Urdu novel is hardly 150 years old. Some researchers insist that Moulvi Kareemuddin’s allegorical work Khat-i-taqdeer (1862) is Urdu’s first novel as it preceded Moulvi Nazeer Ahmed’s Mirat-ul-aroos (1869). There are some critics, though, who believe even Nazeer Ahmed’s novels do not have the elements that make up a novel, in real sense of the word, and, hence, they do not qualify as novels.
Aside from the debate as to who wrote Urdu’s first novel and what exactly a novel is by definition, the fact is Urdu novel gained popularity quite rapidly in its nascent phase and the last quarter of the 19th century witnessed a steady flow of Urdu novels, albeit questions are often raised about some “tales”, such as Pandit Ratan Naath Sarshar’s Fasana-i-Azad (1878) as to whether or not they are novels. In the first three quarters of the 20th century, some great Urdu novels were penned, such as Gaodaan, Aag ka darya, Udaas naslen, Aangan, Khuda ki basti, Alipur ka Ailee, Aisi bulandi aisi pasti, Khoon-i-jigar hone tak, Talash-i-baharaan, Aabla pa, to name but a few. So in a way, Urdu novel progressed in strides in its first 100 years or so.
But the fact is the number of great Urdu novels can hardly be reckoned in double digits, though there has never been any dearth of ‘popular’ novels in Urdu, be it the early period when Abdul Haleem Sharar’s historical fiction was very popular or the later part of the last century when Naseem Hijazi’s so-called “Islamic novels” were all the rage. Once the 1960s and 1970s passed, writers of Urdu somehow did not come up with many novels that could be termed as really good, if not great, with the exception of Basti and Raja gidh. One feels that in the last two decades of the 20th century, good Urdu novels almost dried up. But the good news is that since the beginning of the 21st century there has been a steady flow of good novels and we are now having a kind of revival or re-emergence of Urdu novel.
These new novels must be taken seriously and evaluated as they reflect our society and its changing economic, social and political environment with all its uncertainties, chaos and discontent. Dr Mumtaz Ahmed Khan has been consistently reviewing the new Urdu novels and signposting the trends and themes of Urdu’s new novels. Some other critics too have written a number of articles on the new novel, but no exhaustive study has so far been carried out on this new trend that the 21st century has witnessed. Just like some other fellow readers this writer too had been craving for a study of Urdu novels written in the 21st century. Therefore, Ghafoor Ahmed’s book Nai sadi, nae novel came as a pleasant surprise since the writer is little known in the literary circles. The young researcher had penned this dissertation for his M Phil degree under the supervision of Dr Vaheedu-ur-Rahman Khan and now Lahore’s Dar-un-navadir has published it.
The book individually discusses and evaluates 17 Urdu novels written in the new century and they are: Kai chaand thae sar-i-aasmaan by Shams-ur Rahman Farooqi, Ghulam bagh and Sifar se aik tak by Mirza Ather Baig, Qurbat-i-marg mein muhabaat, Qala jangi, Daakiya aur julaaha, Khas-o-khashaak zamane and Aey ghazal-i-shab by Mustansar Hussain Tarar, Daira by Aasim Butt, Kaghzi ghaat by Khalda Hussain, Haasil ghaat by Bano Qudsia, Mitti Adam khati hai by Muhammad Hameed Shahid, Dhani bakhsh ke baite by Hasan Manzar, Andhera hone se kucch pehle by Najma Suhail, Jogging park by Nikhat Hasan, Rajpoot by Ubaidullah Baig and Kanjri ka pul by Younus Javed.
All these novels reflect the time they have been written in: the 21st century; with all its new possibilities and uncertainties, beauty and ugliness, chaos and order. The book has catered to a need but what it lacks is a brief introduction describing Urdu novel’s historical background and its development over the past 150 years or so. Neither does it has any concluding chapter that could sum up the entire study and put in a nutshell the new trends, themes and philosophies that the writer has so wonderfully captured by going through all these novels and dissecting them. Also, some remarkable novels written in the past 14 years or so are missing from the study. This, perhaps, reflects the limitation that such research studies impose on themselves just in order that the dissertation does not extend to an unmanageable mass. However, it is true that such topics require several studies and it is usually very difficult to capture all the essential issues in just one work. One hopes that the book will lead to some extensive studies that include more novels written recently.
Published in Dawn, September 1st, 2014