BOOK REVIEW: Suspense stories, but real —by Dr Amjad Parvez
Jurm-o-Saza Ki Sachi Kahaniyan
By Ijaz Ahmad Butt
Takhleeqaat; Pp 192; Rs 180
When this reviewer was young, the trend of reading detective stories and watching suspense movies was very much in. One would see people reading Jasoosi Digests all the time. Even our state TV channel would sometimes telecast plays based on stories of crime and punishment. We used to be glued to our seats watching Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’ starring Anthony Perkins or ‘The Birds’ starring Suzanne Pleshette. As time passed, this trend gradually vanished. Our next generation does not seem to be much interested in this type of story. They have other interests, mainly fulfilled by downloads from the internet of horror, action thrillers or soaps. The closest they enjoy the genre is the recent movie, ‘Sherlock Holmes’.
While looking at Wikipedia, one finds that one of the earliest examples of detective fiction in the West is Voltaire’s Zadig (1748), which features a protagonist who performs feats of analysis. The Danish crime story The Rector of Veilbye by Steen Steensen Blicher was written in 1832 and the Norwegian crime novel The Murder of Engine Maker Rolfsen by Maurits Hansen was published in 1839. Detective fiction is considered in the English-speaking world to have begun in 1841 with the publication of The Murders in the Rue Morgue, featuring “the first fictional detective, the eccentric and brilliant C Augusta Dupin”. Another early example of a whodunit is a sub-plot in the novel Bleak House (1853) by Charles Dickens. Dickens’s protégé, Wilkie Collins (1824–1889), sometimes referred to as the “grandfather of English detective fiction” is credited with the first great mystery novel, The Woman in White. His novel The Moonstone (1868) was called the first, the longest, and the best of modern English detective novels by none other than T S Eliot.
In this backdrop, it was a surprise to receive a book titled Jurm-o-Saza Ki Sachi Kahaniyan by Ijaz Ahmad Butt. The stories are based on our cultural and social background. The author claims these stories to be true as he came across all the characters of his stories because of his being a journalist on the crime beat. In his introduction to the book, Ijaz Ahmad Butt also refers to Chaucer who had chosen his characters to tell a story whereas Milton had chosen poetry for his story telling in ‘Paradise Lost’. Shakespeare had chosen drama for this purpose. As time passed, people opted for short stories because it took less time to digest the plot. Ijaz Ahmad Butt observes that their influence was seen on Urdu literature as well with the appearance of Agha Babar, Prem Chand, Rehman Muznib, Manto, Ghulam Abbas, Krishen Chander, Ismat Chughtai and the like.
The author claims that in his stories he has tried to bring the true face of the police to the public. For example, in the first story titled ‘Aankhain’ (Eyes), he has narrated the story of Sajid, who with his accomplice Jamal had kidnapped and brutally murdered a young boy named Guddu to take out his eyes. This child was the younger brother of Naila, who lived with his mother after being estranged from her husband, Afzal. Her fault was that she flirted with Sajid, a distant relative who had come to live in the penthouse of their house. Sajid’s aim was to give the eyes of a child to Amil Sitara, a fraudulent magician, who claimed to be an expert in black magic, to prepare a medicine to lure Naila. But by then, as luck would have it, Naila had made amends with her husband. The role of the police in reaching the culprits has been shown as positive. The story also brings to light the illiteracy and wrong beliefs in the lives of people living in the rural areas.
Ijaz Ahmad Butt claims that the stories he has narrated are of 21st century Pakistan. No person is criminal by birth. It is the environment that makes him so. Some are habitual criminals, while others repent all their lives over one crime they committed. Ijaz Ahmad Butt’s style of writing is simple. He gives separate sections to different events and then leads the story with flashbacks to wind up. Normally, his interview with the culprits ends the story with findings. The story titled ‘Dil Ki Rani’ is a story of a politician namely Chaudhry Fayyaz, 20 years senior in age to Saira Rani, whom he marries to get a son despite being already married. Saira falls for the proposal because she thinks she would get a financially secure life, despite her family’s opposition. When the doctors discover that she cannot conceive, the husband loses his affection for her. He starts threatening that he would chop her into pieces. One evening when she hears noises of men and women drinking and playing foul in her husband’s room, she decides to kill him before he kills her. While narrating this story, Ijaz Ahmad Butt remains undecided whether the real culprit was Chaudhry Fayyaz or Saira Rani!
This book contains 10 stories, the last one being tiled ‘Roti’, in which Jameel killed his wife Shakeela while she was preparing bread in the kitchen. She said before dying that this loaf of bread would be her witness. Average Urdu language readers looking for some suspense would enjoy this book. Ijaz Ahmad Butt desires that our younger generation get to know the reality behind the apparently attractive world of crime lest they should get entangled in its web.
The reviewer is based in Lahore and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org