Mumtaz Hussain, a known artist and filmmaker in New York’s South Asian and American art circles, has brought out his first collection of Urdu short stories that explore several issues affecting individual lives and contemporary Pakistani society as a whole.
Entitled “Gol Ainak ke Peeche” (Beyond the Spectacles), the book explores wide-ranging social themes and makes subtle deep inroads into psychology of different characters of almost all classes of the Pakistani society. Hussain, in his own words, paints characters with his imagination but sticks to reality – often callous and cruel.
Critics find dramatic tone as a striking feature of his story telling. For instance, look at the start of the story “Takoni Khawahish Ki Kali Dewar” which begins with words “Kaun Hai?” Similarly, the story “Shopping Mall” begins with words written in English ‘Chill goes away’ and then immediately explains how the dry fruit in the northwestern Pakistani regions came to be known as “Chalghozay” in Urdu because of English people’s description of it as something that makes the chill go away after one eats it.
Hussain also deals with some hot isssues like curse of terrorism which is afflicting the region in one of his stories. He also appears to be challenging social taboos and Urdu short story giant Saadat Hasan Manto’s influence can be seen at several places on themes of love and romance, something he acknowledges.
His best short stories, in fact, reveal complexities of characters who people Mumtaz’s kaleidoscope but also leave something for readers to interpret.
However, Hussain is at his loudest when pleading for women’s rights. In a short story story “Miriam Ki Safaid Ankhain,” he comments poignantly on the devastating implications of the former Hudood Ordinance introduced under Zia ul Haq’s dicatorship and its exploitation. The ordinance has been replaced by Women’s Protection Bill.
His short story Lab-e-Farat touches flooding tragedy – a kind of premonition as the book appeared just this summer before Pakistan was struck with the catastrophe – in painful ways, especially its deadly impact on the poor.