Qurratulain Hyder. Kar-e-JahaN Daraz Hai. Bombay: Fann Aur Fankar, Vol. I, 1977,480 pp. , Rs. 50/-, Vol. II, 1979, 360 pp., Rs. 40/-.
Urdu literature, particularly in India, has been moribund for some time. A few good short stories, a handful of outstanding poems, some good ghazals, that is all that can be said to have been gifted to us by our Urdu writers in the past few years. As for novels, it has been a long time since any Urdu writer produced a sustained narrative of enough power to excite our imagination and feelings. Judging for myself, the last time I felt genuinely excited about an Urdu novel was more than ten years ago when I read Qazi Abdussattar*s Sab-gazlda ("Night-bitten"). Now comes Ms. Hyder's Kar-e-JahSN Daraz Hal("The Task in the World is Endless"), its title taken from a line by Iqbal. Profound, yet beguilingly accessible, this book is breathtaking in its scope, its diversity of narrative voices, and its layers of references. From the first page it snares you in its web of history and memory, fact and fiction, and lets you go only at the end. Projected as a trilogy, only two volumes have as yet come out. When, through the kindness of a friend, I got hold of the first volume I read it in two days, stopping only when sleep and hunger compelled me to. The same thing happened when the second volume arrived. Now I eagerly await the third.
What is this book about? The author calls it a "biographical novel." To the extent that the people we meet are those who are essential to the genetic-cultural formation of the author and are thus related to each other mostly through her, this book is also autobiographical. It is a history of her family, too, for it begins in the 12th century and continues to the present. In the flowering of that particular family, however, there is also revealed to our riveted gaze the formation of that more general cultural identity, the Indian Muslim. It is the story of two families of the Syeds of Nahtor and Morad-abad, but it describes the emotional bonds, the social dilemmas, the epiphanies of self-awareness, and the myriad marvels of human relationships which we too would recognize in our lives if we had the author's talent and imagination. As it is, we do exactly that as we read her book, and feel the richer for it. We also see the recent history of the subcontinent in a new light. Her father was a highly respected and original writer in Urdu, as was her mother. Both of them led a very active public life, of deeds as well as of letters. Their lives were touched by all the major events of this century in India, just as they themselves touched the lives of so many peopleóbig and small, high and low-- during that period. By writing about her parents, Ms. Hyder brings to life in these pages so many others that we may have forgotten.