By Faisal Iqbal

Published in Dawn, January 15th, 2023  

The pandemic and Punjab – through Nain Sukh’s novel, but Nain Sukh removed this blot, says Punjabi writer Zubair Ahmed while opening the ThinkFest session at Alhamra on The Mall, where the former’s novel ‘Wabaa Te Waseb’ (Pandemic and Society) was launched.

He says it is the first novel on Covid pandemic that said to have changed the world.

About the author, Zubair says that he always surprises his readers by coming up with unique themes in his fiction. He says there is an allegation that Nain Sukh inserts a lot of history in his writings, but his new novel is about the present situation. The novel is actually a comment on present-day Punjab and on the Covid politics from the perspective of the city and the village.

Academic Naveed Alam, giving background of the novel, says it is set in a new housing society -- Gulzar Villas -- inhabited by upper-middle class people, their relationships and the issues faced by them in the backdrop of Covid pandemic. He says that despite its complex structure, the author has infused various issues in the novel with great craftsmanship, giving it coherence.

Alam says that the point the writer wants to make is that the pandemic was no surprise given the structure of the society we have created, shunning our traditional way of living in the name of development. The novel includes a lot of valuable information which the author has recorded for the present as well as future generations. Another quality of Nain Sukh’s fiction, he says, is his use of words, that he attributes to his poetic prowess.

Quoting from the novel, he says that traditional rural elders would oppose metalled road, apprehending they wont be able to track their stolen livestock if it was built, but regrets that it stole away the village. Here, he says, the road becomes a symbol of fake development that changed traditional living of rural Punjab. Along with the developers, the author also exposes the role of religious bigotry that cultivated a sense of guilt among the locals in rural Punjab by presenting a fearful face of religion. The preachers not only promoted foreign ideas, but also an alien culture and its symbols, he says.

Zubair Ahmed says Nain Sukh has also borrowed ideas from Albert Camus’ work ‘Plague’ but he integrated these with Punjab’s culture.

“He (Nain Sukh) everytime surprises his readers by coming up with a different book,” he says.

Punjab Institute of Language and Culture (Pilac) Director General Sughra Sadaf appreciated esthetics of Nain Sukh’s writing and equates it with that of Rumi for its transporting effect.

“Through his writings, Nain Sukh raises questions and wants us to find their answers,” she comments. She says that characters of this novel are all around us, with all their shades. “There are no angels or devils in the novel; all are human beings, complete with their flaws,” she adds.

Nain Sukh says that the pandemic created fear of death that was multiplied by news and social media. He says that he has tried to capture the anxiety that took over the society through the anxiety of household during the Covid pandemic.