Urdu literature has always had a rich background. Stories thoughtfully knitted from one of the most graceful languages possess an innate charm that cannot be found in literature from any other language. From Patras Bukhari’s witty humor to Naseem Hijazi’s musings on life, it has never failed to engulf readers in its folds, with adept authors weaving impactful words. One such author was Shafiq ur Rehman, a comedic genius who masterfully unraveled the depths of human experiences in his works.
Introduction to the Author: Shafiq ur Rehman
Shafiq ur Rahman was born on 9th of November 1920 in British India. Raised in Bahawalpur, he went on to pursue MBBS from King Edward Medical College. His penchant for writing developed early on, and he began dabbling in it as a student. He wrote his first book during this time, which got published in 1942 and was the onset of a brilliant legacy. He found himself excelling in both literature and medicine. The author served in the Indian Medical Service prior to the partition of Pakistan. Joining the Pakistan Army and then the Navy after the partition, Shafiq ur Rahman did not stop his literary ventures. In 1980, he was made the first Chairman of the Academy of Letters, a prestigious national academy bespoke for literary endeavors. He continued with the craft until 1989 and went on an indefinite hiatus with his last book Pachtaway. The hiatus continued until his passing in March 2000. He left a legacy of 11 books, which are still coveted to this day because of their witty humor and charming prose.
Books Written by Shafiq ur Rehman
His earliest work (Kirnein) held romanticism in high regard. He was still unpolished, but he had a way with words that appealed to people. Slowly transitioning into the humoristic realm in Shagoofay, he established himself as a comedic master with his later books. His stories hold a picturesque charm, brought to life by youthful characters and absorbing settings. He also wrote travelogues and parodies, both presenting a gripping account of what was happening in his time. He can be seen critical of authoritarianism in his novels, but he does not delve too much into a political climate. His writings do not seek to establish his own ideas but to evoke visceral responses in his readers through heartfelt conversations, sensuous imagery and a stellar narrative. His last book Pachtaway, breaks away from his easygoing prose and paints a more lyrical picture, of lost love and uncertain fates. His books have an inimitable quality, attracting readers to this day.
Shafiq ur Rehman’s writings are not encomiums to entities or a banal exploration of the socio-political climate, but an homage to nuances in human behaviors, and how people respond to what happens around them. He does not churn out pretentious philosophies or dogmas, but creates a world full of joys and sorrows, emotions intrinsic to the human nature. His works are part comedic and part sentimental, and wholly tinged with the spirit of romanticism. His characters are not propelled to search for higher purposes, but to explore their innate humanness, with phenomenological details that does not only make the reader conjure up the scenario in his head, but to also make them perceive every emotion that the characters feel.
His works are a collection of short stories and have no sequence, there are no sequels or prequels, all events seemingly unfold independent of time. This timelessness is what gives his stories a true escapist quality.
The events of his books unfold in familiar spaces, be it a quaint little coffee shop down the road, or a backyard garden surrounded by trees. Shafiq ur Rehman was a man who perfected relatability and made the reader feel right at home.
Barsaati is hailed as one of his best stories, a travelogue where the writer muses about his various encounters through the stains accumulated on his raincoat. It is lighthearted and resonates deeply with the human soul with its various philosophical musings. Himaqatain and Mazeed Himaqatain are his comedic marvels, portraying characters full of youthful mischief. From the absurd game of cricket in Nananway Not Out, to Shaitan’s antics in Shaitan, Ainak aur Mausam e Bahar, the author never failed to keep readers engaged.
Shafiq ur Rahman wrote mostly of youth and adolescence. His stories had a range of colourful characters from different walks of life. In most stories, the main character would mostly possess no name, but was almost always an able man, adept at sports and intellectually sound. Many speculated this to be a projection of the author himself, as these qualities were found in him in his youth as well. The appearance of characters in his stories were not defined, but there started to be a recurrence of some characters such as Shaitaan, Razia, Maqsood Ghora, Judge Sahab and Buddy. These sporadically appearing characters even got stories revolving around them. Shaitan, Razia and Bari Aapa seemed to be the closest to the narrator. Razia was a pillar of feminist strength, a strong minded intellectual who added to the humor with her wit. Bari Aapa was her uptight sister, headstrong in her own way. The narrator and his best friend Rufi (dubbed Shaitaan due to his mischievous nature) were often at odds due to their lingering attachment to Razia, albeit in a heartfelt manner.
The characters in his stories are not a pillar of moral virtues, they make mistakes, driven by their own sense of right and wrong, adding realism to the story. Contrary to just being comedic elements, all characters had some sort of driving force behind their actions. Shaitaan, seemingly maligned as a womanizer, too was a loyal friend and went out of his way to help the narrator.
Shafiq framed comedy with lightheartedness and satire. The comedy did not revolve around targeting demographics or acts of immaturity. He also mixed in subtle political notions in his work and could be seen calling out the bourgeoise every now and then.
The author wonderfully weaves narratives which do not trivialize any sort of emotion, be it love or sadness. He masterfully captures the pain of unreciprocated love in Bari Aapa, and the eternal speculation on the what ifs in Neeli Jheel. All his short stories leave a lasting impact on the reader, one that makes them ponder about their own life.
An Ode to Lost Times:
We at Daastan are in love with Shafiq ur Rehman’s novels. His stories are precisely what a modern-day romanticist searches for in his or her lifetime. The ephemeral nature of life trapped between the pages of his books is what every person seeks at some point in their life. Adventure, love, friendship, just a lighthearted tete a tete over a cup of tea in a cozy coffee shop, whatever it may be, you will find it all nestled amongst Shafiq ur Rehman’s words. Perfect pieces of escapist literature, his books undoubtedly bring tranquility and refreshment to the soul.