of hypocritical social values and from inhibitions on matters of sex that had plagued it earlier. Conventional values that governed social and family life were held up for scrutiny and religious and sexual hypocrisy were made the target of biting sarcasm. It is at this stage that there emerged a generation of short—story writers. Rajinder Singh Bedi, Krishan Chander, Ismat Chughtai, Saadat Hasan Manto and Ahmad Nadeem Qasimi, among others-who explored new possibilities for the Urdu short story and radically changed its texture. They drew inspiration from the Russian (Chekhov, Gorky, Gogol) and French masters (Maupassant, Hugo). Sigmund Freud was another decisive influence. Realism was the dominant mode that allowed them to explore various ills affecting the society. If Krishan Chander was influenced by socialist realism and applied it rather dogmatically in a large number of his short stories, Bedi practised what may be termed as psychological realism to delve deeper into the psyche of his characters and their conscious and unconscious motivations. Krishan Chander was a writer in a hurry, churning out volumes of formulaic narratives in unending succession, which prompted Bedi to remark, “If he could also tell a story!’ But the stories where he manages to wed his ideology to mature artistic finesse, as in ‘Kalu Bhangi’, the result is nothing short of spectacular. Bedi’s forte lies in portraying life in its everydayness, encompassing myths, rituals and the racial unconscious of the community. Manto delved deep into the lives of the marginalized sections of society such as prostitutes, pimps, outcastes, criminals and sinners of all hue. He shows us that Man, even at his most brutal and barbaric moments, cannot forget some basic tenets of humanity. Ismat Chughtai brought into the ambit of Urdu short story the forbidden terrains of female sexuality. All these writers operated within the broad framework of realism. The message was more important to them than the medium, the content more important than the form. Structurally too they were quite simple, following a linear development of the story and a sequential plot. Barring a few tentative attempts towards adopting the strategies of the stream-of— consciousness technique, we do not find any tendency towards radical experimentation in form.

Though progressivism was the general trend of the time, the writers associated with the movement at some point or the other showed great variety in their artistic preoccupations and their degree of commitment to the tenets of the PWM. In the late 1930s and 1940s, there was hardly any Urdu writer of any worth who could escape the impact of progressivism which swept the writers off their r feet with the force of a hurricane. Some of them like Ismat Chughtai and Manto had a problematic, even stormy, relationship with the more dogmatic members of the movement. Though they broadly. Endorsed the view that literature should engage with the problems of daily life, they were not ready to allow this engagement to curb their artistic freedom. The following comment by Rajinder Singh Bedi best illustrates the tenor of this relationship: ‘I took to it at first. I didn’t know until I was told that I was a “Progressive” writer and that the others were also “Progressive” writers. It’s partly true that I was, for I did write about the life of the common people and was truthful about the life I had lived and known. Later, when the movement was struck with a sort of formalism, I realized that Progressive writing was also part of a larger doctrine or ideology which was being propagated through us.’ An interesting account of Ismat Chughtai’s relationship with the PWM is available in her essays, `Progressive Literature and I’, and ‘From Bombay to Bhopal.’

CONTENTS

Introduction xi
The Shroud Premchand 1
Lajwanti Rajinder Singh Bedi 10
Kalu Bhangi Krishan Chander 24
Toba Tek Singh Saadat Hasan Manto 40
The Wedding Suit Ismat Chughtai 48
Anandi Ghulam Abbas 64
The Thal Desert
Ahmad Nadeem Qasimi
80
Confessions of St Flora of Georgia Qurratulain Hyder 93
An Epic Unwritten Intizar Husain 123
The Shepherd Ashfaq Ahmad 145
Millipede Khalida Husain 193
The Cow Enver Sajjad 202
A Requiem for the Earth Hasan Manzar 207
The Scarecrow Surendra Prakash 221
Sheesha Ghat Naiyer Masud 228
The Wind Carried All Away…Ikramullah 247
Notes on Authors 268
Notes on Translators 286
Copyright Acknowledgements 288
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