Amardeep Singh
Monday, April 04, 2005
Qurratulain Hyder, reviewed in The Hindu
Via Soniah Kamal at Desilit, I followed a link to a review of a newly translated Qurratulain Hyder novel called My Temples, Too. It was first published in 1949. The reviewer in The Hindu does something a little odd in this review, namely quote herself. Here is an exemplary opening paragraph:

It is in this context that My Temples, Too (Mere Bhi Sanamkhane, 1949) is an important literary event. Hyder, described as the grand dame of Urdu literature, has been credited with refining the form of the novel in a poetry-obsessed Urdu and has been compared to literary icon Gabriel Garcia Marquez for the epic historical sweep of her magnum opus Aag Ka Dariya [Rivers of Fire] (published 1959, translated as River of Fire in 1999 by Kali for Women). Born in Aligarh in UP in 1927, Hyder came from a family of intellectuals and was educated at Lucknow's Isabella Thoburn University, going on to a stint in London as a young sari-clad reporter for Fleet Street, before emigrating to Pakistan to join her family. She returned to India in 1962 and now lives and works in Noida, Delhi. Her novels and short stories are arresting for their complex examination of the cultural inextricability of the Hindu and Muslim cultures in terms of literature, poetry and music, and the forces of history like Colonisation, Independence and Partition as well as and sociological movements like abolition of Zamindari [serfdom], and their conflicts with the flow of individual lives. Here, Hyder differs in her themes from feminist writers like Ismat Chugtai in that the feminist impulse is but one separate strand that is subsumed in the broader sweep of history, and also from the progressive writers group of Manto, Bedi, Bhisham Sahni and Chugtai in her refusal to stay leftist and her nostalgia for the aristocratic zamindari life.

Except for the syntactical error in one sentence ("as well as and sociological"), this is a decent opening paragraph -- at once informative and rhetorically punchy. Hyder is contrasted both to the earlier, Romantic school in Urdu poetry, and to the more narrowly focused feminism of Ismat Chughtai. It's a nice way to position what she does, and seems pretty accurate (though I haven't read enough of Chughtai's works to say for sure whether the assessment of Chughtai's feminism is fair).

But what's sort of surreal is the way the reviewer (Sonya Dutta Choudhry) reprises her own language in the opening paragraph in the final paragraph, putting the repeated phrase in quotation marks:

My Temples, Too is a powerful story, told in an idiom that is distinctively Hyder's, in its syncretic fusion of an innately Indian "centuries of Hindu-Muslim cultural inextricability" style, which simultaneously takes cognizance of western thought and ideas.

To quote myself from above, "The reviewer in The Hindu does something a little odd in this review, namely quote herself," when she refers to "centuries of Hindu-Muslim cultural inextricability" twice.
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