Book Review – Kon by Mudassar Basher
Mudassar Basher, a historian and a story teller, is an emerging writer on the Punjabi literary landscape. A few months back, I read his collection of short stories ‘Kanwan Wahgy Barder’ and instantly fell in love with his work. Basher is one of those writers who know the art of grabbing the attention of the readers no matter what their age by using easy simple diction.
His latest novelette ‘Kon’, which was just a day’s read, left me intoxicated for several days. The very title of the novel suggests that it’s going to be an explorative quest for the readers through the journey of the characters. The word ‘KON’ (who) is a potent word; it carries a strong existential strain and indigenous philosophy. Such kinds of writings leave an indelible impact on a reader as they are a beautiful blend of history and imagination. ‘Kon’ is the story of a rich and young boy named Sarmad who is eager to play a role in a commercial film. He doesn’t have any specific role in mind and informs the director (his friend) that any part would do. But we see later that Sarmad goes through tremendous psychic pain because every script that he picks up circles around a very profound true to life character and its real life hardships. And so a seemingly easy task for our passionate protagonist becomes a nerve shattering experience each time he performs.
The novelette doesn’t follow a simple plot nor has a chronological order; it moves dramatically from present to past explaining the historical contexts as well as the real every day challenges of every character under focus thereby jolting the imagination of the reader and nudging the conscience of our protagonist. The most amazing thing about this venture is that each character, once it has been enacted, comes to life and keeps on adding to the plot of the novel often disturbing the easy going nature of the dreamy performer (Sarmad).
Bashir has woven several dramatic monologues in the novelette through which readers contemplate the quest of ideological history contesting with disillusionment of identity in contemporary times. The personal narrative of each character ruminates its authenticity and reinforces the realistic details of the experiences they have lived through. Playing the roles of a labourer, DetaSeni who facilitates his masters throughout his life, a Hindu teacher of Urdu who sees language become the property of religion, the lover, and the singer and then finally Somi a canonical lady Somi leaves Sarmad devastated at the end. His explorative journey remains incomplete until he plays the role of a woman entrapped in a patriarchal society. Somi as a character is a universal and versatile creation of the writer; she is not an ordinary easily hushed woman rather she is extremely forceful, rebellious and opinionated in her arguments. Somi is the kind of lady with whom most of the working women can relate to. But despite her wisdom and wit, she becomes prey to the carnal desires of her male boss. To me her tragic ending was an added spice leaving the reader in an agonising state that a lady so profound in her arguments always outsmarting a patriarch at home should fail to escape the boss whose lusty intentions were known to her. Being a feminist, I strongly believe that Somi’s character should be given a whole new chance of winning by fighting back the oppression she was subjected to. This could be possible if the writer takes the pains of writing a whole new novel focusing only on her life. Only this way justice could be provided to her enigmatic character.
On the whole ‘Kon’ stands out as a fascinating read for readers of all the ages. The novel has features of drama too, nicely blended with the stream of consciousness technique, surrealist imagery and magical realism. It is certain that ‘Kon’ is the unique beginning of a new form of novelette in Punjabi literature.