Paperback: 448 pages
Recently, a volume containing five novelettes has been published by Sang-e-Meel Publishers under the title 5 Novelettes; these five pieces of fiction may be taken as five drops from an ocean of writing by the prolific author Aziz Ahmad.
This knowledgeable writer has two sides to him: Ahmad, the creative writer and Ahmad, the Indo-Islamic scholar. His journey into the world of Urdu as a traveller of literature came to an end the day he left Karachi for London. In fact it was a goodbye to the world of Urdu literature in which he had remained engaged, till then, as a fiction writer, literary critic, and translator.
He embarked on a new journey with ambitions to devote himself solely to the scholarly studies of religions, cultures, and reformative movements with particular reference to the Indo-Muslim world. And soon with his memorable works in this respect he emerged as a leading scholar with a number of studies to his credit. At the same time this journey was indicative of his shift from Urdu to different European languages along with English, which helped him gain access to an international readership. But here I am concerned with his Urdu period — with particular reference to his fiction — when he had emerged as a leading novelist with a number of novels to his credit. He is perhaps at his best in his novel Aisi Bulandi Aisi Pasti. As for his short stories, those which attracted much attention from his readers include ‘Tasavvur-e-Sheikh’.
But most outstanding are his two novelettes — ‘Khadang-e-Justau’, and ‘Jab Aankhein Aahan Posh Hueen’. However, while going through them one after the other, they appear to form one single novel divided into two parts, and what a tremendous novel it is. Ahmad has captured the whole age and those terrible times in a masterly way. Here is a living portrait of Tartar culture; Taimur, the Terrible, his fidayeen — those pledged loyalists, and those who betrayed him — all come alive for us. We find ourselves under the spell and awe of those desperate souls.
Humaira Ashfaq, the compiler of this volume, has included three more novelettes along with this novel. But I have chosen to concentrate on this one as it is here that Ahmad excels at his art and where he has dexterously managed to transform history into meaningful fiction.
There are a lot of historical novels in Urdu, but they hardly come up to the level of the high standard of this novel. It is perhaps for the first time that we find history transformed into a novel in a big way. Nayyar Masud, whose study of both the parts is included in this volume, states that Ahmad owes the success of this ‘novel’, to a great extent, to Harold Lamb’s works on this topic. Masud refers to two in particular: Tamerlane, the Earth Shaker, and The March of the Barbarians. In his opinion, while translating these two books into Urdu, Ahmad assimilated much of what was there in these books.
While agreeing with him, I will say in addition that it was assimilation in a creative way. After all, Ahmad was a scholar. In addition to these translations he might have studied the history of this period in depth. And he absorbed all that he could in a creative way. In fact his creative treatment of this historical subject has helped him publish a novel which stands apart from all the historical novels in Urdu.