Hasan Ki Surat-e-Haal: Khali Jaghain Pur Karo

Book Review: Hasan Ki Surat-e-Haal: Khali Jaghain Pur Karo
Author: Mirza Athar Baig
Publisher: Sanjh Publications

Hasan-Ki-Surat-e-Haal-title

The event happened to Hasan Raza Zaheer after his lifelong exercise of glancing at the state of affairs.

If we want to take the responsibility to know how and when Hasan got into this habit of glancing at the state of affairs we will have to walk further with him in his life… In fact the more important thing is that we will have to ‘see’ with him because everything is about seeing. And we have to experience what it is like to see.

( Hasan Ki Soorat-e-Haal: Khali Jaghain Pur Karo)

It rarely happens that a novel comes this close to the word ‘novel’: being absolutely unique in the world it presents to the reader. Mirza Athar Baig’s new novel, Hasan ki Soorat-e-Haal: Khali Jagahain Pur kero is one such piece of fiction which makes one think of the genre not as a description of a world but a world in itself. The novel being a world in itself is very much like what a cosmologist, Andre Lindy proposes in his theory of the inflationary universe according to which our universe maybe just one of many universes each with its own governing laws. These self-created laws of coherence that a novel generates for its life-world are brought together by the dynamic intersection of social, political, psychological and spiritual force fields of this multidimensional entity.

Baig’s new novel is like a cinematic journey into a life densely populated with its multicolored characters and their unique subjectivities. The story of Hasan’s State of Affairs (Hasan ki Surat-e-Haal) is as surrealistic as the film the ‘Sawang Film’ group in the novel tries to produce. The film is called ‘This film can’t be made’. The novel’s frame of reality is mirrored in the film’s screenplay and in the characters who multiply by this mirroring effect into multiple possibilities of Being challenging the reader to keep the thread intact. In Baig’s own words: “…The presence of almost a whole screenplay in the novel about a fictional surrealist film is an integral part of the narrative. The activities of the film group, bordering on burlesque at times, are intended to mirror the multiple layers of the same events. What is happening in ‘reality’ is sort of rediscovered in the screenplay and vice versa.”

The dizzying effect that the narrative technique of reincarnating the same characters, Aneela, Saifi, Saeed Kamal and Safdar Sultan in another stretch of space-time continuum can also be seen as amplifying the novel’s surrealist ambiance reflecting an uncanny juxtaposition of seemingly discordant and irrational images. The abundance of characters and multiple scenarios in which these characters reveal themselves create an incredible human drama which is uncanny and entertaining at the same time.

Mirza Athar Baig reading excerpt from 'Hassan Ki Soorat e haal', in Islamabad Literature Festival.

Mirza Athar Baig reading an excerpt from 'Hassan Ki Soorat e haal', in Islamabad Literature Festival, 2014

It may as well be noticed that along with its witty tone and intricate narrative pattern, the novel is written from the point of view of the ghost narrator, who might as well be Hasan’s ghost who narrates the story after the story has actually taken place. However, the question remains: Who is the narrator and why he/she introduces himself/herself as the Editor of Wonder. The enigma continues ad infinitum and as the narrator says: As opposed to a successful story, stories (Kahaniya) where the resolution of an enigma is celebrated, the wonder-narrative (Hairaniya) is a mourning of the continuity of this enigma. And this too is a form of celebration. The interventions of this editor throughout the novel constitute another important perspective of seeing things and talking about them. It may as well be said that the second chapter of the book entitled Hairat ki Idarat (Editing of Wonder) is probably the most important one for anybody who finds him/herself interested in the theoretical aspects of any piece of fiction. The narrator, however, encourages the reader to discard this chapter altogether as a ‘non-writing’ or a disturbing nightmare. However, rather than discarding it for being abstract or ‘philosophical’, this chapter should be read with great focus for herein lies the craft of the entire book and various subtleties of narrative.

Hasan Ki Surat-e-Haal is a remarkable synthesis of Baig’s creative imagination and the contemporary local reality. The novel offers a great potential for examining our historical, cultural and cognitive existence in innovative, scholarly and intellectual perspectives.

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Aqsa Ijaz

Aqsa Ijaz

Aqsa teaches Literature and Cultural Studies at Beaconhouse National University and is currently translating Baig’s collection of Short Stories, Be-Afsana into English.


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