‘Angaaray’: A Searing Collective

A truly incredible exposé of feudal aristocracy in the 1930s, writes Pradyot Lal in Tehelka

ANGAARAYAt a time when the country has been in the throes of a major debate on religious polarisation, this incredible collection of short stories by a distinguished set of writers is a significant event in itself. The sheer depth of this anthology and its searing search for the real face of north Indian Muslims explains why the colonial masters took the unprecedented step of banning Angaaray when it appeared in 1932.

Its young writers, Sajjad Zaheer, Ahmed Ali, Rashid Jahan and Mahmud-uz-Zafar, not only revolutionised Urdu literature, but provided the foundation for an amazing band of dedicated men and women to involve themselves to the progressive cause. The book was burned in protest and then banned by the British authorities. As the introduction says, all but five copies were destroyed by the police, two of which were sent to London, where they were held in the British Library’s Oriental and India Office Collections. This translation was made possible by the efforts of two scholars who tracked down those remaining copies and published them more than 50 years later.

Translated into English for the first time by Texas-based English professor Snehal Shingavi, Angaaray retains the crackling energy and fiery polemic of the original stories. It is a decisive onslaught on conservatism in which he attempts to preserve the distinct style of each writer: the critical realism and dry humour of Sajjad Zaheer’s observations, the poignant drama of Ahmed Ali’s intensely symbolic prose, the boisterousness and bohemian ways of Rashid Jahan’s women and the ethical ambivalence of Mahmuduz-Zafar’s characters.

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