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Book Review: The Greatest Urdu Stories Ever Told

Before I left for my holiday last week, I spent some time with greatest Urdu writers of all time, thanks to Umar Memon’s translation of The Greatest Urdu Stories Ever Told. I met my all time favorite, Saadat Hasan Manto, some new writers like Jamila Hashmi and some classic ones like Ismat Chughtai and Munshi Premchand. I spent three beautiful days in the company of these great writers, and a sad thing occurred to me that we have so many gems still lying to be discovered, but we keep on running after the latest one.

The Greatest Urdu Stories Ever Told comprises of twenty-five stories translated by Umar Memon, a writer and translator par excellence. The book opens with an introduction from him, where he traces the evolution of Urdu short stories. Munshi Premchand was the first commercial Urdu story writer, and from then on the Progressiveness settled in during 1930’s, when Urdu stories became bold and unabashedly political, to the post independence era of modern writing to the today’s generation of experimental writing.

Apart from the technique of the stories, the most brilliant thing is the power and impact they can have on a reader. It’s like, The Great Urdu Stories Ever Told is a different world in itself. The world which gives you a different sense of calm and magic, a strange sense of peace.

A striking thing to see in these stories was that even when some of the stories are decades old, you can witness the boldness of characters and thoughts in these brilliant writer’s work. They are open, educated and experimental, something which I wasn’t expecting when I first picked up a copy of this book.

There are death and poverty looking at each other’s face in Munshi Premchand’s Shroud, In The Wagon by Khalida Asghar’s, a mysterious color starts shrouding the sunset. Saadat Hasan Manto’s brings you the worst of partition through Toba Tek Singh, a story which I read a few months back when I was reading short stories by Saadat Hasan Manto.

The Greatest Urdu Stories ever told has the capability to embed itself into your mind and heart, and you look forward to such more stories to read. The only thing that bugged me while I was reading it is that it’s not everybody’s cup of tea. Some people may not have the aptitude to decipher the depth of these stories which risks this beautiful book. But a true lover of stories would not miss this anywhere because it is brilliant and a must read.

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