Ship of Sorrows by Qurratulain Hyder, published in Pakistan in 1952, reshuffles her first novel which she had completed before migrating in December 1947. Both depict the privileged lives of several young cousins and friends living it up in Lucknow until Partition happens and catches them unawares.
This early novel by Qurratulain Hyder, published in Pakistan in 1952, reshuffles her first novel which she had completed before migrating in December 1947. Both depict the privileged lives of several young cousins and friends living it up in Lucknow until Partition happens and catches them unawares.
Partition here is not at all as represented by Manto, Bhisham Sahni or Yashpal. We see nothing remotely like rape or bloodshed, and these scions of the Muslim elite of Awadh cross the border by taking a private flight “from Kanpur to Lahore in a Dakota, piloted by a Polish girl.”
In fact, migration causes barely a ripple in their lives. “From one Gymkhana to the other — Mohammad Bagh Club [in Lucknow], Lahore and Karachi Gymkhanas — life was proceeding very smoothly.” The tone here may hint at irony but the action belies that hope, for the characters do indeed go on living the same insouciant lives.
As for the land they have left behind, they hardly spare a thought. The one Hindu family they knew were the Rajvanshs, who were Kayasths, and “the Kayasths of Awadh,” we are told, “are considered to be half Muslim” anyhow. A stray line from a bhajan can be heard once or twice and the Hindi journal, Hans, is mentioned in which a Rajvansh girl publishes a poem.
Also mentioned are two Turkish journals from the library of “Abbajan,” the paterfamilias who once lived in “Constantinople”. He writes poetry in Persian and goes off to Tehran just for “a change of air”. This older pan-Islamic affiliation gives way in the next generation to a Westernised cosmopolitanism which takes the younger characters, some brought up by an Irish governess, to London, Cambridge and Paris. The “syncretic” culture or tehzeeb here is not so much Ganga-Jamuni as Gomatian-Bosphorian-Thamesian.
Qurratulain Hyder is a leading writer in Urdu fiction in India. A prose stylist of rare accomplishment, she wrote in both Urdu and English, and her books have been translated into all Indian languages. She was awarded the Bharatiya Jnanpith, India’s highest literary award, in 1989.
The recipient of a number of other literary awards, she is a Fellow of the Sahitya Akademi, travelled widely and worked as a journalist and broadcaster. Her novel River of Fire (Women Unlimited, 2003), translated by the author from the original Urdu Aag ka Dariya, has achieved epic status in fiction about the subcontinent.
My Temples, Too, also translated by Hyder from the original Mere Bhi Sanamkhane, has been published by Women Unlimited in 2004; and Fireflies in the Mist, was translated from the original Akhir-e-Shab ke Humsafar, by Aamer Hussain was published by Women Unlimited in 2008. Her latest title, published by Women Unlimited in 2009, is a collection of short stories, Street Singers of Lucknow and Other Stories, translated by Hyder herself.