The Dawn: June 26, 2015

PUNJAB NOTES: New books: Zahid’s novel and Sajid’s verses

Mushtaq Soofi 

Zahid Hassan is a well-known fiction writer, poet and research scholar. Qissa Ashiqaan (a love story) is his latest novel published by Pakistan Punjabi Adbi Board, Lahore. One may say the novel is a kind of travelogue that throws up a love story or a love story that unfolds in a travel undertaken by four characters, two local young men and two American girls, from Lahore to the scenic Swat valley in the northern areas of the country. Two characters, Sarah and Zahoor, throughout the story take the centre stage as the main protagonists who are in a process of building an unlikely emotional relationship while other two seem to have vegetative existence; hard to notice props that look like lustreless particles on the patina of social time. They add nothing to what happens in any meaningful way except that they, as good as logs, have been placed on a path that leads nowhere.

Sarah is the real character. Though young she is not a babe in the wood. On the contrary she appears at some level as an uber-model that captures two most significant aspects of femininity in contemporary times; tenderness and assertiveness. Tenderness has quintessentially been one of the characteristics of woman, recognised and admired but her assertiveness has always been and is still being resisted and frowned upon as it has subversive implications for the male dominated society that treats her as little more than a baby making machine and a sexual commodity. Sarah has the capacity to go a long way to develop an emotional relationship with the man she cares for, which makes her look like archetypical eastern woman we are familiar with. But her independence of mind, sense of judgement, consciousness of being an individual and above all her courage to take initiative in difficult social situations make her contemporary female reflecting the advancement made by western culture in the sphere of women’s rights.

The man she loves pales in comparison who, despite having literary awareness, is weighed down by the cultural claptrap of his lower middle class background which is expressed in his being imperceptibly indecisive in the matter that matters.

The lovers’ journey ends half way because of the insidious forces, ideological and political, beyond their control that are trying to control the Swat valley through their proxies in a deviously subdued show of power.

The period is the mid of the last decade of twentieth century. The Taliban and assorted extremists, lurking in the shadows, slowly but steadily are raising their head in a bid to social-engineer the society, which they believe, has gone astray. Extremists want to grip as many people as possible but timber mafia, another dark force in operation in the area, tries its best to keep as many people as possible away from the high altitude pristine forests to hide their axe that maims nature and ecology. Natural beauty and human ugliness stand in a stark contrast. The novel is an interesting read, full of small things, joyful and sombre, which make the unsurprising surprising.

‘Munjh Usaaray Mahal’ (Melancholy Builds Palaces) is Ghulam Hussain Sajid’s new book of poems recently published by Sanjh Publications. Sajid, as we all know, is a reputable writer with a large number of books to his credit. He is both versatile and prolific. He can write verse, fiction and literary criticism with equal facility. With his continuous practice he has honed his skill of writing and consequently his angular creative expression testifies to the uninterrupted development of his literary talent.

Sajid, like some other writers, physically and imaginatively inhabits two worlds; rural and urban. The gulf between the two though fast decreasing is still huge not only in socio-cultural terms but also in terms of physical environment and landscape. The country on Sajid’s imagistic canvas evokes a palpable presence of community and interconnectedness while urban space is all but a sludgy shade of individualism and alienation. The inter-cutting experiences of both the worlds in his poems juxtapose the two in a sharp contrast in a fashion that they almost seem to be mutually exclusive. His imagination driven poetic consciousness toggles between a realisation of unstoppable advance of market driven urbanisation and a painful sense of irretrievably dwindling countryside’s natural and human assets accumulated over a long stretch of time.

‘Sentimental topography’, the poet relishes, is fast vanishing; gone are the birds, trees, moors, rivulets and people who took all such things as an enriching source of their individual and collective existence. City’s topography is as impersonal as the commodities city life offers. Virtual instead of real, possessing instead of sharing is all contemporary skewed urbanism offers as enchanting emblem of modernity in the guise of development. Sadly, invocation of the receding world, owned and experienced, cannot soften the protruding sharp edges of reality of emerging globalised world which instead of connecting caused disconnect with nature and other human beings.

“The sparrows have sneaked into my poems; the sparrows that I had left behind in the caper, in the reeds, on the grass, on the inlet’s water surface, and on the walls of my home which nestled them / they are here again / their twitter measures the time for me / and I again search out the marsh in the anxious mumblings of the city.” —

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