The Dawn: May 22, 2015

PUNJAB NOTES: New books: an unusual novel and verses born of spontaneity

Mushtaq Soofi 

You may like or dislike the new Punjabi novel, Madho Lal Hussain (a tribute to Lahore), but you cannot ignore it. Liking and disliking can be intense as the novel has an uncanny power to evoke contradictory feelings in a narrative that emerges out of the richly layered socio-political landscape of Lahore city. The novel, published by New Line Publishers, Lahore, is the latest work of prominent fiction writer and poet Nain Sukh, the nom de plume of Khalid Mahmood who is a lawyer by profession. He has stories to tell and his repertoire seems to be large and diverse. In a short span of time he has emerged as one of the leading fiction writers of our times. He has already published three books of short stories, two of which have won accolades from readers and literary critics alike.

Publication of his Madho Lal Hussain firmly establishes him a writer of high literary calibre and fecund imagination. It sets him apart from so many other fiction writers of Punjabi language who appear by and large to be lazy if we look at the thorough research, sheer labour and the maturity of creative skill that seems to have gone into making his novel a fascinating literary product which is nothing less than a serendipitous gift for imaginative and intelligent readers interested in knowing the city’s hidden life and much talked about but rarely brought to life the characters that symbolise an undying lust of life in a process of destruction and regeneration; natural and socially triggered.

The novel draws its charm from oral history that has been transmitted from generation to generation in a subconscious effort on the part of our people to keep the other side of the story alive not found in the chronicles and so-called standard histories penned by recipients of kings’ largesse. In a recent interview (published in this paper) Khalid Mahmood talking to Naeem Sadhu, tells about the dilemma his collected stuff posed. “After meeting lots of people and collecting a bulk of oral history, I became confused about how to knit all of them to an integrated form until I read ‘ Hiqeeqtul Fuqra in 1990. It solved my problem,” he explains.

The book might have inspired his imagination in terms of choosing a particular form of narrative but it doesn’t sufficiently explain the way his complex story covers the wide spectrum of city’s life and characters.

Madho Lal Hussain is a novel not meant for those who are in search of a logically constructed story narrated in a traditional manner with a beginning, middle and end. You may be disappointed if you tend to visualise happenings and developments in linear time. His non-linear narrative shuttles between the past and the present hinting at what the future possibly would look like. Backward and forward movement in time keeps you at tenterhooks blurring the intangible boundaries between what was and what is, making life appear an indivisible whole.

Khalid’s is canvas as large as life where you encounter saints and sinners, kings and paupers, pimps and prostitutes, democrats and dictators, nobility of brothels and brothels of the nobility in a broken chain of events that are like rising and ebbing waves. The novel is big socio-cultural cauldron full of pre- and post-colonial delectable and detestable stuff that attracts and repulses at the same time.

The novelist to a large measure successfully decodes what remains coded till now and subverts the meanings of the already coded by the vested interest groups in order to make the past and its repercussions palatable. It’s a creative and imaginative expose of the celestial and the mundane that makes life what it is, be it individual or collective. The sublime creates an aura of mundaneity and the mundane evokes subliminal ambiance, illuminating the conflicting and contradictory aspects of human existence.

The novel is a must read to understand the psychic skein of the Punjabi people who in an unending struggle for survival manage albeit painfully not to surrender to the demons that continue to haunt them. It must be on the shelf of each library; public and private.

‘Walay da Parchhawn’ (time’s shadow) is Aunul Hassan Ghazi’s book of poetry published by Idara-e-Saut-e- Haadi, Okara. Aun is no stranger to poetry as it has been an integral element of his family ethos. His family can rightly be proud of the poets it has produced such as Maratab Akhtar, Nasir Shezad and Afzaal Hussain Gilani. Aun seems to be fond of and comfortable with short poems that he composes effortlessly. The fast disappearing rural landscape serves in his poetry as a dynamic backdrop evoking angst and at times nostalgia. His poetic vision, yet in a process of formation, derives its strength from the community as a lived experience which had once harmony or at least the semblance of it that sustained human relationship and its productive connections with nature.

Corporate intrusion and consumerism have rendered everything less than what it is in the old receding world. “Perched on the edge I look down at the water’s shadows/ I see nothing beyond the rising mist/ strange are the ways of the world/ everything seems to be vanishing”.

The things that are vanishing re-appear in the new socio-economic order shaped by corporate sector as commodities or litter jettisoned by the lingering past. Spontaneity and simplicity that mark the Aun’s verses are a source of aesthetic pleasure with a touch of sadness. —

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