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Will contemporary Urdu novelists please stand up?

Urdu novelist Rahman Abbas, 46, had to spend time in jail, even losing his teaching job, over a book he published in 2004. It was only in August 2016 that he was acquitted by a Mumbai court, the culmination of a 10-year lawsuit against his Nakhlistan ki Talash (In Search of An Oasis). The novel, which was slapped with obscenity charges under Section 292 of the Indian Penal Code, revolves around love and politics in the aftermath of the 1992-93 riots in Mumbai. It created a furore in conservative Urdu literary and media circles. But such instances of incendiary Urdu novels, with contemporary settings, are hard to find now. Why are there no traces of anything similar to the Progressive Writers’ Movement of yore?

Urdu fiction buffs profusely applaud the seminal writers of the 20th century—Ismat Chughtai, Munshi Premchand, Qurat-ul-Ain Haider and Saadat Hasan Manto. But how much do we know about the contemporary Urdu fiction in 21st century India? Do these unknown novelists still concern themselves with the hoary traditions of ‘Lakhnawi Tehzeeb’ and ‘Awadhi Zubaan’, or have they moved on to ruminate on more topical issues from their immediate surroundings?

How many Urdu novels from Maharashtra, Kolkata or Andhra Pradesh have come to the fore, discounting the usual suspects from Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar? Moreover, what ails Urdu novels today?

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Milestones in Urdu Literature Post-partition

The novel is a social document that asserts its own identity in relation to the socio-political problems of an age. Post-partition, the novel was used to address the budding identity crisis faced by a post-colonial consciousness. Writers turned to literature to pose questions of self-identity as it was under flux from the external social forces of migration and cultural conflict. The Urdu novel took up the 1947 Indo-Pak partition as a major focal point from which to dissect the consciousness of a post-colonial society.

The prominent works of Pakistani Urdu literature include the following.

1.       Aag ka Darya by Quratulain Hyder (1957)

Ismat Chughtai

‘River of Fire’ poses the question of personal and collective identity of a society through generations. The novel moves through centuries and brings to light the thoughts being raised in the mind of a people, as they are colonized by oppressive forces, and consequently, swept into the turmoil of the partition of the Sub-continent. The physical layer of the tragedy conceals a deeper psychological tragedy as the characters wander around in search for ways to reaffirm their identity in the new scheme of things, like the heroes of an absurdist fiction.

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India: Intolerance in education? Rajasthan edu board to remove works of Urdu writers from curriculum

The state government of Rajasthan, led by Vasundhara Raje, has decided to remove poems and short stories by Urdu writers Ismat Chugtai and Safdar Hashmi from the Hindi textbooks.

According to media reports, short stories like ‘Ek din ki badshahat’ and ‘Ajmer ki sair’ will be omitted from Class 5 books. Similarly, ‘Haleem chala chand par’ and ‘Soot ka reshma’ from Class 4 books and ‘Chand ke khatir’ from Class 3 books, will be removed. Continue reading


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Notes from the Jaipur Literature Festival – Part 1

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24 January 2013

On the first day, I attended three sessions: the Art of the Short Story, Ismat and Annie, and the Novel of the Future. I did not take any notes. I wrote down the following the next morning (from whatever I could remember). If some statements sound weird and don’t make sense to the readers, I take the blame for sloppiness and apologize in advance.

We don’t tell novels, we tell short stories

The Short story: The Art of the Short Story panel had Nicholas Hogg, Richard Beard and Yiyun Li and Anjum Hasan was the moderator.

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