History of short story in Pakistan
On the eve of Independence in 1947, Pakistan inherited the common and shared tradition of Urdu literature that belonged to the literary culture of the Indian sub-continent. The state of literature soon after independence had aroused a great controversy among the writers. Literature was expected to have a new direction, though it was rather early to relate literature to any undefined expectation. Saadat Hassan Manto (1912-1955) turned the painful, partition-related events into great literature. The fiction and poetry of the period that followed was largely progressive in its tone and spirit. It has not only evolved its own identity, but has also become the socio-cultural document of an era of hope and hardships.
At the time of partition in 1947, Pakistan shared the literary culture of the Indian sub-continent, which had a history, and a long line of distinguished literary reputation. Iqbal and the Progressive Writers appeared in its immediate perspective, and this phenomenon of writing related Pakistan to its literary past. But unfortunately, fratricidal riots on the eve of independence gave birth to a widely different and ominous situation where the decline and fall of human nature made many values and things questionable, and a literature based on communal tension, on mass massacres, arson, and on the refugee camps, emerged under the stress of a large scale migration of people from one dominion to the other. It was a highly distressing state of affairs, and along with it, a new brand of fiction appeared, which is generally known as the Tales of the Riots, and describes the holocaust of the Partition. As a matter of fact, Pakistan had come into being in the travail of this sad experience.
The Era of Short Story
The writers who wrote the stories about the riots were rather too close to the areas of the woeful incidents, and had mostly observed the happenings as eyewitnesses. M Aslam (Raks-e-Iblis: The Devil’s Dance) and Rasheed Akhtar Nadvi (The Fifteenth of August) and Qudratullah Shahab (Ya Khuda: Oh God) represent the pathos of human suffering in their tales. They give the scenes of ruthless killings, and the life in refugee camps where men, women and children are exposed to uncertainties and hardships of every kind. Of the writers of his time, only Saadat Hassan Manto (1912-1955) could have a detached view of the genocide on both sides of the border. He was able to turn pain-giving events into great literature. He remained impartial, took no sides, and wrote with detachment and passion about the atrocities committed in a state of utter madness. As a matter of fact, the crisis of human nature and the decline in moral conduct and behaviour during those early years of independence form the structure of Saadat Hassan Manto’s stories about the Partition. Saadat Hassan Manto: turned the pain of the Partition into great literature. The foremost among the short story writers of the subcontinent.
The first ten years after Independence were a period of hectic human activity and of movement of people in Pakistan. The refugees from East Punjab and immigrants from various provinces of the subcontinent were faced with the problems of rehabilitation and of adjustment with a new environment in Pakistan. There was also the problem of settlement, which gave rise to psychological and sociological questions, attitudes and complexes, and shaped an amorphous human situation in the country. Realism was the most effective instrument to capture the new mode of life. Hameed Akhtar’s short stories (La-makaan), Qurratulain Haider’s Housing Society, Ibraheem Jalees’ social reportage (Chor Bazaar, The Underworld) and Shaukat Siddiqui’s Khuda ki basti (The Blessed Dwelling Place) provide an insight into the making of a new social reality in the country. What was however interesting was the quality of character-study, which the larger issues and problems had added to simple characterization. The fiction of the period describes the inner contradictions of men and women, and the polarization among people when their interests clash with one another. The short story of this period can be treated as a micro-cosmic image of how the new nation-state of Pakistan was formed and consolidated in the strain and stress of unwieldy circumstances. Ahmed Nadeem Qasimi’s short stories portray the effect of the social change on the population in small towns and villages. The fiction of the period was largely progressive in its tone and spirit, and though the Progressive Writers’ Association had ceased to function by 1951, the habit of writing in its tradition had continued during the period.
Intizar Husain’s Chand Grehan (The Lunar Eclipse) was published in 1953, and was followed by another short story Dinn (The Day) published in 1956. He wrote short stories in a widely different framework – the experience of migration to Pakistan. He expounded the concept of Hijrat, and looked upon the experience of migration within an extended perspective of individual and collective memories. The old home in Agra and Oudh is remembered not in a fit of nostalgia but as an invigorating source of inspiration in the new environment where the immigrant intends to build his new home. Nevertheless, Intizar Husain’s fictional imagination gradually portrays the effect of social factors on the moral life of men in a sequence of short stories and witnesses the decline of human nature in the surroundings of material temptation. His short stories titled Akhri Aadmi (The Last Man), and Zard Kutta (The Discoloured Dog) published in 1967; give an anxious and sorrowful commentary on the material condition of man in the formative years of the new country. Intizar Husain’s Aagay Samundar hai (Beytond lies the Sea) published in 1995 portrayed the situation of the Urdu speaking people in an environment which was given to violence, insecurity, and lack of hope. Intizar Husain has evoked the Urdu speaking people’s memory-based past, and has impelled them to face the biggest question of their existence: “Where to be?”
Mumtaz Mufti (d.1996) is remembered for his short stories based on psychological realism. But it is, in fact, his image of the Muslim girl, which makes his fiction relevant to the view of life in Pakistan. The womenfolk in his fictional world do not grow old; they remain and stay as girls in their impressionistic age group. His short stories begin with the purdah-observing young girl who is educated on conventional lines, and is modest and shy. She is perceived along the traditional Asghari model, and when in love, hardly expresses it in so many words. In Mumtaz Mufti’s panoramic world, this young Muslim purdah-clad girl gradually changes, not only educationally and socially, but also within the family. Her behaviour also undergoes transformation, and in contrasts to the earlier Aapa or the elder sister image, the reserved, suffering and non-communicative girl, she becomes frank, open, assertive and self-confident. Modern education. too, shapes and forms her, and she participates in conversation on philosophy, aesthetics and on the more controversial issues of the male-dominated society and male chauvinism. The girls in Mumtaz Mufti’s last stories are emancipated non-purdah girls, and they appear to imperceptibly pass into allegorical figures. In this role, they become visionaries and crave for the truth to seek fulfillment in their partially dissatisfied existence.
In 1988, Mahmud Wajid’s collection of short stories, Mausam ka Masiha (The Redeemer of Weather) described the plight of the Biharis in an indifferent and insensitive world.
Athar Tahir’s collection of short stories in English was published in 1990. Rukhsana Ahmed’s collection of short stories appeared in 1992. Her short story The Nightmare describes the nostalgia and anguish of a Pakistani young woman in Britain where she has faced acute problems of adapting to an alien culture. It is a pathetic tale of dislocation, and projects the problem of exposure to foreign cultures in the life of Pakistani women.
Poetry in Pakistani Literature
Noon Meem Rashed (1975), and Faiz Ahmad Faiz (1984) had already made a name in modern poetry in the War years (1939 – 1945). Rashed’s Mavra (Beyond) was published in 1940, while Faiz’s Naqsh Faryadi (Complaining Sketch) came out in 1941. These collections were slim volumes of poetry. The maturer poetry of both Rashed and Faiz was published after 1947. Faiz’s Zindan Nama (The Prison Poems 1956) and Sar-e-Wadi-I-Sina (In the Sinai Valley 1971) give a wide spectrum of his creative talent. He employed erotic ghazal phraseology for the interpretation of socio-political reality. He believed that human suffering made life ugly. His cult of the Beautiful was social and human, and he admired those who struggled for a better future for common man. His poetry gave solace and hope to men in the developing societies of the post-colonial Afro-Asian world. Faiz Ahmed Faiz is considered among the giants of socio-political poetry
Rashed’s La Mussavi Insan (x = Man) published in 1969, and Guman ka Mumkin (Speculations) published after his death in 1976, give him a very significant place in modern Urdu literature. His poetry is metaphysical, both in its content and treatment. He has portrayed the intellectual situation of educated Muslim generations of the early decades of this century, who had been confronted with the worldview where the traditional theological map appeared to have become outdated, and in its place, a lonely world looked them in the face. Rashed’s poetry employs emotion matured by thoughtful contemplation, and claims a close reading for rendering a rewarding meaning. His poems Israfeel ki Maut (death of Israfeel), and Safar Nama (A Travelogue) are lovely pieces of great poetry. Rashed’s poetic world is inhabited by crowds of bewildered men, by Adam, Angels, and by an archetypal figure – Hassan the pot-maker, and even by God. In a wider sense, Rashed has, through his poetry, addressed the educated generations of his culture at one of the most critical moments of their history.
Wazir Agha’s poems made nature a subject of discovery, and portrayed what is pleasant and good-looking in its various forms. He added man’s sub-conscious self to the view of the human being and described his deeper spiritual anguish in a changing world. He believed in the sanctity of the Soul and portrayed it in metaphors that give finite descriptions to the amorphous phenomena. His poems also reveal a rational treatment, where the mind of the man of science appears to be entering the world of poetry in an unpoetical age.
Nevertheless, the cry of the dislocated man was heard in Munir Niazi’s poetry. His weird imagery of ghosts and witches externalised the state of extreme dread, which generally haunts man when he enters a new environment with the details of massacres, arson and the genocidal scenes in his childhood imagination.
The traditional ghazal poetry found its most powerful voice in Nasir Kazmi (d.1972). (Ghazal is traditional poetry in Muslim culture based on mystical love phraseology). He wrote ghazals in a new strain of feelings, and made ghazal a vehicle of sorrowful experience. His ghazal is memory-based and its pathos emerges from recollections of past associations. His poetry had great appeal in the early years of Independence – it consoled and healed the bruised sentiments of the people who had undergone un told hardships in moving out of their original homesteads to come to Pakistan. Nasir Kazmi’s ghazal is significant in the sense that it adds the anguish of abandoned homes to the tears and sighs of ghazal poetry.
In poetry, the note of political protest was represented by Habib Jalib (1995) , and Ahmed Faraz. Fehmida Riaz wrote her poems to project the feminist view of reality in the male dominated social order. In the tradition of ghazal poetry, Parveen Shakir’s verses made a popular appeal for a fresh view of life and nature. Her ghazal poetry enriched the tradition with new metaphors and images.
An anthology of poetry in English language, named First Voices, was published in 1965. It introduced Ahmed Ali, Zulfikar Ghose, Shahid Hosain, Riaz Qadir, Taufiq Rafat and Shahid Suhrawardy. This anthology was edited by Shahid Hosain and published by Oxford University Press, Karachi. Taufiq Rafat’s Arrival of the Monsoon was published in 1980. InamulHaq’s Recollections appeared in 1984, Daud Kamal’s A Remote Beginning in 1985, Athat Tahir’s Just Beyond the Physical in 1991, Yousuf Abbasi’s The Bleeding Roses came in 1981. Alamgir Hashmi’s Sun, Moon and Other Poems was published in 1992. It was followed by Ejaz Rahim’s The Imprisoned Air in 1993. Adrian Akbar Husain, Salman Tariq Kureshi, Nadir Husain, Waqas Ahmed, Jocelyn Ortt-Saeed, Hina Faisal Imam, Ikram Azam and Sikandar Hayat have also published their collections of poems.
The state of literature soon after independence had aroused a great controversy among the writers. Literature was expected to have a new direction, though it was rather early to relate literature to any undefined expectation. The short story on communal riots had fairly confused the spectrum. The writers who had migrated to Pakistan had their own views on literature. Nevertheless, in 1951, Mohammed Hasan Askari (1978) made a statement that literature in Pakistan had come to a dead end, and there was inertia in literary activity. According to him the way out of this inertia lay in the discovery of national spirit for the inspiration of literature. In 1960, Askari’s Sitara Ya Badban (The Star or the Sail) was published which attempted to resolve the controversy. There was no sense, he said, in being blown by the wind of popular ideas. Only the Pole Star guided the ships on the heavy seas. Askari’s view was a calculated commentary on the western influence as an informing principle of literary activity. But the image of the Pole Star, though good and practicable for old navigation, could not define the nature of literary activity in Pakistan. He, however, suggested a creative back view of old literary tradition, but could not find a literary model produced in contemporary creative practice. In 1979, his book Jadidiyat (Modernism), which was published after his death, openly denounced the influence of modern West, particularly the western Reformation countries, and accused them of having alienated the spirit of man in the present time. Askari warned the writers in Pakistan to keep away from the Renaissance influences of the modern western world. He had, while denouncing the west, categorically looked for some ideal unification of the spirit and the body in creative writing. Nevertheless, his denouncement of the western learning had a following among writers.
The issue, which had been overlooked by Askari, was formulated by Jilani Kamran in his book Nai Nazm ke Taqaze (Principles of New Poetry) published in 1964. He pointed out that the real issue was that of literary identity, which could impart a distinctive coloration to literature produced in Pakistan. He offered the solution in the formulation of the question: Who am I? – Which was supposed to provide cultural identity to one’s writing. Jilani Kamran introduced Sufism as the framework of poetic writing, and recommended the use of the Sufic Pronouns (I and Thou) as measures of emancipation from the morbid and unproductive social environment. His first collection of poems Astanze (The Stanzas, 1959) experimented within the stipulated requirements and his later work Bagh-e- Duniya, (The World Garden) published in 1987, elaborated his thesis by creating a literary model on the synthesis of Muslim ethos and Western learning. Bagh-e-Duniya was inspired by the idea of Muslim cultural renaissance. It is a long poem, with the archetypal figures of the Murshid-e-Qum (The Wise Man of Qum), the Children of Iblis, Sheikh-e-Jehan, Zinda Rud (Iqbal’s poetic name), Alberuni and Ibn-e-Arabi. This poem by Jilani Kamran offers a hopeful view of reality and constructs the vision of a future in modern poetic idiom.
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 critical situation on the eve of Independence in 1947. Leslie Fleming 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. Intizar Hussain is among the great living novelists of Pakistan. 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 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 civilization 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 colorful ambience of the medieval Muslim-European world is evoked to reconstruct a loving past.
Minorities and Pakistani English Literature
Meanwhile a new academic discourse revealed that some of the best English literature was coming from minority and migrant groups in the West and Britain’s erstwhile colonies. In 1984, the British-born playwright Hanif Kureishi, having won the 1981 George Devine Award, came to Pakistan for the first time. Hanif had thought himself English, but England has perceived him as Pakistani — and his work tried to bridge the two. He wrote a haunting memoir The Rainbow Sign (1986) about this and his Pakistan trip, which was published with his Oscar-nominated screenplay My Beautiful Laundrette.
Sara Suleri’s creative memoir Meatless Days opened up a new dimension: there was never a work, which occupied a space between fiction and non-fiction, with chapters divided according to metaphor. It was loved for its beautiful tightly-knit prose. Over the next few years, the number of Pakistani English language writers grew rapidly. Adam Zameenzad published four novels and won a first novel award, as did Hanif Kureishi, while Nadeem Aslam won two. Tariq Ali embarked on a Communist trilogy, and an Islam quintet; Bapsi Sidhwa received a prize in Germany, an award in the USA, and published her fourth novel The American Brat (1993). Zulfikar Ghose, who had written around 10 accomplished novels, brought out the intricate and complex The Triple Mirror of the Self about migration and a man’s quest for identity, across four continents.
History of short story in Pakistan