Din (Day) is a perfect little gem about displacement, leaving old homes, journeys unspoken love and a haunting sense of fleeting time. It comes alive in a fine English translation. Dastan is not connected to Din, but is framed by it. In both, issues of the parent raise their Hydra heads.
Intizar Hussain is the finest writer of Urdu prose and the most brilliant story –teller of the post –partition generation. The two novellas, Day and Dastan (Din Aur Dastan), his favourite texts, show his verstility and fictional inventiveness. Day, a realistic story, is a meditation on the cruellest of events to have scarred our times –migrations, When people are forced to move to new homes or new geographies, they only recall a mix of uncanny facts, streets lost in sad nostalgias, fantasties of lovers, parables of simple things, or an unending romance about a possible life and a world. When physical geographies are redrawn, moral landscapes become so bewildering as to leave one emotionally paralysed. As in Intizar Husain's other works, India's partition haunts the tale like an inexplicable shadow.
In contrast, Dastan is a traditional tale of wonder, Its language is lyrical and exggerated; its narrative, obseed with action, weaves dreams and adventure, heorism and mercy,beauty and love, magic and grace. It is located in another time of turmoil and uncertainity when mysterious forces cause have in natuere, and societies rise up suddenly to avenge old wrongs. The 1857 war of independence is prophesied by a mysterious faqir; rivers suddenly break theri banks; an old haveli is left desolate; a princess weeps beside a fountain; a parrot shows a soldier the road to take; and hope of political change is fatally lost.
Intizar Husain is neither a social critic nor a preacher; he is a story –teller –a supreme one.
The fictional world of Intizar Husain (1925 -2016), one of the greatest Urdu writers, and most certainly a world writer, is as enmeshed in the cataclysmic events of hte 1947 Partition of the Indian subcontinent, as was his own life. Born in the small qasba of Dibai, in Uttar Pradesh, Husain migrated to Pakistan in 1947. This radical transition forced Husain, an aspiring literary critic, into writing stories through which he hoped to fathom the meaning of existence and the myriad ways in which external events exert themselves upon existence. Husain's narrative journey evinces his lifelong engagement with questions thrown up by the Partition and his subsequent migration, as he admitted in one of his interviews, 'Explaining the experience of migration intellectually is a difficult taks for me. I have been attempting to comprehend this experiece through my stories.'1 To Husain, storytelling was a journey, a quest, a spiritual experience or drawing from Sufi traditions, what he chose to term as Varidat, Speaking of the indispensablity of stories for understanding human experiences, Charles E, Winquist writers,'Without a story we are bound to the immediacy of the moment, and we are forever losing our grip on the reality of our own identity with the passage of discrete moments. We are unable to speak of primordial or eschatological time.'2 Husain opted for the genre for it allowed him to understand the chaos and the commotion around him.
Partition and the spurious cultural geography it produced made a sensitve writer like Intizar Husain profoundly cognizant of his role as a writer, which was to remind his generation of its losses and instill some wisdom in the process. This choice, however, was not without challenges. "To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric,'3 wrote Theodor Adorno. Embedded in Husain's choice to write stories in order to make sense of the chaos around, were similar complex, ethical questions that urged for answer. Intrigued, Husain forged his own path on his creative journey.
A sceptic Husain eschewed formulaic rendering of events like progressive, which he considered vulgar. He rather chose to deal with events, howsoever despairing, head –on without glossing them over. He channelised his energies to comprehend experience by placing them in their historical perspective.
I wanted to find out how and why all this is happening, In my attempt to trace back out history, I began to read history books... It is through my stories that I try to reach an understanding of what happened in 1947, in the own terms and agianst the background of those other migrations which have occured in the history of Muslims.
To Husains, if turning away from the past imlied ignorance, rembering it selectively or total surrender to it, in exclusion of the immediate present, was no less vulgar, as he wrote, 'It is a continuing tragedy of our history that we never managed to bring about a synthesis of the old and the new ways of thought. We either become completely modern, intent on forgetting our history, our tradition or we become reactionaries who shun the fresh breezes of new ideas and knowledge which are all about us.' Past, to Husain, was necessary to illuminate the present, even if by its sheer absence or unreachability. It intensified an awareness of the present and prepared one for the journey ahead.
Written retrospectively, all Husain's works open prospectively. Accused of being decadnet for truning to the past, both personal and communal, Husain always retorted, 'I am trying to understand my history in terms of what is going around me and in terms of those problems which affect us as a community.
Intizar Husain was born in Dibai, India in 1925, and migrated to Pakistan in 1947. His published works include seven collections of short stories, five novels, nine plays, travelogues and essays in Urdu and English. His works have been translated into many of the world languages. He was the recipient of many literary words. His novel Basti was short –listed for the Man Booker International prize in 2013. In 2012, he was conferred the French Officer de L'Ordre desarts et des Letters. He passed away in 2016.
Nishat Zaidi is a Professor Department of English at the Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. A Scholar, critic and translator, she has a number of published works to her credit. She has co –edited, Story is a Vagabond : Fiction, Essays and Drama by Intizar Husain Issues of Manoa, University of Hawaii, 2015).
Alok Bhalla has published extensively on literature, translation and politics. He was recently a Fellow at Mahatma Gandhi's Sabarmati Ashram and at the Institute for Advanced Study at Nantes, Frances. His recent publications include Story is a Vagabond: Fiction, Essays and Drama by Intizar Huisain, and A Chronicle of the Peacocks (stories by Intizar Hussain).
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