Thursday, December 9, 2010

Introduction to Tariq Rahman and his Collection: Work and Other Short Stories

Tariq Rahman is presently an associate professor of lingustics at the National Institute of Pakistan Studies, Quaid-i-Azam Univiersty, Islamabad. He did his master’s and Ph. D from the university of Sheffield in English Literature. Later, he also studied Linguistics in Glasgow. Dr. Tariq Rahman is a renowned Pakistani linguist and literary figure who has produced a number of research papers and literary writings. He is a man of international repute. He is also the first to write a linguistic description of Pakistani English (1990) as well as the first history of Pakistani Literature.


His first collection of short stories were The Legacy and Other Short Stories (1989). Work and Other Short Stories is his second collection of stories written between 1982 and 1988. Most of the stories in this collection preserve the narrative style of the last century; but the concerns and themes are contemporary. Stories are symbolic as well as contain symbols in them.

As far as the purpose of the stories is concerned Tariq Rahman says, ‘my purpose is to communicate thought and experience or to create a world of microcosm’. For these reasons, one cannot cover up one’s tracks and if there is obscurity in the stories, it is due to the same approach and purpose adopted by Tariq Rahman. Although, the writer says, ‘I am not genius’. He has tried to combine beauty and wisdom in these stories and has been successful to some extent.

Work : Summary
The work is a story about a routine matter of a day in which the narrator goes to a workshop to get his car washed. The narrator watches the scene how the master of the shop and the boy – the pupil in the workshop retort to each other while still keeping to their work. The narrator, being free while his work is being, opens T.S. Eliot’s poem and starts reading it; but he is not able to understand it. In the cold weather, his attention is diverted by a local boy selling grams. The narrator starts observing the scene again.

He sees Tongas and cycles on the road and the drivers shouting. There is also a Datsun car in the workshop for the washing-up and its owner is quite rough. The owner gets engaged with the boy while the boy is doing his car. The narrator starts reading T.S. Eliot again; but muses that he cannot start it again while some one is talking.

He plans to get up and then goes to a nearby shop to get a coke or something. There are two girls at the shop and he steals glance at them while still being indifferent to them; gets busy with the drink and makes comments that one of them is beautiful. The boy who brings him the coke is in shabby clothes as compared to the blue-eyed boy in the workshop. He could not get anywhere else, as he knew that workers usually get the parts out if the owners happen to be away from their cars for quite a long time. Thinking so, he goes back to the shop.

He again finds the boy washing the car diligently. He is working so fast that flies do not find chance to sit on. The narrator humorously says that he should start reciting Eliot to drive the flies away. The owner of Datsun is haggling with the worker to settle the price but narrator makes no comment. The owner of Datsun keeps shouting at the boy for one thing or another; sometimes for washing up or sitting at the back seats longer than the owner thought is necessary.

The owner of Datsun starts watching the pictures of actresses on the hoardings and the narrator turns to his poetry, ‘We are hollow men’ and ‘We are stuffed men’. In the mean time, Datsun is ready and the man pays for the services and goes away and the workers exchange some bad remarks about the owner of Datsun.

The narrator’s car is ready and shining too. The narrator observes the boy who jumps from one place to another like a monkey while doing his work. The boy is talking to the car-washer; but the narrator is not able to hear what actually they are talking about. However, he is able to hear the boy talking, ‘I have a mother’. The narrator talks to the boy about how much money he is able to earn. The boy tells him that only once on Eid, he is able to wash ten or more cars and he usually makes seventy to ninety rupees. The boy says that it is difficult to manage the household.

The narrator pays the boy money and leaves for home. At home, he resolves to work diligently like the boy; but ironically with AC on in his room without disturbance.

 Summary: A Friend

The narrator describes the event of his life when he was in friend with Soniya than whom he was older by six months. Although, she herself was a quite a young girl; yet she behaved like grown-up ladies. She was a soft-spoken girl who loved to pass messages and interact with young boys. The narrator and the girl had found The Station Club where they used to arrange their night adventures and meetings.

One night, the narrator found Soniya in the car and asked her where she was going. She stopped short suddenly and looked like a statue. The narrator said, ‘been stealing’ and the girl said, ‘shut up, lad’. Therefore, they exchanged their normal words of conversation and then they went home.

That evening the narrator had more whiskey with Mati than usual and when he was going to his room in intoxication, he saw the figure of a girl towards whom he found himself to be attracted. It was Soniya. She rebuked him for drinking so much whisky and even demanded that he should learn how to drink. The narrator justified himself with the excuse that he drank only rarely. The narrator was always treated as a child by the girl.

Later, Mati and Adel had adventures with girls. They went to a brothel and asked the narrator to find some relax in the company of nude girls. They were drunk and quite determined to have sex adventure. The narrator kept himself aloof from this. They left the narrator and went with a girl wearing black shawl and had fun and with her and wine. After they had enjoyed the girl and the wine; they came back to the car and asked the narrator to drive, as they were tired and intoxicated. The narrator could not see the face of the girl. He held her arm and she revealed her face. It was Soniya.

The narrator exclaimed, ‘you’ and it was like a snake that hissed the narrator. Soniya asked him to leave and her and go back to the car. She had full signs of desperation, guilt and anguish and she had become a woman and was a girl no more.

She said that she was a call girl. Once she had wealth, had a rich family, and studied in a convent where she learnt English and she used her beauty and language skills to project her body and that paid well and was better than washing dishes or working in homes. The narrator was deeply touched because he had heard stories about sacrificing prostitutes. He spoke softly and sympathized with her. Soniya slid her hand into his and expressed genuine emotions.

Time passed and they kept meeting each other. First the narrator didn’t form any sexual relationship with Soniya because he thought that he was engaged into a Platonic love; later he got engaged with physical love and that was a tremendous experience for him and was an explosion of emotions which gave him as much pleasure as two physical bodies can afford. The month of relationship was over and then the narrator asked Mats for some money to give Soniya for the month he had spent with her. First, he thought that she would not accept the money and throw it over his face with a heavy slap like the scenes in popular romances. He believed that Soniya was not the kind of prostitute who cared only for money. With this scene in his mind, he went to Soniya with tears in his eyes. First, they talked amusedly with personal feelings tinged with sexual flavors and then he said that he wanted to give her a present. However, Soniya said that she did not need trifles. What she thought was worthy to accept was money. He said that he had brought money for her. He stopped short for a minute searching for proper words to describe and when he actually brought the banknotes out. Soniya burst into laughing and said, ‘are you serious?’. She returned the money with a smile and said, ‘you are not the week; but weekend, holiday and not work and one doesn’t get paid during holidays’. Then she vanished into the darkness and shattered the world of romances and stereotypes of the narrator. The narrator began to feel that he would grow up if he started meeting her.

Summary: The Professor
The story started with the narrator in the train. While in the train, the narrator wants to see the little station from where he started his practical life. He thrust his head out of the window; but his view was distracted by the tall trees around and he could not stick his head out for long as it was too cold.
While so, he noticed that there was an old man dozing in the train. There were also some students from Hasan Abdal College talking to each other amiably. There was one man in particular gazing at the narrator. He was wearing Shalwar qameez in ordinary attire, but he didn’t look shabby. He was a middle-aged man distinguished by the book he was reading; because other passengers on board were either reading newspapers or reading nothing at all. There were also others who were reading popular magazines and watching picture of fascinating female models. The narrator judged the book to be no extraordinary and too thick to read even for a dying a grandmother. The narrator smiled which drew the attention of the man on the train. The man asked the narrator if he belonged to Sarai Alamgir. The narrator responded affirmatively. The narrator asked in surprise, ‘how did you know?’ The man said, ‘the way you were looking out of the window’.

The book was about some political topic having detailed maps and illustrations and analyzing some conquests. The topic was dull and drab and exhibited no interest for the narrator. He had the idea that such books were read by well-off people and that the man was not so particular. The man asked when the train would reach the city, the students of Hassan Abdal College answered that the train would get there at ten. When the train got Lahore, the train significantly got emptied and the narrator put his handbag on the seat and the man whom the narrator had nicknamed professor did the same.
They got off the train and the professor went to a bookstall. The narrator thought that perhaps he was looking for some sexy girls in the books and then he thought again that he was a professor – an intellectual. He justified that by talking to himself that he also studied intellectual stuff and read the dirty things at the same time and again he thought that the professor is employed and that is the reason he himself is unemployed after MA. He further went into consideration that the man is not a real professor. From one of the stalls, the narrator wanted to buy the Reader’s Digest but it was too expensive so he bought a cheap magazine showing some pretty models.

Then both of them boarded the train in the midst of students from PMA, Pakistan Military Academy. When the train started off, the professor kept looking at the cadets. There was anger in his looks. He despised them. He spoke aguishly and said that those cadets were bred by the sweat of the Pakistani people and they think themselves superior and all others inferior. They have no value in them; they are just parasite. They considered themselves elite and others rubbish. They enjoy all royal pleasures: neatly dressed, humanly treated, finely trimmed and mannered behaviors. But all this is due to the incoming of hard work Pakistani people.

The narrator showed indifference to the professor’s talk because he could not understand the reason for his anger. Later when he woke up, he found the professor in a debate with the cadets. He told them their weakness and discussed how Martial Law harmed the country.

The narrator got engaged with what was happening around like selling boiled eggs. The professor, however, behaved ridiculously in the train with all the cadets around. The professor did not like another man’s arrival in the train and wished him to leave soon. He was the captain and he got off the next stop.

At the end, a card, which contained the professor’s name and designation, fell out of the book. This gave the narrator some information about the professor; but he could not understand what the book was and how martial law had harmed the sensitive minds.

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