Thursday, August 23, 2007

Aini Aapa, Urdu fiction's Marquez, passes away

Qurratulain Hyder, one of Urdu literature's grandest writers, passed away on Monday night after prolonged illness. Unfortunately, the news came to my notice only today.

Hyder was lovingly known as Aini Aapa. She was a journalist and writer and she had worked with Khushwant Singh during his Illustrated Weekly of India days.

My first introduction to literature was through Urdu and Hyder's fiction, much before I had heard of Marquez and other Latin American writers, was one of the most potent to fire my imagination and love for stories. Her seminal work, Aag ka Dariya (River of Fire) is considered no less a work than Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude. But I love her short stories and novelettes. Her Paanch Novelletes remains one of my favourite works of fiction.

When I was reading her works in my university days, I used to fantasize how fascinatingly they will lend themselves to beautiful films. I hope Indian filmmakers like Shyam Benegal, Muzaffar Ali and Rituparno Ghosh will take note of her works. They have amazing atmospherics in them.

Here's C.M Naim's appreciation of Hyder's work:

What counts, for her, is the human spirit and the relationships it generates and nurtures. That is where the linearity of time seems to curve into a spiral, urging us to recognize a past that never quite disappears. This, of course, may have a depressing side too: the more things change, the more they remain the same. What, then, is our choice as individuals? Here it may be worthwhile to recall the characteristically modest, even self-mocking, remarks that Hyder made in 1991 in her acceptance speech at the Jnanpith Award function: "My concern for civililzational values about which I continue writing may sound naive, wooly-headed and simplistic. But then, perhaps, I am like that little bird which foolishly puts up its claws, hoping that it will stop the sky from falling."

Here's Hirsh Sawhney on her work, Aag Ka Dariya:

The novel is defined by a dizzying array of parables, love stories, letters, dreams and diaries, but Hyder successfully weaves this fictional universe together with a cast of characters that's not only diverse but also most intriguing. Hari, a monk in post-Buddha India, lives in a land inhabited by architects who fled the ashes of Persepolis. Kamaluddin, a 15th-century Persian thinker, has met Muslims in Andalusia who wrote Spanish in the Arabic script. Gautam, an opportunistic employee of the Raj, ends up in the kingdom of Oudh, where Muslim rulers celebrated Hindu holidays.

The group rematerializes in various incarnations and eras, and the result is an enlightening portrait of the subcontinent, one that blurs the line between insider and outsider, Hindu and Muslim, and reveals the ceaseless cycles of greed and hate that disrupt the world's beauty. Hyder is my favourite kind of writer, one who spares nobody from her scrutiny, not the treaty-breaking English who "took away the glory and wealth of Hindustan" or the "anti-British leftists" who made "a bee-line for England, deserting the toiling masses for whom their hearts used to bleed."

She first published this book in 1959, 22 years before Midnight's Children bagged the booker. So why has no one in the west outside of academia or the pages of the literary journals ever heard of this one-time Fleet Street journalist?

And here's Rakhshanda Jalil's tribute to Hyder.

1 comment:

Obiter Dictum said...

Indeed, Marquesz of Urdu.

She and Manto have really molded my youth, of course, Sahir and Josh played their part.

A loss.