Sunday, February 17, 2008

Azaadi! (collection of short stories by Reginald Massey)

As Massey is a guest of mine at present, I really could not put off reading a book that has been on my reading list ever since it was published in 2005.

"Azaadi!" is a bit of a mixed bag of short stories in terms of its themes - military, politics, national leaders, prostitution, wife abuse and, most poignantly, stories of friendship across the murderous hindu-muslim divide at the time of the partition of India and Pakistan, or the independence of Bangladesh.

The collection testifies to Massey's dictum that "the world is a stranger place than is dreamt of in the philosophies of foolish men". Here is indeed evidence (albeit in fictional form) that "in spite of the hatreds, the massacres, the migrations, the flame of humanity - often small and dangerously flickering - was not extinguished. We have produced killers and monsters but we have also produced ...Gandhi and Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan". The pity is that not many of today's Indians know even the name of the Khan.

In any case, Massey writes in his introduction to the book, "the thousands of books that pour out of publishing houses every year, not single one, so far as I am aware, celebrates the heroism, goodness, decency and sheer selflessness of the few that kept the flame of humanity alive. This collection of stories takeas as its protagonists those Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis who ... very simply, placed their lives on the line". Such are inspiring and weighty themes of "Azaadi!".

If you have ever met Massey, he may strike you as an "English gentleman manque". However, it is clear from this collection that, if you scratch beneath the surface, his sensibility is entirely Asian. No wonder the book is selling very well in the subcontinent.

Never having read any of his short stories earlier, I had no idea what to expect. I see that his work is closer to the work of the iconic Hindi short story writer Munshi Premchand than any other writer I know in English, and I am now convinced that Massey is undoubtedly one of our best living short story writers.

Masseyji, please abandon everything else - all your work on drama and music, all your novels and poetry - and simply give us more of your short stories for all the the rest of your life. Sphere: Related Content

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