The book “Sin” has stories by Wajida Tabassum, that have been translated from the Urdu by Reema Abbasi.
Set in Hyderabad’s old-world aristocratic society of the 1950s, this is a stellar collection of intrepid and path-breaking tales from a forgotten jewel of Urdu literature, Wajida Tabassum. An iconoclast and nonconformist, and also known as the ‘female Manto’, her stories faced public protests in her lifetime. Now, 70 years later, her stories have been translated from Urdu to English for the first time.
The stories in this volume are in four sections – Lust, Pride, Greed and Envy – and they are strong, boldly feminist, sometimes unnerving and often scandalous. The book, through riveting prose and lyricism, captures the spectrum of depravity among Hyderabad’s elite and explores the blurred lines of decency and decorum. Featuring lascivious nawabs, lustful begums, cunning servants and unfulfilled marriages, this volume will surprise, intrigue and entertain in equal measure.
Read an excerpt from the book below.
Editor’s Note: The following excerpt has been taken from the Translator’s Note from the book.
In the 1950s, Wajida’s work was viewed as explosive, unorthodox and impure. From a respectable, conservative, but poor home, Wajida Tabassum, in her early twenties, was reviled for her non-conformist, semi-erotic work. Old-fashioned Hyderabad Deccan saw her as an impure menace, determined to shock, lead women astray and tarnish the family name. When her stories – which she used to post in letters to newspapers and various magazines – began appearing regularly, they were noticed by the people in her hometown of Amravati. Her relatives came together to bar her from writing and her correspondence began to be severely monitored at home. Despite these excruciating circumstances, Wajida persevered, writing and posting stories to newspapers and magazines. However, when further confronted by her enraged family, fear forced her to renounce some of her work. This was the time when Jilani Bano, Krishan Chander, Ismat Chughtai and Saadat Hasan Manto were established giants of Urdu literature. It was ironic that Wajida’s relatives and distant kin who were familiar with the bold and unconventional writing of other women writers had a rabid view of her own work and used Ismat’s writing – despite her fame and stature – as a jibe to knock Wajida’s progress.
As the stories flowed to the masses, she faced death threats and mobs took to the streets to torch the offices of her publishers. In staunch resistance, even though by now she faced abject poverty, Wajida wrote and chronicled debauchery in aristocratic homes and took on middle-class taboos with astonishing nerve and in lyrical prose. Other than her popular short story ‘Utran’ (Hand Me Downs) that was made into a television soap, Wajida Tabassum’s body of work remains an untouched jewel of Urdu literature. This is therefore the first volume of translations of her writing into English, containing nineteen intrepid short stories. These stories seek to capture the entire range of the realities of middle-class compulsions and the depravities indulged in by the social elite.
The four sections in this volume deal with dark, debauched and tragic aspects of life and are structured on the theme of the ‘deadly sins’, namely lust, pride, greed and envy. Sensually treated accounts of jealousy, desire, injustice and suppression, they signal a theatre of discontent with clever charades of symbolism. Wajida captures the power of the subliminal and the subconscious with precision and subtlety. Themes of impotence, powerplay, betrayal and abandonment run through most of the stories. They almost serve as quiet metaphors for the downfall of the nobility.
The story of her life in her own words, ‘Meri Kahaani’, written when she was twenty-four, forms the centre of this volume. It provides insight into her work and is an exquisite testament of a bold and original writer. […]
Most of Wajida Tabassum’s women belong to or are located in conservative, demanding households. Wajida sets them free to feast on their desires and emotions. Her language is fine-drawn – the artistry with which she weaves the layers of denied, smothered feelings is as forceful as the ultimate implosion, usually one of shattering voltage. The stories are landscapes of shifting passions and, in the end, the triumph of the self.