A glorious collection
Priyanka Singh

Neither Night Nor Day
Ed. Rakshanda Jalil. HarperCollins. Pages 191. Rs 250.

You have to give it to Pakistan women writers. Their narrative is so high on honest portrayal that the characters come alive in a real world that conjures up at the same instant. Think Tehima Durraniís My Feudal Lord or Bapsi Sidhwa.

Neither Night Nor Day strings together 13 stories by Pakistan women writers. Rakshanda feels not all Pakistan women writers are unfeigned. Some are West-fixated, elitist and write for a small group that is far removed from reality while the others are overtly feminist in their views, diluting the impact of their contention.

She says: "In setting out to compile this collection, I must confess I chose ordinariness as my anthem, for I believe that by celebrating ordinariness we celebrate life as it is lived by scores of real people." And her effort hasnít been wasted. It is a splendid collection infused with intensity.

Some stories like The Tongue, by Nikhat Hasan, are simply glorious. It talks of a kingdom where the tongues of its people are cut off as they are "afflicted with the deadly disease of talking". The king, however, had to have a long tongue. With the evils of the tongue gone, people work without speaking and work "four times as fast as ordinary people".

The story takes a spin when Safian, the ruler, discovers that in every mouth, the root of the severed tongue was slowly growing back into the shape of a tongue.

Then there is The Breast by Soniah Kamal which talks of the misery, the whole gamut of tortuous feelings a mother, a woman can possibly undergo in a matter of a few hours.

It depicts the deadness of a mother when she is told that her baby girl has to be put away. That her little one was asleep when they laid her down. That she continued to sleep even when the first shovel of grit fell on her face sandwiched between tiny fists ... "bold in her crying silence".

It talks of a tribunal that is merciless and pronounces that a breast has to be butchered only because a mother wanted to satisfy her maternal instinct to feel tiny lips drawing nourishment from her, no matter if it wasnít her own baby.

Truly, a story that wrenches the heart and leaves it aching with sorrow because for someone it may not be a story alone, but a dark fear that has to be endured.

The Wedding of Sundri is another such story. A girl barely in her teens is married off, only to be killed the same evening following a rumour that she was often seeing, playing with boys.

Qaisra Shahrazí The Goonga brings out the helplessness of a mute father when he sees hatred in his sonís mocking eyes. The humiliation and the pain take him away from the village. His body is brought back to the village, and during the burial ceremony his son is no longer ashamed of his father. His guilt makes him return to his fatherís hut and give up a life of comfort.

It is hard not to go on writing about the book, and that qualifies it for a place on the bookshelf of a discerning reader. A superlative collection.