A COUPLE of years ago, Mustansar Hussain Tarar graciously allowed his readers a peep into the magic world of literary creativity when he converted a 10-second interaction with a World War II veteran into a full-scale short story. His latest offering, in ways more than one, is but an extension of that master class. If he was good in his earlier effort, this time round he is absolutely amazing.Those who have read Tarar’s travelogue about his visit to Russia, Moscow Ki Safaid Raatain, would easily recall the character of Boris that he created when a student of Moscow University, where he had been invited to deliver a lecture, asked him about the process of creativity and the element of characterisation. A chance encounter with the veteran the preceding day was enough for him to weave together a story that was not just coherent, but captivating.
Aay Ghazaal-i-Shab is a novel that has been carved out for the most part from his time in Moscow. Some of the real-life characters in the travelogue now stand to gain immortality in fiction — Zaheeruddin, Waris Chaudhry, Qadir Qureishi and Sardar Qalib, to name a few.
They represent the large number of people who had at one point in time believed in the socialist ideology and had moved to the erstwhile Soviet Union to help it help the workers of the world unite for they had nothing to lose but chains.
There they settled down, married, had kids and life went on smoothly till things changed and the workers of the world began to realise that for every chain they were losing, they had to carry two more. From glasnost and perestroika to ultimate collapse, the journey, if anything, was quick, and gave little time for the person on the street to adjust.
It was even trickier for the non-Soviets as they fell from the status of heroes who had left their homeland for a cause, to nothing more than outsiders, and had to face a certain degree of xenophobia. There were some who changed with the changing times and made it big, like Chaudhry and Qureishi. Some — like Qalib, for instance — had Russian in-laws with meaningful connections. But there were also others like Zaheer who suffered disillusionment — both in ideological and existential terms. It is this disillusionment that Tarar has touched upon at length and with dexterity and finesse in the novel.
In doing so, Tarar has been able to capture the irony of the transformed scenario at both the social and individual levels. His description of Lenin’s statues being converted into molten metal to produce the Christian Cross, and of the life and plight of a revolutionary poet, bear ample proof in this regard. Though the poet has been named Sardar Seemab, the description — and especially the “Mein Nahin Manta” refrain — leaves no doubt about the real-life identity of the character. It is an irony in itself that while Tarar’s words may offend some of the large number of Seemab’s fans, they nevertheless capture the miserable contrast between the words and the deeds of a lot of ‘Seemabs’ amid us.
Broadening the scope of his main focus, Tarar has also brought in Arif Naqvi from Berlin and Mustafa Islam Shaikh from Budapest. This has given him more ground to build his argument and to make it more persuasive and convincing. A widely travelled man, Tarar has the capacity to deal with a varying atmosphere but he can be seen in his true element when, driven out by disillusionment and lured in by nostalgia, four of the main characters — Zaheer, Qalib, Naqvi and Shaikh — travel to Lahore in search of their roots, only to feel a lot more disillusioned.
In some of his earlier novels, Tarar, the writer, was a bit louder than the characters he was dealing with. Aay Ghazaal-i-Shab is absolutely flawless on this count. In the backdrop of a multicultural milieu, the characters bring in their own thoughts and arguments and express them in their own idioms. Tarar becomes a mere bystander listening to their conversations and noting them down. One really can’t get better than that in terms of striking a balance between characterisation and narrative.
It is difficult to say for sure which side of the argument Tarar himself happens to take, for instance, when Zaheer starts feeling sympathetic towards the Taliban and when Naqvi draws parallels between the leftists of yore and the rightists of today. In other places, some characters keep promoting the Sufi thought pattern of Oneness in multiplicity and multiplicity in Oneness. It is as if the characters have simply decided to ignore the writer.
For such a piece of fiction that deals with subjects and issues of modern day existence, the climax could not have been more apt. Naqvi, who had once worked in theatre in pre-Partition India, appears for an audition in a play being staged in Lahore. With all the momentum of the story behind him, he brings the curtain down with a monologue that is nothing short of a thumping crescendo. Tarar, the writer, remains silent even though he should have been offering a standing ovation to Naqvi, his creation, for what surely was the performance of his life.
The reviewer is a Dawn staffer
By Mustansar Hussain Tarar
Sang-e-Meel Publications, Lahore
LETTERS AND SKETCHES
THE compilation and publication of the correspondence of celebrities is an old tradition, as is the writing of pen sketches. Shafiqur Rahman, Colonel Mohammad Khan and Mohammad Khalid Akhtar were established celebrities in life and have a confirmed place in Urdu literature’s hall of fame. But the letters written by them to Mustansar Hussain Tarar carry very little significance, if at all. The charm of the publication titled Khuto’t — and there is a whole lot of it — lies in the sketches penned by Tarar in memoriam of his three legendary ‘friends’.
It is through the sketches that one gets to see the agony that kept two of these three writers on the edge for most of their lives. The death of Shafiqur Rahman’s two sons and the behaviour of Colonel Khan’s son towards him are just two such pieces of ‘information’.
Khalid Akhtar’s sketch is the most lively, probably because he was the luckiest of them all, having lived a ‘normal’ life. His letters to Tarar are also the least formal in tone and texture and bring him out as an eternal young man who never stopped dreaming.
While Shafiqur Rahman and Colonel Khan are more reserved in their correspondence, almost as if they were a bit too aware of the ‘junior’ status of Tarar in terms of age and acclaim, Khalid Akhtar has no such inhibitions. He is frank, forthright and friendly.
It may not be a yardstick worth its while, but on the basis of the compilation in hand, Khalid Akhtar beats his two friends hands down.
By Mustansar Hussain Tarar
Sang-e-Meel Publications, Lahore
-- Humair Ishtiaq