Magic of the Modern Day Maze

As one starts reading Naiyer Masud’s Collected Stories, the labyrinth begins to feel like a wonderful place to be.

Published: 16th April 2016 10:00 PM  |   Last Updated: 16th April 2016 08:46 AM   |  A+A-

Magic of the

Possibly no other writer would work so hard at revealing things as Naiyer Masud does in concealing them. And, this despite a profuse and relentless detailing, a precision and clarity of writing and expression, and an eye for the tiniest of detail!

Magic of the Modern.JPGIn his refusal to make things easy for the reader, Masud requires a close and attentive reading, and such is the mesmeric pull of his writing that he pulls you in with all the tenacity and insistence of a dream despite its blurred outlines and disregard for time and space. Once inside his world, which is part magic realism, part Kafkaesque, there is no escape. There is something seductive, almost hypnotic about this collection of stories that the conventions of story-telling, such as plot, character, narrative, become meaningless; the word and the suggestion is all.

Many questions have been raised in literary circles about how best to describe Naiyer Masud. Is he a modernist or a post-modernist? Is he a writer of fantasy or surreal literature? Masud himself acknowledges the influence of Edgar Allen Poe and he has translated Kafka into Urdu. A scholar of Persian and Urdu, a former Professor of Persian at the Lucknow University, Masud has been a lifelong avid and eclectic reader. The range of his reading is reflected in his writings, making him difficult to categorise. There is a deliberate attempt at creating a landscape that is unfamiliar, unrecognisable and uncategorised: this is done by a conscious of purging of idiom and using a language that is measured and precise. As Masud himself says, “I don’t want my language to give away, however obliquely, the temporal identity of my characters.”

An erudite introduction by Memon and an extremely illuminating interview with Asif Farrukhi, coming at the beginning and end respectively of this collected works, throw ample light on the occasionally mystifying contents of the book. They help the reader enjoy this unique kind of writing more fully, a writing that has few signposts, that is self-referential as few other fictional writings and, yes, even occasionally self-indulgent. These ‘fragments of consciousness’, as Memon calls them, follow the reader long after the story has ended ‘like a shadow, yes, but suggestive in their fractured imagery of some presence somewhere in the beyond’. For this reviewer, an enduring image was of the girl with the crushed feet, who sat propped up against a tree in a house and shed its tiny yellow leaves all over the girl. Who the girl was or why her feet were crushed, or even why she sat under a tree as it shed its tiny yellow leaves all over her is irrelevant; what stays is the image and the language it is clothed in. Immaculate, precise, spare and completely shorn of adjectival excess or rhetorical flourishes. Yet it is lyrical.

Some stories, most notably the early stories from the collection Simiyan, have a child-like lack of guile and probing. In fact, Masud wrote Simiyan when he was 12 years old; he rewrote it and added substantially to its details later. Memon likens the experience of reading a Masud story to ‘walking into a maze with no possibility of ever getting out. A hypnotic circularity, a curling back upon oneself over and over again.’ After reading some stories, the reader will find there is indeed no way of getting out of the maze.


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