I have just finished reading Mustansar Hussain Tarar’s latest book, a collection of short stories titled 15 Kahaniyan (15 stories). The book is so thought provoking that it has made me restless. I have to write something about it now, for time is running out; time, which is granted to a people, an interval between their creation and destruction. So this book can’t wait. It has to be read now.

After reading these stories, I see the writer as one of those madmen possessed by a dangerous truth which doesn’t let them sleep a wink. They keep lamenting the tyranny and bloodshed happening around them but their people are in a sound sleep. None of the cries makes any difference to them. But oh! I wish they could. Every story in this volume is a burning flame which asks the reader to burn with it; however four stories clearly stand out in terms of their audacity, relevance and importance.  

Ae mere Tarkhaan (O Carpenter) is Tarar’s unsaid conversation with the carpenter who used to make colorful wooden toys for him when he was a child. Something dreadful has happened and suddenly after all these years, when the child has become an old man, he needs the carpenter again. 150 children have been brutally killed in a single day. Coffins in the market are too big for them. They don’t sleep peacefully and keep playing inside those coffins. So, 150 coffins of various small sizes are immediately required. “O Carpenter! My children didn’t live, but I pray to the lord for the life and happiness of your children. Please make me 150 small coffins” he says.  

When you read Jala Hai Jism Jahan (When the body is burnt), you feel the anguish and pain of the unfortunate Christian couple which was burnt to death by a fanatic mob in Kot Radha Kishan. The story teller is their child who was a witness of this atrocity. The reader is shaken by the pain of their miserable lives and horror of their brutal killing. At the same time he feels ashamed at what’s gone wrong with this country and its people.

Aik Goongay ki Diary (Diary of a Mute) tells the story of a common citizen who once knew the difference between just and unjust and could speak out the truth. Years of restrictions on expression have silenced him permanently. He strongly feels about the savage acts of brutality against minorities, terrorism, ethnic violence, chronic religious fanaticism and cultural narcissism in the society but he has lost the words and forgotten how to speak against them.

Art Gallery Mein Beethoven ki Chandni Raatein (In an art gallery, Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata) is another wonderful piece of writing. It introduces the reader to a Lahore which is no more, a city which was once home to Anglo-Indian and Parsi communities. The story beautifully describes the people of these communities and their customs, traditions and way of life. It tells how over the years in face of religious intolerance, they left this city one family after the other, silently moving abroad in search of better lives.

Other stories in the volume are also worth reading. They introduce fresh themes and approaches in Urdu fiction. This volume represents the finest of Tarar’s fiction. I believe through these stories, he has paid the debt every man owes to humanity, his soil and his people. All these stories are shaded with a deep sense of loss. They mourn the demise of a pluralistic way of life and confess its replacement with a collective insanity.