A maestro of metaphors

“a story is the tattered dress of a lunatic…

 a story is a prisoner under sentence of life…

 a story is a question rubbed off a child’s slate…

 a story is a sore beloved…

 a story is Kafka…

 a story are you

 a story am I”


This is Mazhar-ul-Islam­­—a writer who flabbergasted Urdu-wallahs with his first collection of short stories Ghorron ke Shehar Mein Akela Aadmi (The Only Man in the City of Horses). His dexterity in the use of metaphors, his obsession with the morbid and his down-trodden characters make him stand alone as a writer. Death and separation are his cherished themes. Sadness is my picnic spot, says one of his characters. And it is true for Mazhar as well who has, now, four collections of short stories to his credit. Batoon Ki Barish Mein Bheegti Larki (A Girl Drenched in the Rain of Petty Gossip), Gurya Ki Ankh Se Shehar Ko Dekho (View the Town Through the Eyes of a Rag-Doll), and Khat Mein Post Ki Hui Dopehar (An Afternoon Mailed in Letter) have earned him great repute.

Mazhar was born in a small village near Khanewal and spent his childhood in harmony with lush jungles of Punjab where his father was a forest “that helps me fight against corruption and pollution of these cities,” says Mazhar, explaining his most important metaphors. On his way to school, Mazhar used to stop by the potters kneading clay and creating order and harmony out of the chaos of sods and lumps of clay. “I have learnt the craft of story writing from the potters engrossed in their work, Creativity is the process of shaping out a meaningful form from a heap of meaningless material,” remarks Mazhar.

Mazhar seems to be a member of the lost generation of the romantics who believed in art for art’s sake. “Just as oil-lamp does not know about the light emanating from its flame, I do not have any idea of the enjoyment of the readers. I simply express my own self.” He is all subjectivity, without a tinge of negative capability. He does not create characters that do not fit in his own set of ideas. All that is lachrymose and morbid interests him, inspires him. “A story worth writing is a sad story. Humor and fun do not make a story; they are ingredients for fictional writings. I see an ocean of difference between a story and a piece of fiction. Whatever I have written is a part of my existence---I have drunk deep the wretched cup of life.”

A torn man, a dervish clad in tatters of kindness, a scavenging girl, a man attending his own funeral, a paranoid facing the personification of his death-wish, a lover who writes letters to his beloved after he has died and has started living in a book-shelf in a library and a fakir sewing in the compound of the shrine of Hazrat Ali Hajvary: these are the characters that belong to the people of the world of Mazhr-ul-Islam.

He is in love with death and broods over the aesthetic side of suicide. “Death is sheer purity”, he believes, “no one has been able to pollute death. You can sully your life, society and the whole world, but you cannot sully death. I often thought of committing suicide when I was young and even tired once but was rescued. Now I am also polluted like all other writers of Pakistan. We are all, including me, hypocrites. And a hypocrite should not commit the beautiful act of suicide. The only innocent man in our society is he who is going to drown himself in a river. I love death, but death is a sore beloved.”

He loves sad evenings, loneliness, and the down-trodden people and wants to help the poor without hurting their ego. He lives in the cocoon of his self---a real introvert. “My wife objects at my habits and ideas. She cannot find any reason why I should talk so much about loneliness and death. She is right, but I am also right when I say that I love loneliness. That’s how it goes.”

His conversation is strewn with parables and metaphors just like his stories. Describing the process of his writing a short story he gets an analogy from the creation of statue of Moses by Michelangelo. After completing the statue of Moses, Michelangelo lost his temper and struck the feet of the statue with his chisel. Mazhar says that he chisels away any word, any sentence and even the whole story that refuses to speak to him.

He wants to relive an experience with all its totality of suggestions through the medium of language and believes that metaphors, similes and symbols invoke an infinite number of strata of meanings and make a piece of writing more picturesque. A Letter Written in Darkness, A Sparrow Trying to Rescue Two Lovers Who are on the Verge of Suicide, A Branch of Flowers That Shakes With the Burden if a Butterfly and A Clay Bowl That is Kept Separate Because a Servant Uses it are all vivid pictures drawn with words.

Mazhar-ul-Islam’s stories have been translated into German, English, Hindustani, Sindhi, Gurmukhi and Chinese. He is revered as a pir or guru among Sindhi youth. One Sindhi poet, Irfan Mehdi, chose Mazhar’s birthday to commit suicide. Strange facts.

Trying to describe himself in a single sentence, he says, “I am a door which has never been knocked at.”