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RANG-E-JAHAN AUR (hb)2003 
Pages:  400

About the Title
If the sheer sense of amplitude is a factor in adding to the prestige of fiction then Masod Ashar’s previous collection of short stories Saray Fasanay (in fact two collections in one) outranks his new offering. That collection had an openness about it particularly in stories belonging to an earlier phase of his creative output and a diversity which allowed the readers to look out in many directions and to take in different vistas. The stories seemed to be the product of a mind vigorously in touch with the world and at home with the characters and their fictional bearing. The distinct falling off is hard to explain. Masood Ashar still writes good prose which is neither flashy nor arrogantly idiomatic. His long stint as a newspaper man has not impaired his sense of what good prose is. The narrative slides on smoothly the dialogue is balanced and the technicalities of fiction in the diminutive correctly observed. So what exactly is missing? Perhaps a lack of motivation. The appetite for transforming life into fiction may have got switched off somewhere during the decades gone by but as things take time to come to a complete stop he can still crank out stories on demand although without enthusiasm. It won’t do to write him off yet. Things turned off can get switched on. Many of the stories in Apna Ghur revolve around middle aged or aging men and women working together in dreary offices probably those run by NGOs who seem to waver in and out of a claustrophobic zone. Here are unloved parsons locked in or may be locked out of self assembled prisons of love or hate or erratic esteem. There is a sameness about much of the collection which tends to put one off. In a consolatory way the fiction can be read as an acrid comment on he empty lives of a very small spectrum of the middle class. It also hints at the dichotomy and split lines beginning to appear in the texture of the society symptomatic perhaps of a terminal illness Arguably the best story in the collection is ‘Rokh Kay Dher’ in which one witnesses bourgeois mentality out of its depth at the behavior of a lower class couple. ‘Apna Ghur’ is a better read but cannot be termed a story. It is reportage masquerading as fiction – a hybrid not lacking in appeal though. A minuscule dose of heart felt nostalgia. In Saeed Shaikh’s novel we are allowed a look at another segment of the Pakistani security but from a higher vantage point. It is a near view of the kind of life high bureaucrats lead or are forced to lead in a state mired in corruption from top to bottom. Mukhtar the central character a high official has been suspended on charges of corruption. These charges turn out to be founded on a case of mistaken identity. The acquittal is no consolation. Having seen the whole setup civil or bureaucratic he can identity the web of deception in which everyone is trapped. He comes from a humble background has risen to a high position and fallen from it but now that things have gone awry he can see that his relationships mean nothing motivated as they are in most cases by self interest. It is the beginning of alienation. He has no identity. His official position is his identity. Shorn of his position he is nobody surviving precariously limbo.

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