By Mohammad Hamid Shahid
Price: Rs 150
The central theme of the novel is the separation of east Pakistan in 1971. We may note here that the author belongs to a generation that was born and brought up as a Pakistani, having no traumatic recollections of the partition of 1947. The novel is one of the first creative pursuits addressing the split of our country by a member of this generation.
The story portrays two landscapes. One is the rural feudal setting in Punjab where the intricate human relations, the cruel dominance of the landlords and the psyche of the deprived is beautifully presented. From this locale the two main characters emerge. One is the narrator, who apparently announces his impartiality and assigns himself the task of only compiling a story. Soon we realise that he is an integral part of the central theme. From the same setup, Captain Salim emerges as the central character.
The other landscape is the battlefield of East Pakistan where Capt. Salim with other members of the fighting force approach the shores of Chittagong in a ship, all charged with a throbbing emotion to display their skill and bravery in order to save their country. But as they approach the coastal city, they perceive an air of hostility and enmity which dilutes their idealism into a haunting suspicion — strong enough to demoralise them.
After they land, there is narrated a series of events which gives the reader a flavour of what happened, both in the battlefield and outside. The story ends with soldiers on a steamer waiting for Captain Salim in the dark of the night. He appears with Muniba, the Bengali wife of his fellow officer, who has fallen in love with him and has decided to leave her spouse, land and people. She is refused passage by other soldiers but helps the wounded Captain on to the boat. In the night of parting, Captain Salim catches a glimpse of Muniba who after being shot rises up, only to settle in the cruel ocean waves.
The following chapters contain a far more captivating narration which addresses the conclusions drawn from this adventure. The author beautifully philosophises the bitter realities and fate of the humans who fight for land both at micro and macroscopic levels. For land, he says, is destined to cover the dead bodies of humans only.
Water and soil are two dominant metaphors which in the perspective of a unified Pakistan convey a certain specific meaning. Soil is solid and firm while water moves restlessly and turns into a cruel tide when disturbed — a tide which destroys any land.
The novel contains chapters with titles for each one — a rare method adopted in a short novel. We usually witness such titles in voluminous works. The author could very well do without them. Nevertheless, it’s an impressive novel which unfolds the talent of Mohammad Hamid Shahid as a competent novelist. By creatively utilising poetic metaphors in place of flat details he has infused an element of uniqueness in his work. A brace intact officer turns schizophrenic when he gets deprived of love and is haunted by memories of defeat and desertion.
In his incoherent thoughts, he remains fixed to the eternal truth of love and death. The author has affectionately dealt with the human situation and the novel bears a rare quality of becoming an integral part of the memory of any reader of Urdu fiction.