Author: Syed Sarwar Hussain
"Nameless Lanes" | Wandering through Nameless Lanes
This collection gives an audience to the world less seen, writes Abreshmina S Quadri.
It is said that the stories of an era reflect the people, environment and society of that time; the book ‘Nameless Lanes’ by Syed Sarwar Hussain, through its collection of short Urdu stories, does exactly that.
Nameless Lanes is an amalgamation of different Urdu short stories written by various prominent writers of the 50s and as Syed Sarwar Hussain describes it, the writers had gained prominence “when I was still in my infancy and whose stories still influence my existence.”
Probably it is this very connection that has found its way into his translation. Reading the book feels as if one has travelled back in time. The stories engage one with the old Indian society, the era which was so different from the modern Indian existence, yet strikingly similar. Some incidents in these stories open up a portal to an alien culture while others make one draw parallels with one’s own. The book has an exceptional quality of getting you attached and detached simultaneously.
This book could be an interesting read even for those who aren’t avid readers. Because of the length of the stories, one feels engaged and is able to explore different ideas in a short span of time. Also, the language of the book is beautiful yet simple. The translations exhibit the writer’s understanding of the text, which helps one to keenly process
Hussain must be credited with the selection of stories for the book. While each story is different from the other, the underlying essence is imposingly similar. All the stories have a dark element, with characters exploring the light and shadow within themselves — an element extremely relatable to today’s audience. As mentioned in the preface, “The theme of utter chaos and confusion against the backdrop of compulsions of decadent materialistic society, a faith in deep moral crisis and the evils of pride and prejudice wrecking finer human feelings, marks the strength of the stories.”
The stories explore topics ranging from love, affection for children, self-introspection to unrealised sins, human psychology and the ‘Lakshman Rekha’ humans create around themselves. Along with touching upon love between a man and a woman, the stories include sacrificial love — a feeling often attached to the older times. The stories also deal with fatherly affection, patriotism, deep love for things that one begins to attach with one’s identity and unfulfilled desires. The book has brought together almost all aspects of human life so effortlessly that it may feel like one has been through a whole lifetime.
The most intriguing of all stories may turn out to be ‘The Mysterious Smile’ by Mohammed Mohsin and ‘The Priceless Gem’ by Sheen Muzaffarpuri, both of which deal with the psychological effects of one’s surroundings and their eventual repercussions.
‘The Mysterious Smile’ is about a girl Jumni who lives with her father in a secluded area where the latter runs a burial ground. Jumni’s psychological problem stems from the fact that she has only ever seen the goodness that the dead bring and hence, could never attach sorrow with death. It was this innocence of hers that the world failed to understand and she had to bear the consequences of the same.
‘The Priceless Gem’, on the other hand, is about a girl Anokhi who develops a certain ego and mad pride around her preserved virginity. Due to society always loudly establishing how important it is for a woman to maintain her celibacy but having conversations about the eventual loss of the same under the sheets, Anokhi was unable to understand the entire concept of virginity which, through the course of the story, impacted her existence greatly.
The book carries the name of an included story written by Kalam Haidari through which he describes the lanes and environment he grew up in. The story gives life to his people and surroundings, bringing in an innate level of realism; maybe that’s why the writer says “I haven’t told you any story. Because this isn’t just a story.”
Nameless Lanes makes one want to pen down one’s memories about the lanes and times one has grown up in, so that despite the ever-changing conditions, the world may always be able to see those lanes through the
The book is a vision, it gives an audience to the world less seen. Today, there is an increased urge for exploring different cultures and times and Nameless Lanes quenches that thirst. Like Hussain has said in the book, “The stories in the anthology reach out to those seekers of truth and knowledge living in a world quite apart from the world where the stories were born,” yet somehow, being a part of the global society, the world isn’t so apart.