Posted in Books and reading, Stuff I like

don’t mean to be pretentious or anything, but…..

Yes, two months went by without a peep on my blog. I did continue to read posts by my multitudinous bloggy friends though, sometimes leaving a comment, sometimes not.

As for me, I just felt I didn’t have any words, though sometimes my mind would register something as blogworthy, yet writing about anything seemed superfluous, not to mention time-consuming. I guess I was allowing myself to revel in laziness and not beating myself up about it.

My shoulder/neck problems stemmed from over-usage of my laptop. Even the physiotherapist told me this. And of course, it should have been obvious that I needed time off from sitting propped on an elbow while lying in bed.

So I ended up reading a lot, sitting up straight, wearing my reading glasses. Finally finished ‘The Corrections’ (by Jonathan Franzen) and I have to say it was absolutely brilliant. It took me a long time to read it, firstly because it is more than 700 pages long, and secondly because it was having a strange intense effect on me. It was just that good. Far be it from me to give you a book review at this point though. Just, trust me on this….read the book if you can. You listening Harsha? πŸ™‚

I’m happy to report a most strange yet delightful series of coincidences too, the first of which is this.

Since some time last year (or perhaps even the year before) I have been feeling the urge to read Urdu. You might think it strange that I’d say something like this, being a Pakistani, having lived here all my life, speaking the language. You’d think I must have readΒ Urdu books all my life, but no, that is not the case. My knowledge of Urdu writers and poets amounts to a big fat zero. This is a sad consequence of having studied under the Cambridge board of education.

I have grown up reading English literature only. Perhaps that is why I have always felt like an alien, an outsider in my own country. I don’t/can’t identify completely with the greater Pakistani/subcontinental culture, observing things around me with somewhat of a sense of never helped that I belong to a communal sect that encouraged the speaking of Gujarati over Urdu, which was doomed for me to be not a second language, but a third language. It didn’t matter while I was growing up, except that essays in Urdu didn’t exactly trip off my tongue, but I felt a sense of quaintness in being perceived as something other than an Urdu-speaker, just by the way I pronounced the Urdu ‘r’…..the one with the ‘toi’ on top. I never got that right until someone pointed it out to me, and since then I’ve made an effort to pronounce it correctly.

So you see dear readers, I live in a bubble within a bubble. But I am mesmerised by the fluidity, the ease, and the complete unselfconscious assurance with which pure Urdu speakers wax eloquent. I know I can never be like them, but despite the tiny eye-straining font, and my debilitating lack of understanding of a lot of Urdu words, Project 2012 was to educate myself in my own language and I would do so by starting off reading the Mantonama, penned by the controversial and highly acclaimed Saadat Hasan Manto. (A good friend was kind enough to loan me his copy πŸ™‚ )Β 

Mantonama is a compilation of short stories and happens to be the first proper Urdu book I have ever read after the textbooks we did at school. I have already read a few stories and been surprised at the ease with which I could read them. I didn’t need to consult the dictionary even once!

But here’s the strange coincidence. 2012 has been declared the Year of Manto and marks the centenary of Manto’s birth, celebrated not just in Pakistan but also in India.

I had no clue about this when I decided to start my Urdu book-reading project with one of his books. πŸ™‚Β 

Perhaps listening to the articulate and erudite Ayesha Jalal, Manto’s niece, at the Karachi Literature Festival earlier this year had something to do with piquing my interest further, because really, I didn’t know much about Manto or his style of writing, or his subject matter, or even the fact that he was prosecuted for writing ‘obscene’ things. Ayesha Jalal says ‘He wrote what he saw, and took no sides.’

I was warned by my friend that reading Manto will have a strange effect on me and he was right. After picking my way through a few stories, I was decidedly disturbed.

I had to lay the book aside for a bit, and pick up another book that I thought looked intriguing, and was also being highly acclaimed these days in literary circles.

‘The Wandering Falcon’ has been written by Jamil Ahmad, an 80-plus year old man. Here’s something about him.

It was a relatively quick read, being only 180 pages long, but it had my imagination completely captivated. I still feel in thrall of the harsh beauty of the world he has described in his book, a world not too far from my own….

The Wandering Falcon reads almost like a collection of short stories too, woven through with the story of Tor Baz, an orphaned boy, who wanders nomadically through the borderland between Pakistan and Afghanistan, those forbidding tribal areas that seem to have defied all attempts at being governed.

This book is a must read. It is written simply, but with attention to detail, and is sure to leave a lasting impression on your mind. I can’t recommend it enough!!Β 

And now that I am done with it, I shall go back to reading Manto…..with perhaps a bit of Jaun Elia thrown in to liven things up a bit. Maybe there will come a day when I’m very very old, that I shall be able to quote poetry with flair and construct complex sentences and speak them the way they should be spoken.

29 thoughts on “don’t mean to be pretentious or anything, but…..

    1. I sure hope so Anna, I’d hate to be ridiculed for my vain struggle to better myself, and be perceived as someone who reads Urdu to just be ‘fashionable’ or something. I’m just saying. πŸ™‚ (I admit, I do feel rather intellectual πŸ˜› )
      Looking forward to the journey!

  1. You will find (as I did, the hard way) that although reading English books feels like second nature, Urdu books have a greater emotional impact because they hit us in our cultural context and we relate to them more. I’ve read through Manto, Ismat Chugtai, Ishfaq Ahmed and Munshi Prem Chand and they all, in many different ways, blew my mind. Happy reading : )

    1. Emotional impact…….I like that. That’s a great comment Maria, so encouraging πŸ™‚ Thank you. I look forward to exploring.

  2. I hear you M!! 700 pages huh?? It’s been on my list for a long time now, but reading has taken a backseat for the vacations. Guess I’ll have to give it a go πŸ™‚

    I’m so glad your rediscovering your language and enjoying it πŸ™‚ I so identify with ‘living in a bubble within a bubble’, coz that’s just what I’m doing too. The realization that I’m by no means a ‘typical Indian’, representative of the ‘common Indian populace’ dawned slowly but surely sometime in my thirties, when one deigns to think of such things seriously! It was confusing at first and still is but I’m getting better at understanding how I fit into the larger scheme of things, and then there are those days when my ‘Indianness’ rises to the fore!

    Jesus! Kahaan se kahaan pahunch gayi πŸ˜› Blaming it on another excellent post…it’s all your fault M :)) Keep writing and share Manto…coz Lord knows I’m not getting around to learning Urdu anytime soon…and I love the language πŸ™‚

    1. Yup! I just loaned my copy to my sister Fatu, so I can’t tell you the exact number of pages now but it’s definitely over 700 πŸ˜›
      Living in bubbles within bubbles, that’s what we minorities do I guess πŸ™‚
      I love your ramblings!! They tell me so much about you, so please, continue.

  3. There’s no way this sounds pretentious. In fact, I think you sound quite humble–which is one of the things I love about you! So happy to hear you are exploring new texts. This can only deepen the already deep you. It can only serve to enrich your already-overflowing-with-riches life!

    1. Heheh, I’m just skittish about being perceived as such, and really hope I don’t sound pompous or grandiose with announcing my Urdu reading plans like this, esp when Manto is suddenly very fashionable. πŸ™‚ I’m glad you think I don’t come across that way!
      Thank you for such a nice comment Kathy. Hugs.

  4. Urdu is such a rich language, very polite, very cultured and a music to the ears. I remember reading the magazine ‘naunehaal’ as a little girl. And with age my love for this language deepened, and i read countless urdu books. Today, in this foreign land, i miss hearing pure urdu and yearn to get my hands on good urdu books.
    You will definitely enjoy the depths of this language’s literature. So happy reading! (send me some good ones, please πŸ˜‰

    1. Yup, I agree wholeheartedly with everything you say πŸ™‚ Thank you tasneem!! Let me know of relatives visiting you from Karachi…..will send you books from here πŸ™‚

      1. Thanks for the offer Munira ;). No India doesn’t seem foreign in many aspects, but it does seem foreign when it comes to the urdu culture and ‘tehzeeb’ and all. Though there are some parts here where people speak cultured urdu, but i don’t get to visit those places. In mumbai, what i hear is ‘mumbaiya’ language, which is a cocktail of hindi and english and god knows which other languages! But it is very colorful πŸ˜‰

  5. I have been encouraged to visit your blog by AuntyUta and found it great.
    To the blog on hand I want to say it is not pretentious at all to learn.about the language you are surrounded by. You say you live in a bubble, inside a bubble. I think, you made the right decision to prick the bubble.

    People who have a multicultural background are most interesting because their view reflect the wider perspective they have. Your “Cambridge board of education” education makes it possible to present to us a picture of Pakistan and its multi-layered culture of which we have no idea.

    Perhaps this is part of your destiny. So keep it up and let us know what you think about the books you are reading.

  6. This is a fantastic blog, Munira. I am so glad that you can communicate in English and open your world to all the English speakers. To study the Urdu language a bit more, I am sure is the right decision for you. It is very enriching to get to know more about different languages. My knowledge of the English language is somewhat limited. Blogging helps me to use it a bit more. I am not very good though in understanding or even pronouncing the different sounds of English. Lots of people in Australia have problems understanding my pronunciation, and I have trouble understanding theirs sometimes. And this after having lived in Australia for 53 years!
    Thanks, Munira, for the two very interesting links in your blog. I also like very much all the photos that go with your writing. It’s so interesting to find out more about how people live in different cultures.
    What you write about ‘over-use’ of the laptop I can sympathise with this!

    1. I think our blogs are like windows into other places, other worlds….I find your blog and your pictures fascinating because they represent a world so very different from my own. It’s great to be able to connect this way, isn’t it?

  7. This is apropos in a strange way. πŸ™‚ I came down from one of my Coke Studio sessions the other day (always reading the lyric translations, too) and told Fi that I’d learnt some Urdu. Song lyrics, of course. I would sound so funny. I’m probably saying the wrong thing entirely but only an Urdu speaker would know. But just to be safe, we’ll keep it our secret. Hahaha. πŸ™‚
    ( Off to buy The Wandering Falcon.)

    1. I wondered if you ever delved into the translations πŸ™‚ So glad that you do!! And I’ve been meaning to memorize the lyrics to Larsha pekhawar, because I love Pushto….it’s truly sad that I have so many regional languages yet to learn. So much to do….so little time….*sigh*

  8. After learning about Jamil Ahmad’s book “The wandering Falcon” on your blog. I down loaded it onto my tablet and started reading it. I read the first chapter so far and must say, I want to read more.

    I can’t even imagine the kind of life described in the book. We Middle European often forget that similar family honour systems existed only a few hundreds of years ago in Central Europe and still do in some parts of the Balkan.

    When I and my wife married it was not strictly with the permission of our parents but they excepted it after a while and we had never to expect the consequences as the young couple did in the first chapter. We are now married for fifty five years.

    I was struck by the similarity of the story with the story of Helen of Troy. The consequences of that was the Trojan War.

    But, I’m still eager to learn and observe. I’m not too old for that yet and hope, I’ll never be.

    1. I am so sorry it took me so long to get around to replying to your comment Berlioz… glad you decided to take my advice and read the book! You must have finished it by now I think….
      Love your spirit. Hope we never lose that eagerness to learn and observe!

      1. Thanks Munira for responding. Yes, I have finished reading the book, Or should I say booklet?

        Even so, the writer packed a lot into the stories. It was almost like a road movie. We are taken on a journey through an unknown, to me at least, territory. The writer and the young protagonist seem to be looking in from the outside. The young man, because he is an orphan, not belonging to a particular clan and the writer coming from the outside, Germany,

        Outsiders always have a different take on things. It happens to us here in Australia and when we go back visiting Germany. The landscape is forbidding in that geographical triangle and must have shaped the people accordingly.

        In chapter two I found the idea interesting when the story of Abraham is told, that he invented God because he felt he needed someone to look up too, because “everyone needs a subedar”. Such a subedar is there to take the responsibility and makes us freer. You know the American saying,’ the bug stops here’? Some love this responsibility and they become our leaders.

        I must say I learnt a lot from this book. It made me even more aware of what is happening over there and opened me up to the human dimension of the conditions under which they exist.

  9. Gave up checking on your blog for a couple of months. Nice surprise today.

    You must have taken Urdu syllabus ‘B’ at o’levels?

    Hated syllabus ‘A’ back then. But the experience has been quite useful over the years

    1. What?! There was such a thing as a syllabus ‘A’???? 😐
      I am crushed.
      Nevertheless, I do hope you keep checking on my blog once in a blue moon…..though I don’t blog as often as I used to. But still πŸ™‚

  10. I read this and (1) want to see what my local library has of the books you mention, and (2) am now reminded of how little of myself I tell in my blog. You do such a good job of that, and I’m inspired to do better…

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