Saturday 24 January 2009

Book Review: Ahmed Yaar Khan

Not really a book review because I haven’t read his books of short stories myself, but I have found that I enjoy them very much. My husband picked up a few of this writer’s books from our local library’s Urdu section and quickly found himself hooked. Usually when he finds something he likes he will read it to me or give me an outline of the story. Before long I found I would be waiting for the next instalment. So now, when I have to do something tedious like ironing or putting away laundry, I ask him to read while I work which both of us enjoy thoroughly (I’m always interrupting to ask questions or share my opinion).

Ahmed Yaar Khan is a popular real crime writer in Pakistan , what makes his stories unique though is the time period and his role in them. Khan was a Police inspector in India during the last days before Partition. He is adamant that each and every story he writes is completely true and from the notes preserved in his diaries from the time. Each story is based around one case and fairly lengthy due to the details invested on the page. I found myself fascinated by the details of life at the time and especially by the way the different religious groups interacted – the mistrust and dislike so often seething under the surface. The fact that Khan was at such a senior role at such a young age is testament to his brilliance and this shows through the way he approaches the cases brought to him and the way he gets people blabbing about what they shouldn’t be.

I liked the way no case is ever simple. The case of theft from a rich Hindu landowners house turns into one of a Muslim girl that has been abducted, the man’s daughter having eloped with the missing girls brother who also happens to be the landowners secretary. By the end the theft is almost incidental, having been overtaken by murder, sectarianism and politics.

What is also curious is the way the Police are confined by their own prejudices. Khan does not believe that a Hindu policeman can give a Muslim victim justice, the British are shown as being more fair but patronising and ignorant, often to the point of being stupid. Khan’s own prejudices come through. Where he thinks a Muslim has been done an injustice he recalls working passionately to help them. Where the criminal is a Muslim, but he thinks they have been hard done by he will help them to get a more lenient sentence by telling them how to work the Court system (although he never indicates that he destroyed evidence or suppressed a case).

I found Ahmed Yaar Khan’s books engrossing and fascinating accounts of early twentieth century India . I just wish I could read Urdu better. I suppose the better half will have to keep on reading.

1 comment:

  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.