Some old questions

March 15, 2020

Masood Ashar’s new short story collection is both lucid and riveting

Masood Ashar’s experiences, as a conscious thinking being, now span more than seven decades. These decades have seen a change that is so huge that it makes little sense, mainly because it does not fit easily into a set pattern of understanding.

Masood Ashar’s real virtue is his language which does not seem to lie between the reader and the experience of the story. It is lucid and at times verges on the everyday idiom. The effortless and blatant lucidity with which Ashar conveys the story is always evident. It could be that the journalist in him has helped him craft the style that is both effortless and easy on the eye.

But what it conveys is an experience that is complex. The diversity and the varied nature are there to be felt rather than to be theorised, and therein lies the strength of Masood Ashar’s expression. Any effort at hammering sense into what is happening would be like imposing an order or a value structure that may only be akin to limiting it all.

The canvas of the writer extends the entire world. The situations and characters that he writes about do not belong to one country or one society but rather are the product of migrations that have taken place for a number of reasons – economic, political, social, religious, racial, sectarian or just wanderlust. The characters seem to be confused about what is happening to them. With one foot still in their mother cultures, they are grappling with the differences and the benefits of an adopted society. The flow is intense. The compulsion of the daily rush smothers the necessity to sit back, think and evaluate.

This is also the brightest aspect of writers like Ashar. They let readers experience the flow and the rush. There is hardly time to pause and reconsider because that would mean losing some of the momentum. The desire to fight for one’s identity may have taken many shapes but it’s entirely embedded in the giant experience of confronting a new facet of culture.

One is more concerned with an assimilation at some level for the things to be smoother and less troublesome. Troublesome they may be but still not sufficient to make a complete break.

The title story of the collection focuses on a number of questions. The perceived disruption in the relationship value structure with the daughters marrying servants is only a symbolic narration of the value and family structure being thrown into a spin; leading to those who want to uphold the previous system being eased into oblivion. The new that is being replaced, collides with various important benchmarks, leading to the near-collapse of the order.

Ashar’s effortlessness in structuring a story is his greatest craft. It appears that a structure with a set of characters has emerged unknowingly, posing questions that do not have a ready answer. Sign of good writing.

Sawal Kahani

Author: Masood Ashar

Publisher: Alhamd


Pages: 176

Price: Rs400

The author is a culture critic based in Lahore

Masood Ashar’s Sawal Kahani: Lucid and riveting