Nasir Baghdadi’s claim to fame is his literary magazine Badbaan, which was known to the readers for its bold stance on many issues concerning Urdu literature. In the editorials of Badbaan, he would take to task the so-called bigwigs of literature with his sharp analytical style. He did not belong to any of the main groups that were spewing dirt on each other as his commitment was with literature alone.
One might not agree with some of the editorials of the magazine but one thing was sure: he didn’t believe in creating mere sensationalism. Sadly, for quite some time, we haven’t seen a new issue of Badbaan as Baghdadi Sahib seem to have lost the verve to carry on editing the magazine.
After obtaining a doctorate in economics from Canada, Nasir Baghdadi taught at various universities in the country as well as abroad. Literature is his passion and that was the reason for launching a literary magazine. Apart from being an editor, he is also a short story writer and his stories have appeared in different magazines of Pakistan and India.
He has published a few books on short stories as well as criticism. Khawab Chehra is his latest short stories collection, which is the subject of this review. Praised by literary heavyweights like Wazir Agha, Dr Muhammad Ali Siddiqui, Ahmad Hamesh and others, one comes across a whole new world and myriad characters in these stories that are mostly picked up from urban locale.
Here you meet a gruesome gangster Dada who runs a crime den. Like all other gangsters and ruffians, he runs his fiefdom with utmost barbarity. Dada uses all coercive tactics on his accomplice Achhan but to no avail. Dada likes the wife of Achhan; he orders Achhan to produce his wife. Achhan is simply thunderstruck and decides to defy these illicit orders come what may. The story seems to be ending on a scenario that any reader conjures up in his mind. But Baghdadi astonishes the readers with a last minute twist in the story.
Then there is a man hungry for fame whose only dream is to see himself adored and eulogised by all and sundry. But he doesn’t get any fame and keeps on passing his life as an ordinary man. Suddenly, his fate changes but for the worse. One night, he finds himself near a murder scene. In great panic, he runs from the crime spot but he is picked up by the bystanders who mistakenly grab him as a killer.
Overnight, his photograph appears on the front pages of all newspapers as the killer of a famous leader of the country. Thus start his tormenting days and he finds himself in a deep morass. Luckily, the real culprit is nabbed and thus he gets freedom from jail. In a macabre way, he tastes the bitter side of being famous.
A typical religious man of the locality is being haunted by the sins he has committed in the past in the story Peshani Ke Dagh. Like a deft artist, Nasir Baghdadi shows how the past torments an outwardly pious man. The face of the dead man whom he had ruined haunts him constantly and Haji sahib becomes almost mad.
Virsa is another story in which a wayward and pleasure-seeking son is kicked out by an enraged father. They are totally cut off from each other but one day, quite unexpectedly, the father calls for his son. The father is on death bed and the son hurries to meet him as he eyes to inherit all his property. But here too the author comes up with a surprise at the end of the story.
Of the sixteen stories in this collection, some were written in the 1960s. Nasir Baghdadi knows the art of story telling. He does not believe in filling his stories with an ideology or a message; he is just a story teller. However, his prose is too ornated which at times harms the flow of the story. Khawab Chehra will be welcomed by all the readers due to a variety of powerful characters and mature craft.