Sunday, August 16, 2009
By Sajid Hussain
The art of storytelling is as old as the mountains. The short story as it is known today, however, was developed in the 19th century with the publishing of journals and newspapers. It is, therefore, a latecomer to the world of literature as compared to the other major literary genres, including poetry and the novel. Its entry in Balochi literature took place even later. Balochi short stories hardly have a literary tradition of 50 years.
Sher Muhammad Marri, a nationalist leader and guerrilla commander during the Baloch insurgencies of the 1960s and 1970s, is regarded by most historians of Balochi literature as the pioneer of the Balochi short story for his ‘Ganoukh’.
These 50 years have seen the emergence of many regular and industrious writers of the genre but, unfortunately, none seem to have mastered the art. Still deprived of a practitioner to be proud of, the Balochi short story is in fact the most embryonic genre of Balochi literature. The backwardness of the genre is obvious from the fact that Naguman’s recently published Nagdaank is the first collection of critical articles on the subject.
Naguman, a medical doctor by profession, is himself a writer of short stories. His first collection, Dar-i-Asp (2004), was genially received by readers and warmly acclaimed by critics.
Humour and satire are the most prominent ingredients in Naguman’s writings. He is known as the “naughty boy” of Balochi literature for his sense of humour which he often uses against his contemporaries but without heaping scorn on them. Due to this, besides the lucidity and clarity of his style, Naguman enjoys perhaps the largest readership among Balochi writers of his time.
Nagdaank is divided into two parts: the first comprises articles written by Naguman on the art of writing short stories and the other Balochi story writers; the second consists of articles written by different writers on Naguman’s art of story writing. Naguman seems to be more inclined towards practical criticism, however, a couple of his articles in the book also address theoretical issues.
According to Naguman, a short story besides being short and artistic should also have a proper story line. He argues that a short story should be confined to 200 to 10,000 words and should be read in a single sitting. This definition of the genre, though helpful, may be too traditional and outdated. The short story has undergone tremendous changes since its emergence in the 19th century. If Naguman’s restrictions are kept in mind, Chekhov’s ‘Steppe’ cannot be considered a short story as it comprises some 40,000 words. The same is true for D.H. Lawrence’s ‘The fox’.
Naguman’s definition of a ‘story’, as an element of the short story, is also vague and misleading. He defines it as a “flowing stream of thought delicately arrayed”. Whereas, in its simplest form the “story designates the narrated events, abstracted from their disposition in the text and reconstructed in their chronological order, together with the participants in these events” (Narrative Fiction: Contemporary Poetics by Shlomith Rimmon-Kenan).
Naguman’s understanding of the short story is mostly based on common sense assumptions. His critical writings do not reflect a great deal of reading on the art and history of the subject. Nagdaank, when dealing with theoretical issues of the short story, does not offer an impression of the latest trends developed in the field over the past few decades. Structuralistic interpretation of the short story, in particular, has shaken the whole body of traditional assumptions.
But, as stated earlier, the Balochi short story is still in its embryonic stage. Therefore, Naguman’s traditional analyses may serve some purpose. Yet, at the same time, these critical articles are not at all helpful for the understanding of some modern experiences of the Balochi short story such as that found in A.R. Dad’s symbolic stories.
On the other hand, Naguman appears more dexterous and confident when dealing with matters concerning practical criticism. His assessment of the Balochi short story and his comments about most Balochi short-story writers seem valid and insightful. He notes that Balochi literature has not yet produced a single first-class story writer during the past 50 years; but at the same time he is somehow optimistic about the future of the genre as he sees a number of promising young writers emerging on the scene. He is a harsh critic of some senior writers, particularly of Ghani Parwaz. Indeed, most of his articles revolve around Parwaz’s art and personality.
The second part of the book, which comprises articles written by different writers on the art of Naguman’s story writing, pieces by A.R. Dad and Ghulam Farooq’s works, are worth mentioning. Mr Dad dubs Naguman’s story ‘Dar-i-Asp’ (Naguman’s representative story and the title of his collection of stories) as pedagogical and didactic. However, Mr Farooq regards him as a distinct writer and praises his objectivity, characterisation, choice of stories and clarity of style.
Nagdaank, despite its weaknesses, is a welcome addition to Balochi literature. It is, after all, the first and only work of its kind.
(Published in Dawn’s Books and Authors on February 25, 2007)