‘Ganjefa’ by Naiyyer Masud, translated by Muhammad Umar Memon

I first read a story by the Urdu short story writer Naiyyer Masud in the Picador Book of Modern Indian Literature, edited by Amit Chaudhuri. Later, I came across this volume of his stories in translation (that edition published by Penguin India) in a bookshop in Pune. They really are extraordinary stories, “shimmering”, as the translator notes in his preface, between the mundane and the dreamt. ‘Ganjefa’ (which means a game of cards) opens with the narrator noting, “I began to feel bad about my life the night of the riots.” A young man educated in Allahabad and now returned to his native city, Lucknow, where he doesn’t work, but lives (as his dead father used to) off his mother’s earnings. After the night of the riots, humiliated by being asked by the police not only “What’s your name?” and “Where do you live?” but “What do you do?” he decides to look for work. “Gradually I started to go out less and less, or rather I should say more and more, because now I stepped out several times a day, only to come back shortly thereafter, go out again, return again…”

First published in 1997, collected in Snake Catcher, Interlink Books, 2006

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