Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Qurratulain Hyder

C M Naim writes about Ms. Hyder here.

Only a few days back, to mark the 60 years of Independence, when we asked an eminent jury to pick out 60 Great Indians in 60 years of our Republic, the name of Qurratulain Hyder was introduced prominently as Urdu's Marquez."Through her novels and short stories, this prolific writer gave Urdu fiction a brave and endlessly inventive new voice," we wrote, and quoted the London Times: "Her magnum opus, Aag Ka Darya (River of Fire), is to Urdu fiction what A Hundred Years of Solitude is to Hispanic literature.

[She is] one of the world's major living writers."

But, alas, no more.

For, Qurratulain Hyder breathed her last in a Noida hospital after a prolonged illness at 2:30 a.m this morning. She was awarded the Jnanpith in 1989 for her novel Aakhir-e-Shab ke Hamsafar (Travellers Unto the Night), the Sahitya Akademi award in 1967, the Soviet Land Nehru Award in 1969 and Ghalib Award in 1985, and had been honoured with the Padma Shri, and, recently, the Padma Bhushan in 2005.

Indeed, when talking about Independence, it is inevitable to think of Partition -- and she was perhaps the most profound, literary explorer of that tumultuous event. She did not write about the physical violence of Partition, as did so many others (foremost among them Manto). In fact, in her most famous novel Aag Ka Darya (River of Fire), a historical tale that moves from the fourth century to the modern India and Pakistan, the moment of Independence, is marked with a blank page that simply says "August 1947". Her interest lay in the wounds that bled inside, the festering wounds that people carried silently for ever. Some of these aspects of her writings were explored by C.M. Naim in the introduction to his translation of one of her short stories and two novellas that we reproduce below as an appreciation.

Kum Kum Sangari writes about her book Aag Ka Darya.

In Aag ka Darya , for the first time a woman writer, Qurratulain Hyder, annexed over twenty-five centuries of Indian History as a subject matter. The grand nationalist visions of a pluralist civilization had till then been a male domain elaborated, among others, by Rabindranath Tagore and Jawaharlal Nehru, while women had been for almost two centuries the subjects of colonial, nationalist, or sectarian histories, often invented and usually patriarchal.

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