Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Kim's Review : Angaaray

"Angaaray" - an Urdu Anthology of short stories, first published in 1932, was an explosive book that created a public furore for criticizing conservative Islam and British colonialism. It turned out to be,  an iconic book that changed the rules of Urdu literature and gave birth to the Anjuman Tarraqi Pasand Mussanafin-e-Hind / Progressive Writers’ Association - PWA.

Later on almost all the writers of Indian languages had their own organisations with the same aims and objectives: struggle against British imperialism for the liberalisation of India from the foreign yoke; struggle against imperialism, land for the tillers of the soil. The PWA organisation regarded socialism as an economic system, which could end exploitation and it is no surprise that most of the members were left leaning and later on became a part of the Communist party.

Inspired by British modernists like Virginia Woolf, D H Lawrence and James Joyce, as well as the Indian independence movement, the young writers from Lucknow, who penned this collection — Sajjad Zaheer, Ahmed Ali, Rashid Jahan and Mahmud-uz-Zafar — were eager to revolutionize Urdu literature. Instead, they invited the wrath of the establishment: the book was burned in protest and then banned by the British authorities "for hurting the religious susceptibilities of a section of the community".

Nevertheless, Angaaray spawned a new generation of Urdu writers and led to the formation of the Progressive Writers’ Association, whose members included, among others, stalwarts like Ismat Chughtai, Saadat Hasan Manto, Munshi Premchand, Mulk Raj Anand, Kaifi Azmi, Bhisham Sahni, Habib Tanvir, Sahir Ludhianvi and Faiz Ahmed Faiz.

This slim volume of short stories created a firestorm of public outrage for its bold attack on the hypocrisy of conservative Islam and British colonialism and all copies were burned except for 5. 2 of which were in the British archives. From here, it has been translated into English for the first time by Snehal Shingavi, assistant professor of English at the University of Texas, Austin, where he specializes in teaching South Asian literature in English, Hindi and Urdu.

This edition also provides a compelling account of the furore surrounding this explosive collection with never before seen police documentation and criticism of the ban.

Angaaray is a collection of 5 stories by Sajjad Zaheer, 2 by Ahmed Ali, 1 by Mahmud-uz-zafar and a short story and a one act play by Rashid Jahan. While the stories by the other 3 may seem commonplace today, the stories by Sajjad Zaheer could still be considered inflammatory, so it is quite courageous of Penguin to have published this translation.

Personally, I preferred the work of Rashid Jahan as I could empathise with her characters and got drawn into her stories much more easily. Also they are still contemporary, they aren't just something from a bygone age, they could as well be happening in your neighbours house today. As a gynecologist, Rashid was privy to the social, sexual and medical problems of her patients.

The stories by Sajjad Zaheer were the most difficult for me to connect to, as his writing style in some of the stories is a little too disjointed for my taste. Also, having lived in Islamic nations for 4+ years, I often found that my brain was screaming out at me "how could he write this? Was he begging for trouble?" and so his objective of forcing someone to rethink the widely accepted beliefs would still be in play, today. His stories focus on how religious and social restrictions damage the psyche. Economic vulnerability and sexual predation are linked together in his stories. However the most controversial of his statements in the book appear in Neend Nahin Aati / Can't Sleep
where he remarks that the Prophet might have made the migration from Mecca to Medina to escape his nagging wives. And that God might be a womanizing lecher.

Snehal Shingavi in her opening note says that : "repressed sexual desire and open sexual hypocricy were the intolerable sources of modern frustration for young English-educated men like Zaheer"

Mahmud-uz-Zafar's story was written in English and then translated into Urdu by Zaheer for this collection. Ali's 2 stories revolve around the economic and social vulnerability of women. I'm eager to tart reading his "Twilight in Delhi" which has been beckoning from my bookshelf since awhile.

At the end of the day, these 4 authors published this collection to hold a mirror up to society and encourage people to initiate change and Snehal Shingavi says he composed this translation with similar aspirations in mind, which I think he has done a good job of.

Rating : 3.5 / 5

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for reviewing my book

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