Among the leading progressive Urdu writers of the 20th century, Rajinder Singh Bedi (1 915-84) was also a prolific screenplay and dialogue writer. Born in the Sialkot District (now in Pakistan), Bedi started his career with the All India Radio in Lahore. He later became director of the Jammu and Kashmir Broadcasting Service.
Of the three Urdu writers, Manto, Krishan Chander and Bedi, who formed a literary triumvirate, Bedi strode the scene like a Colossus. He held his readers enthralled by the use of mats justes virtuosity and grip on the realities of life. He seemed to have arrived with his very first short stories. People read him for pleasure, for illumination and for an insightful understanding of life. Not standing for any isms’ be stood for the entire humanity.
Unique in his delineation of female characters, Bedi deals with them with a Buddha-like compassion. There is a strong suggestive element in his stories which links him with the mainstream of the Indian tradition and brings out the Indianness in his stories.
An effort has been made by Professor Gopi Chand Narang to make this anthology fully representative of Bedi’s writings in this genre. It runs through the full gamut by touching upon the various phases of Bedi’s development.
Professor Gopi Chand Narang (b.1931; Dukki, Bluchistan) is a rational and unique literary reviewer of Urdu and a writer with more than 64 books to his credit, including poetry, fiction, research, critical works and linguistics in Urdu.
After completing his doctorate with Delhi University in 1958, be started his career in St. Stephens College as a teacher and was then transferred to the Urdu Department at Delhi University. He was the Professor and Acting Vice-Chancellor in Jamia Millia Islamia from 1974 to 1985. He had been Visiting Professor in the University of Wisconsin (1963-65, 1968-70) and for some time at Minnesota and Oslo University, Norway. He was the President of the Sahitya Akademi (2003-07) and also Professor emeritus of Urdu in Delhi University, 2005. He acquired his higher education in Linguistics from Indiana University, USA.
Professor Narang has been honoured with several awards and prizes including the ‘Padma Shri’ in 1991 and ‘Padma Bhushan’ in 2004 by the President of India for his insightful writings ‘Tamag-e-lmtiyaj’ by the government of Pakistan, ‘Urdu-Hindi Sahitya Committee Award’ (1984) and ‘Ghalib Award’ of Lucknow (1985), ‘Amir Khusro Award’ (Chicago, 1986), ‘Canada Urdu Award’ (Toronto, 1987), ‘Sant Gyaneshwar Award’ (2003), ‘Akhil Bharatiya Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Award’ of Uttar Pradesh, Urdu Akademi and the Mazzini Award of Maharastra Akademi (2003). His Urdu book, Sakhtiyat Pas-Sakhtiyat Aur Mashriqi Sariyat was given the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1995.
Jai Ratan, the translator, was born in Ludhiana in 1917 and now lives in Gurgaon. Apart from writings of his own, he has translated extensively from Hindi, Urdu and Punjabi into English. He has over three dozen translations to his credit. He has also edited several anthologies. He is the recipient of the ‘Dwivagish’ Award (1991) and very recently the Sahitya Akademi Prize for Translation (English).
FROM the point of view of style there are three traditions in the Urdu short story which deserve attention or are virile enough to perpetuate themselves for a long time—Premchand, Saadat Hasan Manto and Krishan Chander. Premchand’s style was evolved from that grand tradition which was churned manna-like from the common man’s down-to-earth every day speech and ultimately crystallised as khari bolt. With minor changes Premchand’s Urdu transformed itself into 1-lindi and vice versa. That is in a way its real strength. It would not be incongruous to say that even today the future of the common man’s language will rest on this tradition, so far as the linguistic style is concerned. After Premchand scores of writers of Urdu fiction have followed in his footsteps and this tradition has shown no sign of waning or floundering. In Manto we find a different phase or aspect of the same grand tradition. Basically, it is the same style—only the rank greenery has been carefully mowed down and a nice lawn laid out and properly tended. The gold on which Premchand’s alchemy of emotion and imagination had worked has attained greater refinement in Manto’s literary crucible. There is an amazing smoothness and sophistication in Manto’s diction! characteristic of a highly finished product. In Premehand one finds a basic ruggedness of style while in Manto it manifests itself in its most chiselled form, free from pedestrian unevenness or surfeit. In Manto one does not find a single superfluous word. From that point of view Manto’s style is a high watermark of brevity. As against that Krishan Chander is overgenerous in the use of words; in his prose one finds an unimpeded flow of words, marked by adroitness and agility. His style conforms to all the embellishments of romanticism, like a bride decked in finery. But the effect of his magic does not last long. Soon it starts to create the effect t superficial gloss. The number of Krishan Chander’s admirers has by : means diminished. But the fact remains that in the past many years :Ne modern short story has rid itself of romantic influences and has started on a course bristling with new thinking. Of course, Manto’s language which is free from exaggerated statement and pedestrian unevenness still commands attention and many writers of the present generation are under his influence. All the same, the present day life is so complex and demanding that simple language without any son of artifice or guile cannot cope with it. No doubt, Manto’s language can be highly suggestive but it cannot cast itself in the mould of modem expression which is replete with symbolism and suggestion. As we proceed we shall realise that the writers who have taken to the genre of the short story have, through the use of metaphor, symbolism, allegory and parable, pulled the story out of its artificial edifice, almost giving it a new face.
Bedi started his literary career almost at the same time as Krishan Chander and Manto. But Krishan Chander because of his romantic flair and Manto because of his preoccupation with sex soon caught the reader’s attention. From the very beginning Bedi must have realised that he could not write florid and picturesque prose like Krishan Chander nor deal with sex with the same uninhibited boldness as Manto. Whatever he wrote, he wrote with great care after weighing each word. Once Manto had a dig at him. ‘You think too much,” he said to Bedi. ‘You think before you write. You think while you are writing and also after you have finished writing.” To this Bedi retorted with his characteristic humour, “A Sikh may be lacking to many things but he is sure of himself in one thing: he is a master craftsman Whatever he builds, he builds it to perfection, making sure every part of it rings true.” The an and craft of writing had become second nature with Bedi from the very beginning. On account of his obsessive thinking what he lacked in spontaneity he more than made up by using the language creatively with its attendant graces.
In the foreword to his second volume of stories, Grahan, he wrote, “When something comes within the ken of my observation I do not try to describe it in its mundane, realistic details. I try to describe it as it emerges from my mind as a blend of imagination and reality.”
The habit of finding the inner meaning in the outer reality gradually took Bedi into the realms of suggestion, symbolism, metaphor and allusion—in other words, the highly creative use of language. The signs of these early stirrings can easily be discerned in his early collection of stories, Dana au Dwam and Grahan.
In the story ‘‘Rahman Ke Jutey” (Rahman’s Shoes), the fact of one shoe overriding the other is a portent of a journey in the offing. This journey can be from one place to another in the physical sense and also a journey to death in the spiritual sense. The old Rahman is going to another city to meet his married daughter and he dies on the way. In this manner Bedi culls an inner meaning from a prevalent social belief or superstition.
In the same way the story, ‘‘Aghwa” (Seduction), is symbolic of subduing Rai Saheb’s virgin daughter, Kanso. The Ral Saheb’s house is under construction. All Ju, a handsome and strongly built Kashmiri labourer is assigned the job of breaking the earth and boring a hole to drive in the pipe of the water tap. When asked by a fellow labourer he replies, “No tangible result till now. The earth is hard and stony. It’ll require a lot of labour.” At the end of the story when Ali Ju succeeds in breaking the earth and the pipe hits the strata of underground water, the same night Kanso elopes with him.
But it is the story ‘Grahan’’ (Eclipse), in which Bedi has run the full gamut of a metaphor. Here for the first time he has blended a myth into a plot so as to transpose them into one another.
In this story we have the lunar eclipse and running parallel to it we have the earthly phenomenon of a similar nature happening to a woman; her fate too is under an eclipse. A man, out of evil design is out to tarnish her by making her the target of his lust. HoIi is a poor helpless woman, completely at the mercy of her husband and his family. Her mother-in- law is the Rahu of the Hindu mythology while her husband is the Kern, both preying upon the poor woman. Her husband is out to suck her blood and impose upon her a male’s tyranny. But the tyranny of the society is far more cruel than the diabolical designs of the eclipse. Her attempt to escape from her in-law’s house in order to seek refuge with her parents is symbolic of her escape from the eclipse. While escaping from the Kern of her in-law’s family she falls into the cluches of Kathu Ram, the shiphand of the coastal launch, who knows her from her childhood days back in her father’s village. An unsuspecting woman, he takes her to a room in the local semi (inn) on the pretext of providing her shelter for the night and forcibly tries to outrage her modesty. In this manner, this beautiful moon is ravished by Kern, that is. tarnished by one eclipse and then by another. The significance of the story lies in the fact that here a myth has been used with such telling effect as to invest the story with a down-to-earth quality. In the finite we see the infinite and the outer mundane reality sparks off the vision if spiritual reality. In ‘‘Grahan’ Bedi has sown an acorn which in the stories written after Independence grown into a mighty oak making the hall-mark of his stories. In this context his story. Apney dukh mujhe De Do (give me your sorrows) and his novel Ek chaddar maili si can be singled out for a special mention. To understand bedi’s virtuosity in the apt use of myth and metaphor which from the bedrock of his stories it is necessary to whisk the curtain of words apart see the realty behind those words.
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