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A distinct voice

Urdu fiction writer Aslam Sirajuddin who passed away recently leaves behind a glorious legacy

A distinct voice

With the death of Aslam Sirajuddin, Urdu literature has lost a fiction writer who made a concerted attempt to carve out a unique path for Urdu fiction. His maiden collection of short stories Samar Samir published in 1997 took the literary world by storm. After this maiden collection he wrote a few essays and, in his last days was writing a novel. He read voraciously and his areas of interest were diverse: modern and classical fiction, history, mythology, philosophy etc.

Born in Ludhiana in 1947, Aslam Sirajuddin and his family moved to Gujranwala after the partition and in the same city he breathed his last. With the publication of his first book, the literary heavyweights like Ahmad Nadeem Qasmi, Muhammad Salimur Rehman, Mohammad Khalid Akhtar, Iftikhar Jalib and others showered utmost praise for his unique style, which was almost a rarity in Urdu literature. Stories such as Tillay Bashi Ka Mochi, Kutta Jo Admi Tha and Rip Wan Winkle captivated the attention of serious Urdu readers.

In a column written for an English weekly distinguished poet and translator Muhammad Salim-ur-Rehman liked the style of Aslam Sirajuddin to Naiyer Masud. He said it was difficult to categorise Naiyer Masud and Aslam Sirajuddin. They pay court to no authority, as if critical acclaim or wide readership was the least of their concerns.

Mahmood Ahmad Qazi, a senior fiction writer from Gujranwala, knew Aslam Sahib since 1960s. He believes Sirajuddin was a stylist and he developed a unique narrative. “He was a close friend for many decades and we shared and debated ideas. He adopted a James Joyce-like style and daubed his narrative with ancient history and mythology. We used to tell him that he should write fiction about our present times too. We used to differ on many points. Lately he seemed to write on present times as Kutta Jo Admi Tha and Tillay Bashi Ka Mochi are stories which reflect our times,” he says.

 In his lifetime Aslam Sirajuddin was almost neglected as he was not an ordinary reader’s writer. Reading him needed a deep study as he didn’t want to write simple realist stories to gain maximum fan following. 

Asim Butt, his younger contemporary and a fiction writer, says that he introduced his own brand of narrative fiction. He adds, “With his vast study on a range of subjects, his colossal vocabulary and command over language, he laboured very hard to redefine his own style of writing, ornamenting it with dazzling imagination and a saint-like infallible commitment with literature. He was a man who dedicated his whole life in writing an experimental novel whose few chapters have appeared in literary magazine Sawera. His demise is the loss of colour in the fabric of Urdu literature and I must say this chapter of unique narrative is closed now.”

He was not an easy read for the common reader, who was fed on essayistic stories with a conclusion at the end of each story. That’s why he was never discussed in detail, as he faced the paucity of readers for whom his narrative was very unusual, to say the least.

To quote Aslam Sirajuddin, “Fiction is all about wonder and amazement. It is all about what you wonder and what would you want others to wonder and marvel at. To write fiction is to convey one’s fascination with the mystery we call the universe and man’s place in it. Then there is the tenuous problem of nothingness which underlies the whole being of all the populace of our immediate environment.”

Aslam Sirajuddin was a lone crusader who tried to look different from the rest of the fiction writer and lived the life of a hermit in the small town of Gujranwala where he taught in a school for many years. In his lifetime he was almost neglected as he was not an ordinary reader’s writer. Reading him needed a deep study as he didn’t want to write simple realist stories to gain maximum fan following. As a fiction writer, he tried to look different and that’s why his fiction was hardly noticed. Whenever an objective history of Urdu literature is written, he will have a safe place in it.

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