Forty stories in a book

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Sarwat Ali

Oxford University Press has been holding Literature Festivals in various cities of the country and about a couple of years ago invited writings on the city of Karachi. Then Maniza Naqvi on their behalf also had experimented in asking people to write stories in English and the response was so overwhelming that it was decided to publish a selection of those stories.

Encouraged by the initiative, it was decided to do the same in Urdu by asking younger people to write stories about their experiences but limiting themselves to no more than two thousand words. Zahra Sabri who was incharge of the enterprise was astonished by the response. It was difficult to select a few from the six hundred entries that she received and after a lot of head scratching it was decided to publish forty of the stories that she received.

Since it was difficult to make a choice from the huge response that the initiative triggered, the small number of forty was given the title of “kooza” based on the axiom “kooza main darya bund karna”. So the present edition took shape and formed the body of the work that reflected the sensibilities of the younger writers who are living in a Pakistan that may be very different from the one which the previous generation had lived in.

The heartening aspect was that the writings in Urdu were received from all parts of the country, though the largest number was from the most populous province, the Punjab. But, even in the Punjab, there was a great response from the so-called backward areas of the province like Bhakkar, and then from the various villages that straddle the landscape of this fertile land.

The editor is a little disheartened that the quality of the writings by women is not that high and is marred by some very specific concerns that are traditionally associated with women. Only fifteen percent of the entries received were from women. But, on the whole, though the themes varied, there were certain that were more similar than dissimilar like the vast division in the classes and poverty in the rural areas, the desire to be educated for a better life, the discrimination against women in society, the persistent issue of insecurity, religious intolerance, violence in society and the excesses committed by the state’s security agencies.

Also what the editor does not approve is the moral tag that is attached to the stories by most of the writers. It is generally assumed and it is the consequence of our faulty education system that assumes literature to have a didactic intent. It can only be laid at the door of a society that has increasingly become hyde-bound in morality and its basic tenets are derived from a religious sensibility.

The purpose of existence has been narrowed down to some moral intent and literature, above all as indeed all acts and thoughts, is seen to be directed towards that end.

Since most of the stories are by writers who are young or not into writing, there may be a certain naivety about the approach to the various themes. The stories are not really stories in the sense of a proper plot and characterisation but these appear to be like peeping into a certain situation. It is more like the expose to a certain tangle in a family or in the trait of an individual rather than a developed and evolved course of the story. Besides the fact that it might be the consequence of the rather direct approach which younger people tend to take, it could also be the consequence of the word limit that was imposed on the writers. To say much in fewer words in the hallmark of great writing and to expect these novices to create a good story was not being fair enough.

But the variety of themes and the wide array of situations that are tackled give great hope that the principal reason for lack of expression, writing and creative work is lack of platforms in the country. Once the platform is offered, it does have fruitful consequences.

It is hoped that this initiative is continued and developed further so that people with the talent can also work on the craft of telling a story. The effort both in English and Urdu is commendable and, on the right track of offering opportunities to as many as possible, can be extended to other Pakistani languages as well.

Kooza (collection of short stories)
Selection and introduction by Zahra Sabri
Oxford University Press, 2015
Pages: 173
Price: Rs 275/

Sarwat Ali, “Forty stories in a book,” in The News, July 5, 2015. Accessed on July 7, 2015, at:

The item above written by Sarwat Ali and published in The News on July 5, 2015, is catalogued here in full by Faiz-e-Zabaan for non-profit educational purpose only. Faiz-e-Zabaan neither claims the ownership nor the authorship of this item. The link to the original source accessed on July 7, 2015, is available here. Faiz-e-Zabaan is not responsible for the content of the external websites.

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