Enter the Short story | Pakistan Today

Enter the Short story

Book review: “Storyteller’s Tales – a collection of short stories and musings.”  

“This is not to say that english short story compilations are not published in Pakistan. Indeed, a lot of retired writers, public servants with some pretense to letters often end up writing short stories rather than a memoir if they fancy themselves as the creative sort. The problem, however, is that these books are almost always not very good.”   

” ‘Storyteller’s Tales’ is about our world – the world we live in, breathe in and are very much grounded in no matter how much one may think otherwise. For sure the writer is not shy about occasionally delving into other-worldly concepts, unknown to most, there are allusions to the divine and the extra terrestrial. But they are not a waxing and waning on science or philosophy, but rather just a painfully simple explanation of the extraordinary that is very much part of the everyday. But the fundamental tryst with reality keeps the reader hooked.”

“It is interesting what the book is. The writer has presented the stories as tales from perhaps a wandering storyteller. Perhaps he imagines himself as such, and while that theme is there, it is not prevalent enough to warrant such a title or the almost constipated seriousness that surrounds the writer’s style of writing. The book is a little presumptuous and just a little bit more pretentious, but it somehow comes across as emanating from someone that can partly if no completely back this.”

Short story writing is a difficult calling. This particular type of literature has a narrow audience, is easy to criticise, is a difficult to execute, and is not commercially viable. The novel is something that the reader is willing to invest in. Short stories, on the other hand, are a rare buy for the bookshop frequenter. The medium is usually restricted to literature classrooms where the works of greats are discussed.

There have been few writers of the modern era that have succeeded as short story writers. Junot Diaz is perhaps the greatest contemporary writer, with Roald Dahl a significant name of the 20th century.

In Pakistan, the short story has greatly been restricted to the Urdu language and the Afsana. Certain attempts were made at it by the legendary Taufiq Rafat and names such as Athar Tahir regularly contribute to literary anthologies – for despite all the troubles surrounding the short story, it is also easy enough to write for any prolific writer. But perhaps the only attempts made at actual compilations in recent times have been by the writer Bilal Tanweer, who published The Scatter Here is Too Great in 2013 – and even that ended up being a novel-in-stories with a converging plot.  

This is not to say that english short story compilations are not published in Pakistan. Indeed, a lot of retired writers, public servants with some pretense to letters often end up writing short stories rather than a memoir if they fancy themselves as the creative sort. The problem, however, is that these books are almost always not very good. For sure the language is proficient, even good at times. But individual stories often lack the gravitas that such stories require to even come close to real literature. There is a strange lack of uniformity in narrative voice, ending up looking like an conceited or immature effort. There is also a great disconnect in the overall collection or anthology, making the details of compilation look random and rushed.   

One recent addition to the list of short story compilation s “Storyteller’s Tales” by Khaled Saeed. But what makes this particular collection of work different that it is a thoroughly unassuming book. Not necessarily in the writing that is, but in the way it has been structured – and even printed. A flimsy looking paperback not even 150 pages strong, the full title Khaled has given his book is “Storyteller’s Tales – a collection of short stories and musings.”  

Indeed, the description is apt. The list of some 30 short stories by Khaled are written with a certain easy flow which is hard to describe. The blurb on the back of the book has described the stories as “ethereal.” While there is definitely a very tangible sense of aloofness to the narrative style that Saeed has used for his stories, it would be unfair to call it ethereal. Despite the clear loftiness of the stories, the overall collection is quite definitely not an amalgamation of out of the world stories. The stories that the writer has compiled in this collection are “beyond the pall” as the blurb aptly points out this time. But despite this, they are very human stories, about the everyday world.

Storyteller’s Tales” is about our world – the world we live in, breathe in and are very much grounded in no matter how much one may think otherwise. For sure the writer is not shy about occasionally delving into other-worldly concepts, unknown to most, there are allusions to the divine and the extra terrestrial. But they are not a waxing and waning on science or philosophy, but rather just a painfully simple explanation of the extraordinary that is very much part of the everyday. But as the review of the book on Amazon points out, “the fundamental tryst with reality keeps the reader hooked.”

It is a strange sort of work to review. It is nor high browed literature for sure, but it is an interesting read. It is not humorous, not in the slightest, but that is probably a good a conscious decision on the part of the author – who comes across as a rather serious figure. There is not much available about Khalid Saeed, and the book does not even give an author’s bio, but there is a certain maturity to the narrative.

It is interesting what the book is. The writer has presented the stories as tales from perhaps a wandering storyteller. Perhaps he imagines himself as such, and while that theme is there, it is not prevalent enough to warrant such a title or the almost constipated seriousness that surrounds the writer’s style of writing.

The book is a little presumptuous and just a little bit more pretentious, but it somehow comes across as emanating from someone that can partly if no completely back this. Taking one’s writing too seriously is never a good idea, especially for late bloomers as the writer seems to be, but the seriousness of the topics and the candid narrative contrast to make it seem as if the writer does not particularly care too much what the reader may be thinking.

After all, the book is not more than musings and short stories, and even if it is not the best literature around, it is well written, engaging and a journey that one does not regret having made. It is far from ethereal, but it does have the makings of a writer that can be or could have been.

Abdullah Niazi

Abdullah Niazi is a member of staff currently studying Literature at LUMS. He also writes and edits for The Dependent.



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