Rakhshanda Jalil went to Delhi University, did her doctorate from Jamia Millia, and has edited two collections of short stories, written a collection of essays on the little known monuments of Delhi, a literary biography of a feminist writer and eight works of translations. Hence she is eminently qualified to edit a selection of translations from Urdu short stories.
She has edited and translated works of Urdu earlier but this time round she chose to select from the “new writings”, or the writers who are still writing in Urdu as compared to those works that are now considered almost classic. But in all this she has not overlooked the writers who have been writing for a long time and are now seen as masters of the Urdu prose. Since after all those decades, they are still writing, in such cases she found it fascinating to discover the changing trends in their writings. She has tried to trace these changing trends over a period of almost fifty years if it happens to be in the works of someone like Intizar Husain.
Her endeavour has been strictly apolitical. Though she wishes peace and better relationship between the two acrimonious neighbours, her quest has not been driven by political agenda of seeking forced similarities between the two societies as a basis for an argument for peace.
These writings are from both sides of the border — India and Pakistan. Urdu developed as a language in the areas that now fall in India but in the 19th century it found a new home in Punjab. After partition Urdu was made the national language of Pakistan and it has thrived feeding on the regional linguistics variations of the various cultural units that constitute Pakistan. In India, its real home, it has also existed but not as vigorously as it was supposed to or as some would have liked.
To many, this difference in priorities and the forging of national and cultural identities may have been a fascinating subject but Rakhshanda Jalil is not bemused by it as she finds a great deal of similarity between the writings in both countries. These similarities or the lack of difference lies in the reflection, shared common, almost similar concerns. These concerns override political faultlines, fissured landscape, totemic poles of identity. If not pointed out it would be difficult to say which writings were penned in India and which in Pakistan. The similarity of experience is very intense because using a title of a short story she insists that “Vanilla Crumble” tastes the same on both sides of the border.
These new writings have travelled some distance from the great writings of the pioneers, if the history of Urdu fiction is to start from Premchand. The new short story or the “nai kahani” comprises or reflects a sensibility that is different from the earlier times; it is a new literary canon feeding on changing times and different but real concerns at that. Living in a post-colonial world, they continue to negotiate the demands of their new literary issues and those of their younger newer writers. It is both that the language has been maintained its chastity and moulded to convey these modern concerns.
New ideas have produced new kind of story and the adoption of a new fresh voice. And contrary to what some believe that all modern is trash, these thirty odd stories have everything from stream of consciousness, modern, post modern, avant-garde, feminist — something for every taste.
The Indian writers included are: Joginder Paul with a more traditional form of the afsana, Jeelani Bano on probing the notions of young love and idealism and whether there is such a thing as artistic vigour that can withstand thirst and hunger, Tariq Chatari on the theme of communalism and its conjoined twin secularism, especially within the context of Ganga Jamuni Tehzeeb, Khalid Javed’s modernistic long short story narrated by a shoe, Noor Zaheer on the subject of sexual abuse within the joint family system, Anis Rafi on the intercommunal ties especially dramatised by the imposition of a curfew, Syed Muhammed Ashraf spins his tale in a train compartment, Tarannum Riaz brings a feminine perspective, Riffat Riaz a haunting elegy to the lost lives particularly of the young, Mazhar-uz-Zaman gory tale of voyeurism, Shahida Yousaf on the closeted feminine space, Anwar Qamar on the horrors of killing and violence in the context of the Gujarat massacre.
Pakistani writer Neelam Ahmed Bashir narrates the ordeal of the young women being married to the Quran and Parveen Atif talks about the two survivors of a nuked out world, Asif Farrukhi on reliving old memories of the multicultural, multiethnic past lost forever, Ahmed Hamesh in technique and content very modernistic on the futility of finding meaning, Hasan Manzar on the tension between the older and the younger wife, Azra Abbas on very short story, Mirza Hamid Baig a throwback to the old world hospitality, Zahida Hina on the tension between local and international perspectives, Fahmida Riaz linking diverse countries and, Salma Awan on the ill-fated lovers from Punjab and Dhaka, Mansha Yaad on the vigil of the father waiting for the return of the son, Intizar Hussain exploring the katha style and Ali Akbar Natik on the difference between the east and the west even in dealing with death.
In her own words she has tried to cast the net as wide as possible and trawl for new translators who bring a freshness and vitality to the demanding task of translation. Since there are no pretensions and claims, some being first time translations brings an unselfconscious ease to their translations.
The translations too have been done by the likes of Rashmi Govind, Baidar Bakht, Samina Hasan Siddiqui, Haris Qadeer, Matt Reeck, Nayyara Rehman, Mahjabeen Jalil, Shahira Naim, Fatima Rizvi, Saif Mahmood, Bushra Alvi Razzaq from India and Durdana Soomro, Javad Qazi, Sohail Akbar, Yousaf Shahid, Sami Rafiq, Atiya Shah, Tariq Rahman, Salim ur Rehman and Ali Madeeh Hashmi from Pakistan.