Urdu Book Review
Shades of human nature
Amar Nath Wadehra

Koiyee Charasaaz hota
by Renu Behl.
 Modern Publishing House.
Pages 112. Rs 150.

While reading this collection of 18 short stories this couplet by Sahir Ludhianavi comes to one’s mind "Duniya ne tajurbato hawadis ki shakal mein jo kuchh mujhe diya hai/lauta raha hoon main." (I am returning to the world what it has given me by way of experiences and accidents). It fits perfectly with what Renu Behl has to say in this anthology that depicts different shades of human nature. Indeed, Urdu fiction has been evolving with time and is very much tuned in to contemporary issues as well as literary style.

Masoom Gunah portrays jealousy and belated repentance. Childhood friends Ragini and Anandi nurse the ambition of becoming doctors. The former is a brilliant student as well as an ideal daughter; she is popular among teachers and in the neighbourhood for the qualities of her head and heart. This makes Anandi extremely jealous and she plans Ragini’s downfall. She knows that Ragini is an emotional fool who has a soft corner for Vikram, a neighbor. She encourages the two to consummate their affair.

The gullible Ragini, ignoring her parents’ objections, abandons her ambition and marries Vikram who turns out to be an alcoholic and drug addict. When Anandi becomes a doctor she gloats over her ‘victory’. Years later she realises the enormity of her "innocent sin" of leading her friend astray and tries to make amends.

Fislan, on the other hand, ends on a happier note. Chitra comes from a conservative lower middle class family. As a fresher in college she gets friendly with Raghu — two years her senior and a craze among girls. Flattered by his attention Chitra begins to neglect her studies. One day Raghu takes her on a long drive.

On the way he promises her marriage and takes her to a friend’s flat. Scales fall from her eyes when she is confronted with the scenario in the room — a half empty liquor bottle, strewn cigarette butts and voices of a couple locked in the adjoining room. She flees with tears in her eyes. Did those tears result from a broken heart or out of sheer relief?

Pasheman is the story of a repentant "other woman". She is a government official who falls into love with her colleague Sharad — a married man and father of two. They enter into a live-in relationship as Sharad’s wife Vaishali refuses to divorce him. When Sharad dies, leaving her childless and forlorn, she realises the pain she had inflicted upon Vaishali. She also begins to envy Vaishali for being the mother of Sharad’s children and leading a contented life in her old age. She wishes she had never got involved with Sharad, but too late.

Hum bhi kabhi insaan thhe is a ghost story with a message. A middle-aged widow and her daughter go to Ravi river to commit suicide. The widow’s sons and daughters-in-law had deprived them of their share in the property left behind by her husband. Apart from refusing to help in her daughter’s marriage they behaved cruelly with them. Just as the two women are about to enter the river an old man stops them. They are surprised that he knows everything about them. He tells them to give up the idea of suicide and face their problems boldly. Moreover, there is no guarantee that there would be peace after death. Giving his own example he narrates how he was betrayed by his son and forced to commit suicide.

And, after death, the ‘other world’ did not accommodate him, forcing him to live a ghost’s unhappy life. Renu Behl’s language is crisp and lucid. She chooses words carefully in order to bring the characters to life. The narrative’s rhythmic flow keeps the reader engrossed. She is good at exploring the human mind without resorting to unnecessary or ornate verbiage. Her stories carry positive messages without being preachy. Worthy of your bookshelf.