A collection of critical writings that evaluate fiction written in the past 30 years in this part of the world
Hameed Shahid is one of the leading fiction writers in Urdu and his critical writings are of value primarily for this reason. He insists that the creative writer and the critic are organically linked, and to treat them separately is a fallacy, problematically, in recent times, criticism has taken precedence over creative activity.
The creative writer has to seek a certain license to be able to assess and justify the work of a poet or a writer, rather than be his own master or mistress. This independence or freewheeling of criticism is based on certain theories in linguistics, and what goes in the making of the language and its relationship with the process of consciousness has taken precedence. It is seen as an activity that should be judged per se and the creative effort is seen and assessed in its light. It is supposed to be fulfilling a creative need which a set of theories has thrown up.
Shahid, of course, does not agree with this hypothesis since criticism is more a part of literature and the creative act itself rather than a byproduct of some linguistic theory or a way of looking at the present situation through a breakthrough in anthropology or critical studies. The organic relationship between the two should be maintained and not destroyed by taking it as merely incidental. So when Shahid writes about fiction he is quick to add that there was a tradition of writing fiction in this part of the world and that it is not an adaptation of a European genre, or only an act of writing that is at best derived.
It is always productive and useful when outside influences affect the local literary tradition; for it proves to be a catalyst by fertilising and crystallising the process. The introduction and exposure to what in the West is called the ‘novel’ and the ‘short story’ only precipitated the act of writing prose here; and it was not something that was totally new, adapted or merely copied. Had it been only copied and imitated, it would at best be a twice removed literary activity. But the quality of writings has shone brightly as it would only if the experiential basis was authentic which in turn resulted in authentic expression.
The real purpose of criticism is to expose and reveal the zeitgeist, the spirit of the age, from the literary text.
The best thing about the collection is that it covers many contemporary writers like Rasheed Amjad, Ahmad Hamesh, Aslam Sirajuddin, Khalida Hussain, Mazharul Islam, Waheed Ahmad, Faisal Ajmi, Maqsood Illahi Shaikh, Mohsina Jilani, Asif Farrukhi, Akhlaq Ahmad, Hafeez Khan, Naseem Javed, Fatima Hasan, Shabnam Shakeel, Tahira Iqbal, Naseem Syed, Abida and Amjad Tufail.
But Hamid assesses the contemporary writers in relation to the senior contemporaries who are already established in this genre. Writing about Intizar Husain, he praises his earlier writings which he considers as great examples of realism. Hamid says that Husain’s writing is about the past, the places left behind, the times that have gone by and he captures all this in a way that it becomes palatable. Hamid places much importance on Husain’s going back into the dastaans and myths which occupied him in the middle period of his writing career and labels him as an adapter from the past. This despite the fact that some of his stories that connect with the present are considered outstanding.
Similarly, he is all praise for Masood Mufti and his realism. Mufti seems to have personally inspired Hameed Shahid, by his own confession. The stories about women are also told in a realistic fashion, the immense power of sex and its various forms and expressions and how they change as men and women progress in life.
Naiyer Masud is paid compliments for his skill as a super craftsman and his entire creative effort is labelled as a true reflection of that. Of course, the craft is so superb that it becomes totally impossible to separate from content and, therefore, it seems to attain a unity. And this is what distinguished Masud from other writers whose content peeps through the form and establishes its own identity, when actually it should be totally meshed in the form so as to be indistinguishable.
Abdullah Hussein is accepted as a major force in Urdu fiction. Hameed Shahid rejects the various strands of criticism about the writer, focusing instead on his language and structure. Even these elements of his writing are accused of being too similar to Qurratulain Hyder’s. Time, however, has proved Abdullah Hussein to be a good writer as he is popularly accepted and that for Shahid is sufficient.
Hameed Shahid is absolutely right when he distinguishes the story or fiction from a narration which may be absolutely true but is not fiction. In other words, the story requires a certain structure, a sequence of events, characters and a certain flow to establish a narrative which may be very different from the statement that may be absolutely true. For him, the narrative is critical in fiction and is encased in realism, as a literary form. Reality could be anything that may be true but realism is when the reality shines itself through a certain piece of fiction and it reveals the civilizational ethos in its totality.
Hameed Shahid has written about fiction of an age that has preceded him, and insists on establishing continuity in the narrative of fiction and likens it to the metaphysical resonance that can be felt and heard in all our great writings. These writings may be different in form and appearance but they point to a cultural convergence steeped in metaphysics of a certain type of understanding that can only be felt and shared, not stated per se. This collection of critical writings is thus a good evaluation of fiction that has been written in the past 30 years in this part of the world.
Author: Mohammed Hameed Shahid