Notes on short stories

Daniyal Mueenuddin’s depiction of feudal order in Pakistan will shock the young in this country. And, possibly, make some of the old feel unappreciated. At least my grandfather, had he been alive, would most certainly have said, ‘I told you so’. Maybe, readers from North India belonging to parts that still haven’t carried out land reform will identify themselves with Mueenuddin’s Pakistan in an entirely different plane.

Centered around a Zamindari type family, Daniyal Mueenuddin’s collection of short stories explores characters across the social spectrum. His portrayal of boredom amongst the rich is remarkable in its honesty. Though, one could argue, his characterization of the poor is sometimes simplistic and he does not lend them the care they deserve. As his land owning patriarch, Mr Harouni, Daniyal too seems to not be fully aware that the servants have a life outside of being servants. Their lives appear viewed from a Zamindar’s eye even when set in a first person narrative. However, the richness in detail and the author’s ability to weave an engaging tale makes the reader more forgiving.

A friend of mine tells me, Daniyal Mueenuddin’s gifted but sometimes not so taut prose is a function of Urdu. She believes Urdu is simply a better language when compared to most Indian ones. That may be true of Hindi. Or, Bengali, if Amitav Ghosh gets included[1]. However, when followed with Tobias Wolff, the difference is stark. In the other direction. Pleasures of a raw talented story teller compared with a master completely in control over writing technique.

[1] — I remembered the Englishman from Sea of Poppies who said something like ‘everyone with 2 acres of land calls himself a Raja’. That was probably the biggest foundation for a feudal structure. Then, Bengal became red.

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