India Today - - LEISURE - —Farah Yameen

Intizar Hu­sain’s pop­u­lar­ity with English-speak­ing read­ers has spiked since his death in 2016. It be­gan with the bi­og­ra­phy, A Re­quiem for Pak­istan, that year and was fol­lowed by trans­la­tions of his book on Delhi and now two novel­las—Day and Dastan (Din aur Dastan).

Dis­tinct in form and con­tent, the two works jux­ta­pose nov­el­is­tic re­al­ism and the fan­tas­tic nar­ra­tive style of the Dastan. Steeped with the nostalgia for which Hu­sain is fa­mous, Day is the story of a feu­dal fam­ily watch­ing their wealth slip away. The haveli that an­chors them to their an­ces­try is mired in a court case that ab­sorbs Zamir’s life. The fa­mil­iar props that make up the para­pher­na­lia of the mid-twen­ti­eth cen­tury za­min­dari house­hold are rust­ing away.

A slow but cer­tain de­cay suf­fuses the story and the peo­ple in it with a sense of as­phyx­i­a­tion. Zamir seeks to es­cape this op­pres­sive air in his wan­der­ings across the fields, while at home the women sit cooped up in the fore­bod­ing ex­pec­ta­tion of dis­place­ment. A sti­fling ro­mance builds up be­tween Zamir and his cousin Tehsina only to be smoth­ered im­me­di­ately by Zamir’s mother.

At the pe­riph­ery are the prom­ise and the pain of tran­si­tion. In Day, it is a new house that will at once be a be­gin­ning and an end. It is telling that the fam­ily moves into the house be­fore it is ready, and in the carts that carry their lug­gage slug­gishly to the new kothi, one can imag­ine the caravans of mi­grants mov­ing to a land not yet ready to nur­ture them.

Pack­aged in the same vol­ume, Dastan over­turns the lan­guid pace of Din. It is elec­tri­fy­ing and begs to be read out loud even in trans­la­tion. Brim­ming with razm (ad­ven­ture), bazm (gath­er­ing), tilism (sor­cery) and ishq (love)— char­ac­ter­is­tic of a dastan—the story moves episod­i­cally from one heroic ad­ven­ture to an­other. Yet the nar­ra­tive is lo­cated against the dis­place­ment that fol­lows a riot and the theme of loss per­me­ates here too. Mov­ing through sto­ries that take us back in time in­stead of ahead, it uses the unique dastan style to let the fan­tas­tic in­form the real and vice versa. We are trans­ported to 1857, and Hu­sain re­frames Sher Shah Suri and Tipu Sul­tan as fab­u­lous heroes in oral leg­ends. While he fol­lows the dastan-ic for­mula, he ends with­out the re­lief that a tra­di­tional dastan of­fers. The hero ends up lost. It is the way of Hu­sain to leave a story as it might of­ten be left in real life—with­out a so­lu­tion.

DAY AND DASTAN by Intizar Hu­sain (Trans­lated by Nishat Zaidi and Alok Bhalla) NIYOGI BOOKS `395; 192 pages

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