The Lost World



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One feels let down. Is this all man and woman are made for? Is the problem of identity no more than the getting rid of a guilt about copulation? Does it not matter whether one copulates with a husband, sister, brother, father, mother or friend as long as the distinction of sexes remains? How does Gopi fit into all this? Or doesn't he? It is an untidy tale Intizar makes of it. The unexamined possibilities, the unexplored themes, the simplistic treatment, the confused argument, all of this is illustrated here.

Not these re-tellings from ancient texts, but it is tales like "Dehlez" and "Seerrhiyyan" which work best, tales where superstition and popular lore impinge upon immediate experience without becoming too obvious. In early Intizar Husain there was a better sense of this, a better appreciation of the limits and possibilities of the short story. Later, he probably ran out of themes and subjects that had filtered into his bloodstream, or, perhaps, came to view the everyday as absurd, ordinary and repetitive without an aesthetically or ideologically acceptable cultural, religious or historical context to give it sense and meaning. He had to, in a way, reinvent the past and his migration into it to make his fiction happen. So he busied himself with defining and re-creating the elusive referents and perspectives, and became so engrossed in this process that the sense of the present was lost to him. And even then, the meaning that emerged was one of despair and loss and pain.

The only subject that Intizar treats with perfect composure and competence is the recovery of the experience of his childhood and youth. Then his language sparkles, his characters come to life and the tale could keep one awake nights. There he is unmatched. But when he attempts to deal with his immediate environment, he suddenly loses understanding of character and is cut off from the brilliant resonances of his language. The themes become thin, derivative, as in the story titled "Intizar", for instance, which is clearly modeled, without acknowledgement, on Becket's Waiting for Godot. He seeks refuge from this bleakness in the re-telling of ancient tales and legends, narrating them too as if they were his own creations, and endeavors to give them a further significance by employing a stilted, literary, or arcane idiom. The device is not particularly successful and serves to make prominent what it was devised to conceal. Perhaps he has attempted to write too much too soon. And, perhaps, he has never truly attempted to understand enough of the environment to which he migrated to be able to write about it. The problem of discovering one's antecedents, of defining oneself, is important only if one knows intimately one's immediate environment also, so that the results of the discovery can enter into a reflexive relationship with the imperatives of the undead present. More pertinently, to interest us, it requires also of the writer a familiarity with, or at least an impelling curiosity to find out about, the details of the mental, spiritual, or physical region where he is attempting to locate himself or his characters.

In this context, Intizar's remark that he learned the art of story-telling from his own naani-amman (grandmother) and his suggestion that he does not care too much for Western masters of fiction, so idolized by his early contemporaries, is both deceptive and revealing.34 To tell a story the way his grandmother did would mean, not simply that he recognizes there is a child in every man and woman, but that he considers his audience as no more than children while he plays out the role of the wise old man expounding parables and riddles to them. That attitude, so evident in a number of his stories, already estranges us from the tale. Without the treatment and understanding we associate with the learning process, no tale would satisfy the evolving perceptions of an individual through life. But the lurking desire to instruct destroys it for us even before the flaws of treatment and understanding become apparent. Intizar, on the other hand, has not remained entirely innocent of Western masters, notably, Joyce, Chekov, Becket, Lawrence, Goncharov, and shows their influence in his early work. It would have been worthwhile if his turning away from them meant a discovery of his own voice. Unfortunately, it led only to a falling back upon Oriental models of fiction, the more extended ones at that, like The Thousand Nights and One Night, The Mahabharat, the Jatakas of Mahatama Buddha, Kathha Surt Saagar, without modifying them to suit his much shorter stories, or refining out of them, and out of his reading of fiction generally, a method and form of his own. He finds his way into the region of myth and legend, but does not reflect upon them enough to develop the language and mode of address that will resurrect them for us.

Intizar's enterprise, when he leaves the world of his childhood and youth, takes us into amorphous areas with which he is not fully conversant. He ends up with the usual platitudes and dilemmas. There is no striking perception, no distinctive placement of his sensibility anywhere. This may be an accurate reflection of his concern as a writer—the rootlessness that seems to be the fate of modern man, the striking out into unknown territory, the stepping beyond known frontiers—but the indeterminacy of the locale, both spiritual (psychic) and physical, and the vagueness of his relationship to it are not necessary adjuncts to this mental engagement, and are actually an impediment to the telling of a compelling tale. More importantly, there is in Intizar no acceptance or affirmation of rootlessness but an anxiety to recover roots and fix his characters in them so that a sense of displacement may be avoided. But we detect a disinclination to pursue perceptions through their various ramifications and their, perhaps, inevitable conclusion or conclusions. It may be laziness which prevents the writer from realizing himself and causes the amorphousness and vagueness we find in his later fiction. As in his tales, he opens the seventh door, but loses heart at the threshold, never venturing beyond it. In the final analysis, the process of re-telling that he engages in may express no more than a regressive desire of the man-child to return to the womb.

Notes

1. Intizar Husain, "Doosra Gunah," Shehr-e-Afsoos, 1973, in Qissa Kahanian, Volume Two of his collected short stories, (Lahore, Sang-e-Meel Publications, 1990), p. 380, where the metaphors are used in a slightly different context but the theme of migration forms an important part of the background.


2. Intizar Husain, "Ek Bin Likhi Razmia," Galli Koochey, 1952, in Janam Kahanian, Volume One of his collected short stories, (Lahore, Sang-e-Meel Publications, 1987), pp.158-159. References to Intizar Husain's tales, except when a tale is first quoted from, will henceforth be mentioned parenthetically in the text, the name of the volume of collected stories where it occurs appearing after it with the relevant page number or numbers at the end.
3. Intizar Husain, "Anjanhari ki Gharyya," Kankari, 1955, in Janam Kahanian,

p. 226.
4. Asif Farrukhi, Harf-e-Man-o-Tu, interviews with major contemporary writers (Karachi, Nafees Academy, 1989), pp. 75-109. Intizar was interviewed on September 25, 1984.


5. Intizar Husain, Din, 1960, in Janam Kahanian, p. 522.
6. Intizar Husain, "Apney Kirdaroon Key Barey Mein," in Janam Kahanian, p. 751.
7. Intizar Husain, "Satwan Dar," Kankari, in Janam Kahanian, p. 338.
8. Intizar Husain, "Sooyyan," Akhri Admi, 1967, in Janam Kahanian, pp. 721-727.

9. Intizar Husain, "Kahani ki Kahani," Kachhuey, 1981, in Qissa Kahanian, p. 399.

10. Intizar Husain, "Raat," Kachhuey, in Qissa Kahanian, p. 129; see also, "Woh jo Dewar nan Chaat Sakey," Shehr-e-Afsoos, in Qissa Kahanian, pp. 355-362.
11. Intizar Husain, Dastan, 1960, in Janam Kahanian, p. 528.
12. See particularly Intizar Husain's "Second Round," Akhri Admi, in Janam Kahanian, pp. 707-720.
13. Intizar Husain, "Ijtema'aey Tehzib aur Afsana," in Allamatoon ka Zawwal (Lahore, Sang-e-Meel Publications, Second Edition, 1989), p. 21.
14. Asif Farrukhi, Harf-e-Man-o-Tu, pp. 88-89.
15. Ibid., pp. 87-88.
16. Intizar Husain, "Ayodhya," Galli Koochey, in Janam Kahanian, p. 73.
17. Asif Farrukhi, Harf-e-Man-o-Tu, p. 89.
18. Intizar Husain, "Khwab aur Taqdeer," Kachhuey, in Qissa Kahanian, pp. 137-143.
19. Intizar Husain, "Naye Afsana Nigar key Naam," Kachhuey, in Qissa Kahanian, p. 182; see also p. 179.
20. Ibid., p. 179.
21. Ibid., p. 183.
22. Intizar Husain, "Kashtee," Kachhuey, in Qissa Kahanian, pp. 164-176.
23. Intizar Husain, "Kahani ki Kahani," Shehr-e-Afsoos, in Qissa Kahanian, p. 403, and generally, pp. 398-403.

24. On two occasions, at least, Shuja'at Ali's and Mirza Sahib's inner thought process is revealed to the reader which would not be possible if the story is told from the point of view of Manzoor Husain. See, "Katta Huwa Dabba," Shehr-e-Afsoos, in Qissa Kahanian: "Shuja'at Husain pushed his cane stool back a little without any reason..." (Emphasis mine), p. 205; and "Mirza Sahab wished to press the stem of his hookah between his lips, but his hand was arrested where it was..." (Emphasis mine), p. 209.

25. Intizar Husain, "Kachhuey," Kachhuey, in Qissa Kahanian, pp. 85-103. The story paraphrased here occurs on pp. 98-99.
26. Ibid., p. 99.
27. Intizar Husain, "Chulhey ke Aas Pass," prefatorial article in Qissa Kahanian, pp. 14-15.
28. Cf. note 17, supra.
29. Gopi Chand Narang, "Naya Afsana, Allamat, Tamseel aur Kahani ka Jauhar," in Mehrab, a series of compilations of selected and unpublished writings, (Lahore, Qausain, 1985), pp. 275-319. "Nar, Nari," is discussed in Part IV of the article, pp. 288-295.
30. Information about the original Beital Pacheesi, which was in Sanskrit, is provided in Mazhar Ali Khan Villa's translation, Beital Pacheesi, Gohar Naushahi, ed., (Lahore, Majlis-e-Tarraqqi-e-Adab, 1965), in Appendix "Jeem", pp. 192-194, where, identifying the Sanskrit manuscripts that preserve it, he states that "(t)he original Beital Pacheesi is lost..." and goes on to mention Shaminder's Barhat Katha (circa. 1050 A.D.) and Som Dev's Katha Surt Saagar (between 1063 A.D. and 1088 A.D.) as important sources of the tale as we know it. Other versions and manuscripts are also mentioned. The most pertinent English rendering for our purpose is J. A. B. Van Buitenen's Tales of Ancient India (New York, Bantam Books, 1961), where eleven of its twenty-five tales are included.
31. This summary follows the Van Buitenen version quoted above.
32. Thomas Mann, The Transposed Heads, A Legend of India (New York, Alfred K. Knopf, 1941).

33. Intizar Husain, "Nar, Nari," Khemey sey Door, 1985, in Qissa Kahanian, p. 458.
35. Intizar Husain, "Chulhey key Aas Pass," in Qissa Kahanian, pp. 12-13.


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