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Pakistani Urdu fiction in 2015 Business as usual

Updated December 27, 2015

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THOUGH 2015 will not go down in the history of Urdu fiction as a vintage year, it was, at least, not totally disappointing. The number of new fiction works published during the year was not high, as usual, and most of them could be rated as 'mediocre'. But three works of fiction, the saving grace, merit a special mention. One is a biographical novel and the others are collections of short fiction. But first let us talk about some recent trends in Urdu fiction.

Some critics feel that the Urdu novel has been going through a revival during the last couple of decades after a brief lean patch. The perception is not totally baseless as a number of new and accomplished novelists, such as Bano Qudsia, Mustansar Hussain Tarar, Shamsur Rahman Farooqi, Ubaidullah Baig, Muhammad Ilyas, Mirza Athar Baig and some others, had come up with some novels that gave a fillip to the genre. Though the momentum, it seems, has sustained much of its steam in the last few years, there have not been any truly remarkable novels among the ones published lately. But then, great novels in Urdu have always been scarce. On the other hand, the afsana, or short story, a more popular genre in Urdu, has produced some remarkably fine pieces quite often, though the Urdu short story is younger than the Urdu novel by at least 30 years. During the last year, too, the trend continued and the new collections of short stories outnumbered novels.

Another trend that began in the late 1980s is the publication of collected works of fiction, both short and long. This, too, was in vogue during the year 2015 and the works of popular fiction writers, both from India and Pakistan - such as Balwant Singh, Hajra Masroor and Naiyer Masud - reappeared as collected works. Selected works, yet another trend, not only continued but seemed to gain more popularity. Oxford University Press, for instance, published selected short stories of Masud and Syed Rafiq Hussain, both compiled by Asif Farrukhi. Dehshat Mein Mohabbat, a selection of Mohammad Hameed Shahid's short stories, was compiled by Mohammad Ghalib Nishtar.

Pandrah Kahaniyan by Maustansar Hussain Tarar: Travel writer, novelist, playwright, short story writer and columnist Tarar has a huge following. But it is not without reason, as he shows us again in Pandrah Kahaniyan, his collection of short stories published by Sang-e-Meel Publications. With his usual imagery and fascinating prose, Tarar has taken up some issues faced by the nation, such as terrorism and mob justice.

Madaar by Sheen Farrukh: Farrukh is a veteran journalist, advice columnist, travelogue writer and art critic. Her biographical novel Madaar, published by Lahore's Sang-e-Meel Publications, narrates the life story of Ali Imam, a well-known Pakistani artist. She has painted the life of a painter compassionately and meticulously. One can meet many artists, learn about art and see Imam struggling through it.

Aaeene Main Gum Aks by Mohammad Ilyas: Muhammad Ilyas has been very prolific and has published five novels and six collections of short stories. Though much underrated and generally neglected by the critics, Ilyas is the new, convincing voice in Urdu fiction. Aaeene Main Gum Aks is a collection of Ilyas's 26 short stories and a novella. Some of these short stories are very short and span just a few pages, some even just one page. His economy of words and shockingly revealing climaxes remind one of some of the Western masters of the craft of storytelling: Guy de Maupassant, O. Henry and Somerset Maugham. Ilyas casts an ironical look at modern-day life and its complexities.

Some other works: Another novel that has been much appreciated by some critics is Akhtar Raza Saleemi's Jaage Hain Khwab Mein. Some of the noteworthy collections of short stories that appeared during the year are: Taar-e-Hareer-e Do Rang by Tahir Masood and Model Town by Bilal Hassan Minto; also, titled Ali Hyder Malik ke Afsaane and edited by A. Khayyaam, Ali Hyder Malik's short stories were published posthumously.