Book Review: Hindson Mein Batti Zindagi by Jameel Akhtar

“Hindson Mein Batti Zindagi” is the second book by Muhammad Jameel Akhtar. This recent compilation (2020) includes Urdu afsany and short stories that has been published by Sareer Publications. His first book “Tooti Hui Sarak” came out in December 2017. It was also a beautiful composition of short stories and afsanas with different new techniques and experiments in the tradition of Urdu afsana. Jameel is an accountant by profession but his pen calculates life in such a meticulous way that brings out its true worth and essence. Afsana by afsana, in his second book especially, the readers can see how society forms and deforms the identity of individuals and forces them to be what they never want to be! He shows how in the name of survival, an individual sells his/her most precious things including blood relationships and self esteem. He has dedicated “Hindson Mein Batti Zindagi” to honorable Muhammad Hamid Siraj, a famous name in Urdu afsana tradition. The book includes twenty afsanas and twenty five short stories that superbly paint his thought provoking subjects.

Memory is one of the major themes in his stories and many of his characters are the victim of nostalgia and forgetfulness. The irony is heightened when the same society and circumstances turn a character into a pathetic one. Afsana “Yaadasht Ki Talash Mein” beautifully portrays a man’s miserable condition who forgets his everything in the name of survival living in a poor social circle. The financial pressure ultimately drags him to be a person who cannot even recall his own name. Jameel’s diction helps the reader to imagine and feel the bitterness of circumstances deeply that shows his ability to observe and represent things minutely.  Nothing but the helplessness remains at the end in the lives of his characters that unfortunately is our today’s reality. “Kuwen Ka Aadmi” is dealt so technically that the very structure of this afsana shows the suffocated voice of a suppressed society. His nameless character says “Kitne zor se cheekhon tou awaaz Kuwen se bahir sunaai de gi?” (p. 24).

No one outside the well listens to him and he is left only with his own conservative thoughts.

In both of Jameel’s books, it can be seen that here medium becomes the message. The treatment of the stories itself weaves a screen that is enough to show what is chosen for a subject and why! “Khuwaab Mein Likhi Gumshuda Kahani” (pg. 27) is an amalgamation of different paragraphs that gives it a touch of a dream continuation. Jameel says in one of its paragraphs that he does not know what would happen in the next scene because some of the paragraphs are missing from the diary of his character in the same afsana. How beautiful a way to express his character’s missing details it is! Throughout the story, the main character keeps on missing the important details that show his broken life’s reality. Jameel’s experiments in drawing his stories appeal us more where many of the scenes are just described in one sentence. In afsana “Gumshuda Sheher Ki Kahani” (pg. 41) he starts the story by saying that while the character is standing in the scene, meanwhile the readers should know other important points. This invitation of involvement reminds me of “Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Brontë. This afsana touches us more with its ironic intensity when in one of its scenes; the main character went out to smoke to forget his shaken realities and came in after a while. By finding out the sad truth that nothing had changed, he again went out of the house by saying that he would be smoking another cigarette to forget that double sadness (pg. 45). I am here reminded of Umair Najmi’s couplet:

میں ایک کردار سے بڑا تنگ ہوں، قلمکار
‏مجھے کہانی میں ڈال، غصہ نکالنا ہے

So to say each of Jameel’s character is as helpless as a person is, living in this oppressed society. The next afsana “Woh, Jo Aadmi Tha” strikes us by its different technique where he starts the story by saying that he is going to tell the third part to his readers firstly as it would be easy for them to grasp the entangled plot of the story. I would like to quote here a dialogue from its third part that is: “Aur jab aadmi pukaar uthay kay who Aadmi nahi hai tou us ka thikaana pagal khaany kay siwa kuch nahi hota” (pg. 50).

“Jeeray Kaaly Ka Dukh” (pg. 52) is an afsana that tells an absolute commendable story of a man who has a black spot over half of his face. No field in the society accepts him as a fit persona for their profession that beautifully portrays the artificial behaviour of each stratum. Finally, his irremovable black spot forces him to join a transgender group to earn his livelihood but they also reject him by saying that people now like to have transgender with fair complexion around them.  The black spot on his face is a mirror to our society and a black ditch in which we have thrown our moral codes.

Jameel’s characters are mostly indecisive, oblivious and have an ever ready inclination towards madness. They are often shown already living in a disturbed social setup that is doubled with political mess. Madness remains as their last dwelling to be accepted by their answerless surroundings. “Bandook Mojid Ki Kahani” (pg. 67) makes me recall an English short story “Dark They Were and Golden-Eyed” by Ray Bradbury. The pistol is as strange to its maker as Mars was for Bittering family. Similarly, the protagonists in both the stories look busy in preparing their required instruments but unfortunately forget at the end the very purpose for which they were doing all the hard work. This afsana also throws light on the useless manufacturing of weapons and stuff like that.

Next, “Koi Bhi Naam De Do” (pg. 72) is a delicate subject that weaves a young man’s love’s tapestry in nostalgic colours. Its ending leaves the reader with a beautiful drop scene. The character is also unable to recall the name of the very girl because of whom he forgot everything else. Afsana “Hibernation Ka Mutalashi Naujawaan” (pg. 78) is a similar pattern story of Kafka’s Metamorphosis. The suffocated voice of a frog verily portrays the miserable life of a young jobless guy who cannot perform his social duties and becomes a mere burden on his own family. “Aik Bewa Ki Sarguzasht” (pg. 84) and “Dustbin Se Jhaankti Zindagi” (pg. 97) show the blindness of future where nothing but a bitter uncertainty and absurdity is waiting for everyone living in a congested social setup. Whereas stories like “Faislay Ka Sehra” (pg. 90) and “Neend, Khof aur Baazigar” are indigestible truths for us as characters in these stories are taking decisions against their moral limits only because their social necessities are killing them. Jameel’s afsanas represent psychological, social and political picture of the people he is living with. It makes his efforts commendable as a responsible and active fiction writer who would hopefully be more polished in the coming future. The review contains only the first part of the book “Hindson Mein Batti Zindagi”. The short stories section form the same book may also carry the same interesting stuff as they contain sparking titles.  Hoping for his bright writing career!



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