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Of unsaid silences

An anthology of Naiyer Masud’s stories throwing light on the larger than life works of the literary giant

Of unsaid silences

Naiyer Masud is one of the most fascinating short story writers of Urdu language. His unique fiction distinguishes him from the rest of Urdu writers. He borrows elements from Kafka to build his fictional world and creates a dream-like atmosphere in his stories, where his characters often face the uncertainty of reality. He also benefits from the rich tradition of classical Urdu literature by introducing elements of tales in building his story plots.

Masud explained in one of his interviews that he began working on a story by jotting down ideas on paper, then crossed out many of those, until he was left with a few pages of text — and a concrete story. The deleted passages would leave their traces that made the plot multi-layered, with some visible and invisible events working behind the plot that added to the overall ambiguity and obscurity of the story. This made some of his stories seem like pieces of a puzzle.

He got prominence as a writer through the publication of Urdu translations of Kafka’s stories in one of the most prestigious literary magazines of the subcontinent, Shab Khoon, edited by the veteran novelist, poet, editor and researcher Dr Shamsur Rahman Faruqi. The publication of his first collection of stories, Seemia was a breakthrough in his literary career as it astounded the Urdu reader with the peculiarity of his characters, and obscurity of the locale of stories. Though Masud’s stories lack a strong plot, which is considered a vital part of fiction in Urdu, the peculiar way he builds the overall atmosphere of the story gives him a distinguished place in the annals of Urdu short story.

In the stories of Naiyer Masud, silences are more important than the voices we hear. In the whole structure of his narrative, these silences are sometimes louder than the audible voices, a situation that sometimes leads to enigmatic plots. The desires and failures of the characters are visible in the stories, but the questions usually remain unanswered. His stories depict life which has more questions than answers. He is more attracted to the absent, the obscure and the unsaid. For him writing is sometimes a way to learn to remain silent.

He has published 4 collections of stories, Seemia, Taoos Chaman ki Maina, Itr-e-Kafoor and Ganjefa. His fifth collection of stories Dhool Ban was published after his death. He also translated some of the stories of his favorite writer Franz Kafka into Urdu. The pen sketches that he has written of some of his friends offer us a glimpse into the wonderful literary world he lived in.

Naiyer Masud belonged to a literary family of Lucknow and his father Masoodul Hasan Rizvi Adeeb was a scholar in his own right. In his book of pen sketches, Masud has virtually painted a touching picture of his father. Masud also has some critical works to his credit. The
biography of Mir Anees that was penned by him is still considered to be one of the best on the great poet.

Short story writer Muhammad Asim Butt has selected the best stories of Naiyer Masud for a single volume, titled Naiyer Masud Kay Bemisal Afsanay, to present to the Urdu readers a glimpse into the universe of the celebrated writer. Almost all of his best stories are included in the volume, for example stories like Taoos Chaman ki Maina, Itr e Kafoor, Bai Kay Matamdar, Jirga, Dhool Ban and Seemia. If you haven’t been able to visit the unique world of Naiyer Masud yet, this is the book you need to get hold of, as no serious reader of Urdu fiction can afford to neglect this giant of Urdu fiction. Some of his stories were also translated into English by late Muhammad Umar Memon under the title The Essence of Camphor.

There is need for many more such selections from contemporary Indian fiction to be compiled by our fiction writers. One hopes that Muhammad Asim Butt will introduce more writers to us through such selections.

Naiyer Masud Kay Bemisal Afsanay Compiled by: Muhammad Asim Butt Publisher: Alhamd Publications Pages: 348 Price: Rs400

Altaf Hussain Asad

altaf asad
The author is a freelance journalist based in Islamabad.

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