By Gilani Kamran
The novel in Pakistan
The novel in Pakistan emerged with Qurratulain Heider’s Aag ka Darya (The River of Fire, 1957). It has been generally held that the novel is about the problem of self-identity, yet it moves in a wider orbit and traverses the curvature between self identity and the collective identity of the people who were placed in a criticasl situation on the eve of Independence in 1947. Leslie Flemming has regarded this novel as A Tale of Three Cities, where the whole phenomenon of Independence has been witnessed as a feature film’s scenario. Thematically, the novel intends to discover some equation between geography and history, though in a much wider sense the human existence is not more than mutability and transmigration of human forms. The novel had indeed opened a new mode of perception, and had given a meaningful matter and theme to fiction writing in Pakistan.
Abdullah Husain’s Udas Naslain (A Tale of Sad Generations, 1963) is the tragic story of three successive generations living in British occupied India between 1913 and 1947. It begins with the 1857 War of Independence where an ordinary employee of the East India Company is richly rewarded for saving the life of Colonel Johnson, the Commanding Officer, from rival Indian soldiers. The offspring of this richly rewarded person, Nawab Roshan Ali Khan, arrive in Pakistan in 1947 without any material possessions. The happenings between 1857 through the First World War, and Jallianwala Bagh (1919) and World War II and the migration to a new country, convert the household into a history of sad generations. The large scale social and political change, a sort of revolution, had shattered what seemed what seemed to have been sacred in their memories and estimation. In a sense, this novel narrates a family story where a household, built on sheer chance in 1857, becomes a part of upper middle class, possesses no higher view of life to guide the conduct of its members, and is pushed by circumstances towards 1947, and to Pakistan. In this perspective, Aag ka darya and Udas Naslain portray those big issues, which appeared to have a direct bearing on the realities taking shape in Pakistan.
Tariq Mahmud’s Allah Megh De (Send Clouds, Oh God), Altaf Fatima’s Chalta Musafir (The Ever Traveller), and Salma Awan’s Tanha (The Lonely Person) make East Pakistan the theme of their fictional imagination. Though these novels were written and published after 1971, they provide a deep insight into the life in East Pakistan, and more importantly, present in earnestness, the writers’ affectionate treatment of the people of what was once a part of Pakistan. .Altaf Fatima’s permanent wayfarer is the Mohajir (Immigrant) who had migrated from Bihar in India to East Pakistan in 1947, and even from there, he had been constrained to make another migration to Pakistan after 1971. Masud Mufti’s Chehray (Faces) published in 1972, gives an account of the last days of undivided Pakistan.
Prose fiction had, indeed, become the leading mode of writing in Urdu literature after Independence. It portrayed what could not be told in poetry, though it had been poetry that was the effective form of expression in Urdu literature before 1947. However, in 1974, Intizar Husain’s A Letter from India, gave the tale of a people’s trauma after the unfortunate events of 1971. In 1979, his novel Basti (The Dwelling Place) portrayed the state of agitational politics during the last years of Ayub Khan regime (1967-1969). In this context, Intizar Husain’s Basti is perhaps the last fictional writing on the theme. Thus, when two other novels, Anwar Sajjad’s The Garden of Delights (1980) and Anis Nagi’s Behind the Wall (1981) appeared, they took a new direction and also worked on a different theme. In The Garden of Delights, the protagonist is faced with a callous human situation where he is gradually deprived of every initiative. In the end, he joins a group of wandering dervishes and participates in the Sufic dance, which gives him a new understanding and restores his confidence that had been almost shattered by the pattern of living he had followed all his life. Anwar Sajjad’s novel is an oblique criticism on the nature of life in non-democratic arbitrary rule. It is also a kind of protest-writing in fictional form. Anis Nagi’s novel describes an unequal and unbalanced equation between man and his situation. His hero is condemned to live in the underworld where crime and hypocrisy haunt him, and he is driven to commit suicide. He throws himself from the bridge into the river, but is saved by the patrolling boat of the local garrison. Anis Nagi has used the absurd as the principle of framing the protagonist in an indifferent world. Bano Qudsia’s Raja Giddh (The King Vulture) published in 1984 follows the same scheme of writing, where her hero loses his identity while vacillating between his rural background and immediate urban environment. These novels portrayed the working of the dynamics of a developing society where man is crushed under the pressure of inhuman social mechanism.
Jameela Hashmi’s novel Dasht-e-Soos (The Soos Wilderness) published in 1984 was in the tradition of historical fiction. It portrayed the mystic life of Mansur Hallaj who was sentenced to death in AD 922 for his Sufic utterance of Ana-al-Haq. Jameela Hashmi revived the historical novel writing which had discontinued after Nasim Hijazi’s Akhari Chattan (The Last Rock) published in 1951. Nasim Hijazi’s novel narrated the story of the fall of Khawarazm in Central Asia before the ruthless attacks of Changez Khan in 1220.
Ashfaq Ahmed’s Gadaria (The Shepherd) published in 1954, was a fictional comment on the social and political conditions of the time. In 1960s he wrote series of radio-features, and created his famous character Talqeen Shah who behaved as a moral mentor in the social environment given to hypocrisy though he himself is inclined to hypocritical conduct. Ashfaq Ahmed emphasised the use of moral norm in fictional work and created characters to illustrate the graph of human nature in a changing society. In 1984-1986, his serials of television plays Tota Kahani (The Parrot Story) and Aur Dramay (More Dramas) gave a variegated account of men and women placed in dubious moral situations. Ashfaq Ahmed denounced modern western education and recommended return to cultural roots. He generally introduced wise old men in his plays and short stories to provide folk-wisdom for the guidance of common people. He used his writings purposefully and attempted to make the good prevail in an erring human environment.
The post-Independence years can also be regarded as an era of women writers. After Independence, the rise in literacy among women had been the major motivation behind the feminine interest in literary activity. In short story, Mumtaz Shirin, Saira Hashmi, Nishat Fatima, Anwar Ghalib, Farkhanda Lodhi, Zahida Hina and Neelam Bashir have made valuable contributions and have extended the range of female fiction writing. Zahida Hina’s Raah mein Ajal hai (Death is in the Way, 1993) is transcultural in its theme, perception and treatment. Her short stories have a wide spectrum and combine romance with realism in their fictional structure. Anwar Ghalib’s Naddi (The Stream, 1982), and Abu Zamaan (The Father Time, 1992) have philosophic themes. The conflict between Body and Soul forms the matter and subject of Naddi, and the sharp antagonism between various psychological attitudes appears in Abu Zamaan.
With the migration of Pakistani families to the countries in the west and to the Gulf States, the overseas writings have formed a distinctive category of literature. Sabiha Shah has portrayed the life of Pakistani engineers and technical workers in the Gulf States in her collection of short stories Sheeshay ka Saiban (The Glass Tent, 1990). Iftikhar Nasim has described the peculiar experiences of Pakistanis and Asians in Chicago and Los Angeles in his book Ek thi Larki ( There was a Girl, 1995). Tassadaq Sohail’s Tanhai ka Safar (The Lonesome Journey, 1997) has described life in London. Muniruddin Ahmed has, in his books, Zard Sitara (The Yellow Star, 1988) and Shaja-e-Mamnooa (The Forbidden Tree, 1990) portrayed life in Germany. While interpreting the German way of life sympathetically he has abridged the cultural gap between Pakistani immigrants and their host country. In the United States, Farhat Parveen, who is a medical doctor, has given a vivid account of Pakistani and Asian immigrants in her collection of stories Munjamid (The Frozen Ones, 1997). She has particularly focused on the challenges faced by Pakistani families in making adjustments in a new and unfamiliar environment.
The writings in the English language, which had appeared as a literary trend in the early years of Independence, have gradually formed a tradition and a large number of writers of the younger generation have taken to writing in the English language.
Bapsi Sidhwa’s novels The Crow-Eaters (1978), Ice Candy Man (1988) and The American Brat (1993) describe the life of Parsi families in Pakistan in a transcultural setting. In her novel, The American Brat, a young Pakistani girl is exposed to various hazards in New York, and even the life of the Blacks adds fear to strangeness in her experiences of the big city. Adam Zameen Zad’s novel, The Thirteenth House, published in 1987, gives a cross-section of Pakistani consciousness, which connects the past with the present, and also opens inroads into astrology and mysticism. It mixes desire with horror and attempts to regain the imaginative grasp of a child’s perception through the unfolding of its story. Tariq Ali’s novel, Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree, published in 1993, is a historical narrative, which seeks to find sources of strength in the civilisation of Muslim Andalusia in the years just before the end of Muslim supremacy in the Iberian Peninsula. It is structured as a family saga and the colourful ambience of the medieval Muslim-European world is evoked to reconstruct a loving past.
Literature in Pakistan has evolved its own identity, but has also become the socio-cultural document of an era of hope and hardships.