HAD he been a painter, Mustansar Hussain Tarar would have surely specialised in painting murals. He loves to paint big and in his own world of words, the tendency is expressed in the shape of novels. More than a dozen novels and just a lone collection of short stories thus far leave no doubt as to where his heart has been all these years. Against this backdrop, his latest offering, Pandra Kahaniyan, is set to give his readers a taste they had more than a quarter of a century ago.
Despite being a collection of short stories, the book still has a common thread running through it and together the stories do create a single image which in many ways is larger than the sum of its parts. It is as if Tarar has painted a mural with a horde of miniatures — like someone building a Sheesh Mahal with tiny, contoured pieces of mirrors that reflect a single image both individually and collectively. It is quite interesting actually.
But what is that one image that reflects through? Is it potent enough to justify — or match — the technique employed by the man? It, indeed, is. Put the pieces together and what you get is an overall picture of the key ailments that Pakistan is suffering from: sectarianism, social incoherence, blanket intolerance, rigidity, fundamentalism and all else that goes with that package. Tarar only recently started showing his political side when he wrote his travelogue to China, and the current collection is another major step forward in that direction for he has openly picked up themes that define life in present-day Pakistan.
The treatment and expressions which the stories have been given are characteristic Tarar. His moonlit prose never deserts him and that is what has sustained him through the years — decades, actually — as a writer who has earned both popular and critical acclaim.
Ironically, it is this very element which, arguably, is one rare weakness in the 15 short stories that comprise the collection. Tarar fans are quite aware of his tendency to wax lyrical about the carnal pleasures of life. He uses them to give a real-life touch to his characters for, after all, the tendency is but human. But while Tarar has employed it with great success in his novels, he can be accused of indulging in a bit of an overdo in the short-story form.
The reason seems to be quite simple. While he builds his characters in a novel, the length of the narrative allows him the space to be flamboyant every now and then, using them as hooks on which he carries the attention of his avid readers. In a short story, the canvass naturally is smaller and one gets only as much space for characterisation. But Tarar’s tool has remained unchanged.
Had it been a case of one story, it would have gone unnoticed, but in a collection, there are newer characters in every story and if you are using the same tool — blooming youth defined by even more youthful dreams in their eyes and wet dreams, for example — it is bound to be irritating, if not nauseating. A little more time on the editing table would have surely rid the stories of this totally unnecessary repetition.
In his foreword, Tarar has talked about these stories being a result of intuition than anything else and each of them descended on him with “every single detail of character and expression in graphic, moving images … I just had to copy it on the paper”. Even if one takes that as an excuse, the larger argument relating to the primacy of craft over art would — should — have still held good.
This, however, takes nothing away from the content and conception of story ideas in the collection. Tarar has chosen some interesting — very interesting — narrators for his stories. For instance, the story on the Kot Radha Kishan episode, related to the harrowing tragedy in which a couple was thrown into a raging fire for alleged blasphemy, has been told in parts by the shoes of a toddler. The Peshawar school tragedy is expressed in the form of an elegy in monologue prose which brings tears to one’s eyes. Then there is a lengthy story that has been communicated through a tiger skin lying on the floor of a living room in some cosmopolitan centre. This surely is an amazing piece of imagery and reflects highly on the creative soul that Tarar has always been. Not much different is the story in which a man and his hands and feet are fighting against each other in a divine court.
However, the most imaginative of all is the one that brings the curtain down on the collection. Titled, ‘Dhundh ke Peechay Shehr tha (A City Beyond the Fog)’, it relates to an urbanite who is fed up with what the nation has done with the country and decides to kick the bucket by jumping down some cliff in the Northern Areas. Just before the fatal jump, he looks back one last time on everything he has left behind, and just when he does that, there appears in front of his eyes the foggy silhouette of the famed stupa of Moenjodaro.
In a symbolic narrative riddled with the man’s intense infatuation with the Dancing Girl and the explanations for what it was all about by the Priest King, Tarar has created an absolute out-and-out fantasy whose end indicates that all is not lost yet and the civilisational roots of the land dating back thousands of years are strong enough to withstand the onslaught of the uncivilised behaviour of man today.
Being the last story in the collection, it is more in the mould of the last brush stroke on what happens to be a mural conceived and executed with miniatures.
By Mustansar Hussain Tarar
Sang-e-Meel Publications, Lahore
Humair Ishtiaq, “Pandra Kahaniyan by Mustansar Hussain Tarar,” in Dawn, July 18, 2015. Accessed on July 18, 2015, at: http://www.dawn.com/news/1194871/review-pandra-kahaniyan-by-mustansar-hussain-tarar
The item above written by Humair Ishtiaq and published in Dawn on July 18, 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 18, 2015, is available here. Faiz-e-Zabaan is not responsible for the content of the external websites.
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