Shaukat Siddiqui is one of the most prolific Urdu writers. He rose to prominence with his debut novel Khuda ki Basti in 1957. Since then he is regarded as one of the finest novelists in Urdu. With his realistic and thought provoking fiction, Siddiqui has made a permanent impression on Urdu literature . Class struggle is the most prominent theme is his works, followed by crime, corruption and tragic lives of the downtrodden masses. He is also known as Urdu’s Charles Dickens.   

Born in 1923, in the city of cities Lucknow, Shaukat Siddiqi grew up in a decadent cultural. The old world was rapidly vanishing and the vacuum thus created was being filled with the new age and new ideas. The same was reflected in Siddiqui’s intellectual development. The young man was fascinated by the Dastaan tradition of storytelling and was well read in all famous Dastaans from Alif Laila to Fasana-e-Azad. At the same time he had strong socialist leanings and realized that the old world is dying. Thus he started writing in early 1940s, in the style of Dastaan while keeping a socialist approach. He also served in the army during the Second World War.

Shaukat Siddiqui migrated to Pakistan in 1950 and started a new life in Karachi, the city of refugees. For the first few years, he faced severe economic difficulties. There was no source of income and no accommodation to live in. He became a part of thousands of destitute people living in poverty and thus had a firsthand experience of deprivation. Also, he closely observed poor criminals and their way of life. This tragic but rich experience became a strong motivation for his stories. Shaukat Siddiqui joined journalism in 1952 which remained a lifelong profession. Five years later he wrote his debut novel Khuda ki Basti which made him a famous writer.  

Khuda ki Basti (God’s own land) tells the sorry tale of Karachi, a city whose population is doubled in a few days following partition. Refugees from all over India are pouring into the coastal capital of newly formed Pakistan, either escaping danger or in search of better lives. The city which symbolized hope of a new life for many soon turns into a house of poverty, homelessness, crime and corruption. Plot is woven around the themes of deprivation, exploitation, lust, intrigue and crime. Characters of the novel are so helpless in their miserable lives that they don’t find a way out and suffer from an unbearable burden of frustration. The most heartbreaking part of the story is the tragic lives of young children who are exploited, forced to beg and commit crimes. The story has tension between the good and the evil in the most unconventional way. Evil triumphs but the good refuses to give up and the struggle continues. The title Khuda ki Basti was taken from Iqbal’s poetry. It’s a metaphor for Pakistan, a country formed in the name of religion. The novel is a tragic but true picture of Pakistani society of that time. Its language is fairly simple and the story is very much relatable. Khuda ki Basti is equally popular among the literary critics and readers. It has been translated in dozens of languages. Pakistan television produced a drama serial based on its story back in 1970s. I have personally seen a small town named Khuda ki Basti on the highway connecting Lahore and Islamabad.                  

A couple of decades after Khuda ki Basti, Shaukat Siddiqui’s came up with his second novel Jangloos (Uncouth) which he kept writing for many years as a weekly episode. When the novel was finally compiled, it spanned over three volumes and a startling 1,800 pages which makes it one of the lengthiest, if not the lengthiest novel in Urdu. The story is set on an epic scale with dozens of characters and varying situations, going in depth of many real issues and tragedies of rural Punjab. The very basic theme of the novel is class struggle which is prime motivation for Siddiqui’s entire fiction. Jangloos is the story of an escaped criminal who makes his way through life by theft, deception and murder. His unusual journey takes him to the abyss of the tyrannical structure of society.          

The greatest contribution of Jangloos is that it can be read as an authentic documentary on feudalistic society in Pakistan. Through realistic imagination, the author takes the story to the very heart of feudalism. Feudal lords are gods within their small kingdoms and enjoy an absolute authority over the lives and deaths of their tenants. They let them earn a living barely enough to keep them alive. Tenants are treated worse than animals and the honor of their women has no value. When it comes to political rights, a tenant can only vote for the party his feudal lord supports or otherwise bear the consequences. The novel is a complete education in the oppressive system of feudal society. It also explores the strong links between feudalism, bureaucracy and politics and how these institutions coordinate to further their interests at the expense of common people who remain poor and downtrodden. Another important theme is what we call Pakistan’s first wide scale corruption scandal. The great number of false claims made against the abandoned assets of Hindus and Sikhs following partition. Thousands of refugees from India didn’t get a dime against their assets left behind because many people who never migrated used forged papers and bribery to acquire abandoned property. It’s a dark stain on this country’s character.

Jangloos is a well researched and realistic novel. The story, characters and narrative is so close to real life that the reader gets a strong feeling of rural Punjab. Language has a strong shade of Punjabi and Saraiki. The fact that an Urdu speaking Lucknow wala wrote such a genuine novel on Punjab is mind blowing. The author not only researched his topics in great detail before writing the novel but also studied the geography and culture of Punjab and also learnt to speak Punjabi and Saraiki. With such high credentials, Jangloos is undoubtedly a great novel and a masterpiece.          

Shaukat Siddiqui’s third and final novel Chaar Deewari was written alongside Jangloos and was finished in 1988. Through this gem of a novel, Siddiqui paid a rich tribute to his native Lucknow.  Based in early 20th century Lucknow, the novel is a mirror image of domestic life in Subcontinent’s most cultured city. It paints a colorful picture of the zenana, life within high context Lucknavi culture and the sanctity of four walls. Complete gender segregation and strict tradition of veil has bound women of all ages within their homes. In the women’s quarters, education is limited to religious instruction and the superstition thrives. Supernatural is as real to them as living human beings. In turn they have become minions and possess no ability to lead their lives in a positive direction. However, times are changing outside Lucknow’s stately mansions. Women are getting modern education and playing active role in the society and in their own lives. Barriers of culture and tradition are very strong but not impenetrable. Vibes of change have started impacting the feminine world hidden behind the veil. Novel’s protagonist Talat Ara is a naïve young girl raised in the luxury and comforts of one such nawabi mansion. She is surrounded by dozens of female servants and jealously guarded by an overly superstitious and authoritative widowed mother. Talat Ara’s life is turned upside down when she happens to meet the prince royal of the realm of djinns in a supposedly haunted first floor room of the haveli. Every Thursday, the prince of djinns descends from his father’s kingdom to spend a night with Talat Ara and nor she nor her mother can refuse out of fear. Fortunately, Talat Ara is not damned for eternity. Later in the story she emerges as a strong character, a young woman who is receiving modern education and is aware of the treachery inflicted upon her in the name of superstition.

Chaar Deewari with its interesting Arabian Nights like story, attention to detail and highly convincing characters emerges as a highly authentic and entertaining novel. It is a thorough study of oriental decadence. Lucknow’s upper class women are superstitious, conservative and shrouded behind the veil. They remain ignorant and unaware of what’s happening in the outside world. Men on the other hand are very much used to the luxury and excess of the nawabi era. They can’t conceive of a life without a royal pension or land remittance. Those who aren’t left with any wealth, resort to deception and crime instead of starting an active life and finding a decent means of living. The story of this novel is not limited to havelis; underprivileged and lower classes get due representation. Chaar Deewari is also praised for its feminism and strong female characters.

Throughout his career Shaukat Siddiqui remained true to his philosophy of life. He was an absolute realist. His themes were the bitter realities of life. He used a fairly simple language and wrote in Dastaan style. Readers could not only relate with his stories but find them interesting and entertaining. On the other hand, his craft of storytelling, his realism and attention to detail earned him critical acclaim. Being equally popular with literary critics and readers was his rare achievement. He has made a permanent place among greatest Urdu writers. Shaukat Siddiqui passed away in 2006. Ahmad Nadeem Qasmi and Munir Niazi also passed away that year. People say 2006 was a very unlucky year for Urdu…..