Book Review: Hassan’s State of affairs; A fine mosaic of a novel

I often consider myself to be immensely lucky to have been able to read and write Urdu effortlessly because my knowledge of Urdu has enabled me to explore the world of contemporary Urdu literature, which's incredibly rich and varied. One of the most remarkable names in modern Urdu literature that naturally comes to mind is that of Mirza Athar Baig from Pakistan. His Hassan ki soorat-e-haal has been brilliantly rendered into English as Hassan’s State of Affairs by Haider Shahbaaz.

The book is a surreal ride through Pakistan. Translations often fail to capture the essence of original works and only the very best translators can do justice to the original. From that perspective, Shahbaz deserves a round of applause for a stupendous literary work, nay service. Pakistan is a theocratic state where Islam rules the roost. Whenever a state allows a specific faith to thrive and dictate terms, creative people and the intelligentsia make their displeasure obvious through their creativity. This is their refined way of protest against the religious intolerance and totalitarianism.Something like that’s happening in today's India.

The narrative explodes into multiple story-lines. The Urdu writer Mirza Athar Baig is known for his ability to weave multiple plots, sub-plots, stories and sub-stories (a new genre of story-telling, also known as para-story) into a fine tapestry of narration.

The Urdu genre of daastaangoi is the hallmark of Baig’s novels. His plots and sub-plots aren’t discrete, but discreet: carefully segued and soldered into a final climax. While reading him, you feel as if you are swimming through a river without gasping for breath.

The sudden happenings aren't jarring. They get submerged into the principal plot.

All in all, a fine mosaic of a novel that seems to converse with the readers in an animated way.

- Book: Hassan’s State of affairs (Urdu original: Hassan ki soorat-e-haal)

- Author: Mirza Athar Baig

- Publisher: Harper Perennial

- Pages: 604; Price: Rs 699

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