“I believe that readers themselves are story writers. While reading a story they create it; they shape up characters, conjure up places and spaces and experience emotions and perceptions. In this manner much is added to the story which isn’t said by the author. Even if it is said, it does not find expression in words but rather remains hidden beneath them. The story is completed with the articulation of what is unsaid,” says Prem Parkash.

He is one of our leading short story writers and literary editors. A selection of his stories titled Prem Parkash Diyan Kahanian transliterated by Rishum Jameel Paul, has been published by Sulaikh Bookmakers, Lahore.

The book contains eight short stories, some are in fact long short stories, with an introduction by editor which is both informative and analytical. The stories have carefully been chosen with a view to introducing the author to the readers on this side of the border and they seem to be representative of his genius.

The first impression when you read his stories is that of a pleasant surprise; his literary language is very close to the central dialect of Punjabi which is widely spoken and understood in our part of Punjab. His idiom is neither obscure nor burdened with loanwords from Arabic, Persian, Hindi or Sanskrit which is a no mean feat for a contemporary writer of Punjabi. All the stories in the selection masterfully deal with interpersonal relationships which are eventually the bedrock of individual and social life. He is able to successfully explore the hidden and not-so-hidden recesses because of his deeply intimate insight into psychological and psychic dimensions of individuals’ existence caught in conflicting social forces that inhibit or restrict the emancipatory urges in a hierarchical social set-up.

Prem Parkash’s highly creative achievement lies in his unusual literary skills; he goes into uncharted territories and explores the secrets with a subtle touch, with an imperceptible poise without blowing any didactic dust into your face. He depicts, describes and narrates but discretely avoids being judgmental. What creates a sense of wonder is the absolute absence of moral judgement; he never judges the characters he creates. His attitude reveals his deep respect for the individual and his/ her freedom curbed by social norms and cultural coercion. This is a great leap forward in a culture that touts the compliance of its narrowly defined do’s and don’ts as the raison detre of its existence. Gharhi, the first story in the book is a marvel. A man traveling in a train recreates his own life and its stunning details. Reverie and memories bordering on the subconscious transport the readers to an altogether different imaginative plain that is familiar and forbidding. Two stories are on the complex and complicated relationship between fathers and sons; how they get estranged while trying to be mindful of their apparently unbreakable organic links. Eh Oh Jasbir Nahi is a delicately crafted story of a two friends in the aftermath of the Operation Blue Star of 1984 which led to dreadful religious, political and social unrest that ripped apart the socio-cultural fabric of East Punjab with formidable bearings on interpersonal relationships of individuals. Here again the author explores the dimensions of changed relationship while keeping the vivid political turmoil in the background. The last story of the book can rightly be called one of the all-time great love stories that revolves around mature man and woman. It celebrates in undertones love and loss of love. It’s tale of how one finds a serendipitous gift of immeasurable value and how it slips from the hand like a gust of wind.

Interestingly, Prem Parkash uses first person singular in all his narratives. Why it’s so, needs analysis. He is master storyteller with deep insight into human psyche and behaviour. The book is a highly rewarding read. Don’t miss it.

Shahid Shaidai makes his debut as a novelist of Punjabi language with his novella Pehli Neender Magron published by Sulaikh Bookmakers, Lahore. He is a poet, critic, novelist and editor and has quite a number of publications to his credit in Urdu language. He was born in Amritsar. His family migrated to Lahore in 1947. He served in a bank for years but kept his passion for literature alive. His novella is no run-of-the mill literary product one comes across every other day. It’s something special that has the power to startle you in a cry of surprise. Why? Because he creates a whole new society on the patina of time past in a region of the world that looks simultaneously familiar and alien.

Fiction writer Ilyas Ghumman rightly comments in the blurb: “Shahid Shaidai’s flight of imagination takes us on a round of thousands years old imagined Asian lands. But I think it’s not a story of yesterday or tomorrow. It’s rather a tale of today.” The novella is symbolic. It paints and portrays Asian societies in bygone era with their tribal social structures and monarchical power edifice. Power struggle and its implications for a society is the main theme. In order to succeed in power struggle, one has to be ruthless without limit. No holds barred attitude has to be the norm. Deception, deceit and chicanery are developed into a fine art. Suppression of internal dissent and external expansion becomes a political compulsion and an economic necessity. Undistilled irredentism becomes obsession. The first causality of such a phenomenon is human freedom and individual rights as the system stems the ensuing socio-political discontent and emancipatory urges in the name of so-called collective good which is synonymous with the elites’ privileges. Such a world may look different in appearance from our own but is similar in substance. Both share an overwhelming propensity to control human beings and their destiny. In our part of the world which is ruled by dictates of the authority there is no space for the dictates of conscience as far citizens are concerned. Symbolism becomes tools of the oppressed in an undemocratic society and finds its best expression in the writings of the authors and poets who convey their experience of defiance while making a desperate bid through non-direct means to ensure their survival in an uncertain world. Saying what needs to be said in order to remain human and surviving is a precarious job that creative people do compelled by the force of circumstances.

Shahid Shaidai undoubtedly wins laurels for his debut novella for exposing our society premised on the notion of authoritarianism through a symbolic narrative. — soofi01@hotmail.com

Published in Dawn, August 22nd, 2022

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