Khalid Sohail. Breaking the Chains. Translated by Linda Voll, Raja and the author
Whitby (Ont): Creative Links, 1987. 104pp. Khalid Sohail. Ta/as. Toronto U.I. Publishers, 1986. 172pp.
Khalid Sohail was born in Pakistan in 1952 and has lived in Canada since 1977 where he did his postgraduate studies and where he works as a psychiatrist. He also writes stories and poetry in Urdu. Breaking the Chains is a selection of his stories translated into English, Ta/as ęs his first collection of Urdu poems.
Sohail is a "committed" person; he is interested in issues. He also has opinions which are engagingly liberal. The blurb on the back of the book says: "His stories focus on the struggles of immigrant families, women's liberation, South Africa, psychiatric patients, euthanasia, existential isolation and many other vital issues of the contemporary world." More accurately, Sohail has opinions on these and many other issues which he has sought to express, slightly disguised as stories. No doubt, some attention has been paid to formal requirements, but not quite enough. The diversity of narrative approaches is only apparent, for all the stories are dreadfully didactic and none contains a character that is alive and real.
Consider his most sustained effort, "RootsóBranchesóFruits," which is about Pakistani immigrants in Canada and their children. The narrative is in the first person and the narrator, a remarkably thoughtful and sensitive Pakistani, is visiting Canada to spend some time with his three younger brothers, Mohammad, Khalid and Sohail Mohammad is rigidly holding on to his religious/cultural habits: he forces his two daughters to obey his every order concerning what they read, eat, see and do Mohammad's wife is from Pakistan and his daughters have Muslim names. The daughters confide to the visiting uncle their determination to run away from home when they turn eighteen. The second brother, Khalid, has given up all the cultural habits of his past; he criticizes Islam and Muslims and lives like a bachelor on the make. He takes his elder brother to a disco and fixes him up with a Canadian woman who, naturally, takes the visitor to her apartment; but the sensitive and thoughtful visitor from Pakistan, equally naturally, begs to be excused and spends the night alone in his own bed. (There must be at least fifty "first-person" travel narratives and short stories in Urdu with disco and nightclub scenes, but the sensitive and thoughtful narrator in all of them manages to escape with his chastity intact' Somehow I don't find that very reassuring.) The third brother, Sohail, has a Canadian wife and two children with Canadian names. They are well-adjusted; in their house, the narrator is served both apple pie and Halva. Then he goes back to Pakistan, "a bit disturbed, thinking. . . ."