Memories of migration

WORDSMITH Intizar Hussain   | Photo Credit: AFP

Day and Dastan” is a very discerning English translation of two novellas of Intizar Hussain, theDin” and the “Dastan” by Nishat Zaidi and Alok Bhalla. Intizar Hussain was born and brought up in Dibai, a qasba near Bulandshahar in Uttar Pradesh in 1925 in the pre-Partition India. He migrated to Pakistan in 1947 and evolved into a world renowned literary figure. Pakistani Government honoured him with an aptly titled award called “Sitara-e-Imtiaz”, the star of excellence”. He was also shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize in 2013 for his novel “Basti” after the latter was translated into English by Frances Pritchett. Intizar Hussain was one of us who were thrown by the violent waves of Partition to the other side of the border. Much of his fiction draws on the memories of quotidian existence of his boyhood in the small town where he grew up.

He has not received as much consideration in India as he deserves. The reason perhaps is that we choose to remain in amnesia about our poignant past. Famous poet and writer Gulzar has aptly said somewhere “We were one people, one parted, now we are two”. These words resound the casualness with which we describe the Partition these days, yet, at the same time the irony of these words cuts through the wraps to reveals more than we would like to remember. Intizar Hussain’s fiction deftly hints at the significance of remembrance of the past to create meaning in the present. Nishat Zaidi says in her comprehensive introduction to the book that, “Partition and the spurious cultural geography it produced made a sensitive writer like Intizar Hussain profoundly cognisant of his role as a writer, which was to remind his generation of its loses and instil some wisdom in the process.”

The two novellas in focus here are visibly very different from each other. The narrative style in ‘Din’ documents the routine existence of a large joint Muslim family living in a sprawling old haveli which in itself becomes a living archive of changing times. We see the people and places associated with this Haveli through the eyes of protagonist Zamir who has lived here with his cousin Tehsina in his childhood. The story moves back and forth in time as Zamir comes back to the Haveli as a young man with his parents. The motif of loss during Partition reflects in loss of Haveli in a lawsuit that compels the family to migrate to a new kothi built after facing enormous obstacles by Zamir’s father on the outskirts of the residential area. Badi Apa’s decision to stay back in the Haveli at the mercy of new occupants and her refusal to migrate is a reminder of the larger migration in which those who stayed back also suffered as their loved ones felt compelled to move.

The ‘Dastan’ narrative integrates most of the conventional ‘Dastan’ elements like war heroes; beautiful and noble women (being rescued and loved), assemblies and conferences; enchanting spaces with deserted palaces, speaking parrots, voices and omens. (‘razm’, ‘bazm’, ‘husn-o-ishq’ and ‘tilism’) etc. but Intizar Hussain also expands the possibilities of this conventional form and imparts contemporary relevance to it by interweaving into it the recent historical events. Hakim ji, the dastango, tells these tales to his slumbering friends at the Hukka gatherings of long summer nights and narrates the events of 1857 struggle for freedom within dastan framework. He narrates the destruction, desolation and dishonour that the British regiments brought into his culturally rich world but the themes of duty, love, morality, and bravery unfold in natural settings of abandoned palaces, towers, villages, rivers, deserts and forests in a style that alludes to real as well as the magical in an unpretentious manner.

Eternal presence of the intangible

What is most fascinating in the fictional world of Intizar Hussain is that there is an eternal presence of the intangible. In spite of apparently dreary challenges of the mundane monotonous life of humans, there exists in Hussain’s stories a presence that is indefinable yet accessible to human beings. It happens through their correlation with the nature. Changing seasons, storms, heat, drought, trees in the courtyard and those in the fields, flowers, birds, squirrels, chameleons, butterflies and other animals and insects are a part and parcel of human existence in “Din” as well as in “Dastan”. It is the candidness of the style in which Intizar Hussain depicts this association that brings magic into his tales.

For instance, in “Din”, in a very simple yet moving description, young Tehsina and Zamir are catching butterflies. Tehsina caught one and held it between her fingers and raising it to the sky, said, ‘O butterfly, convey my salaam to Allah Mian.’ ‘And mine too’, says little Zamir. In the same way, in the “Dastan” , there is a scene where the brave and noble soldier Samand Khan rescues a princess and at night when they have to sleep in a small space, he places a naked sword between themselves. Nishat Zaidi quotes Intizar Hussain on the necessity of non-human elements in his stories. She writes, “Hussain argues that ‘in a world containing only people, there is room for journalism to grow but not for poems and stories.’ He laments the fact that unlike ancient stories which thrived on communication between human and non-human, and in which man appeared as part of the universe, the new age story teller ‘began to write tales of only human world.’ The tragic outcome of this loss of the non-human is that man himself has metamorphosed into a demon.”

Published by Niyogi Books, the translation of the two novellas is executed so unassumingly by these adepts that the language doesn't become an obstacle, it rather facilitates the original and captures the highly nuanced narrative world of Intizar Sahab in a masterly fashion.

Related Topics
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | May 5, 2021 1:50:52 AM |

Next Story