Zubair Masood did his masters in English Language and Literature from Punjab University, Lahore, in 1966. After a brief stint as an English language teacher at University of Engineering and Technology, Lahore, he joined the Punjab Provincial Civil Service (Executive Branch) in 1972. During his 33 years career as a civil servant, he has held fairly responsible field and staff positions in the province. The last position he held was Member, Board of Revenue, Punjab. He retired from government service in 2005. His work as a civil servant has provided him a unique opportunity to see the mysterious working of the government and bureaucracy from the inside and how the country’s unjust social system treats her citizens.
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This novella is a satire on the ways and means through which many societies attempt to solve their problems. An unnamed Islamic country is afflicted with the menace of honor killings and thousands of people get killed every year for as simple and natural a thing as marrying for love rather than on the dictates of their parents and family elders. One such honor killing pitches two rich and powerful families against each other and brings the country to the verge of civil war. On the Supreme Court’s direction to eliminate honor killings from the society, the Prime Minister convenes a cabinet meeting.
After deliberations, the cabinet comes to the conclusion that ‘love’ is the real culprit behind senseless honor killings and decides to eliminate love by first disarming Cupid of his bow and arrows. On the government directive, the armed forces launch Operation Get Cupid. They first carry out reconnaissance of the territory, where Cupid is said to be living, by spy drones and then launch ground offensive under air cover. This puts in motion a series of surrealistic events which look funny and harmless to begin with but turn sinister in a short span of time.
Most of the stories in this collection deal with the condition of women and the hardships they face in our repressive, male dominated society. The stories look into issues like honour killings, child marriages, women bashing, preference for male babies and a justice system, which is unfair generally but is harsher to women. They also probe various nuances of the relationships between the sexes in a society oppressed by absurd customs and traditions. Some stories, however, deal with other social iniquities created by unjust wealth distribution and our all too often misconceived notions of honour and piety.
Free from sentimentality and moralizing, these stories are understated and matter of fact, yet all discerning readers would see both ironic and surreal undertones beneath deceptively simple treatment of complex issues. I have tried to evolve a simple, minimalist style of writing to tell these stories. As far as possible I keep myself to bare essentials and try to dispense with all the details which I think are not basic to the stories. Such treatment, I believe, fortifies their impact.
The stories should be of special interest to readers who believe that all art eventually is for life sake.
A powerful and influential feudal chieftain, who owns vast tracts of land and mining leases, is hosting the wedding reception of his only son. He has money to spare and makes extensive arrangements to make the reception one of a kind. In spite of prohibition, his manager gets a good quantity of Scotch for the affluent guests. He also invites the area’s renowned female folk singer to entertain the guests with her soulful singing.
The music performance is in progress when the bridegroom asks her to dance while singing. She is in the family way and her doctor has advised her to avoid strenuous physical activity. She refuses to dance, the groom gets angry, takes out a pistol from his trouser pocket and fires it. The bullet hits her in the chest and she breathes her last in the arms of her husband, a sarangi player.
The chieftain declares the singer’s death as caused by accident. Some senior police officials, who are present at the reception, agree with their host’s version; but the distraught sarangi player accuses the groom of having murdered his wife out of sheer arrogance. The chieftain tries to buy his way out of the quandary by offering a handsome compensation to the sarangi player but the latter declines the offer and sets out on a perilous Quest for Justice in a society programmed to deliver the exact opposite.
This short novel is informed by my experiences and observations as a civil servant and judicial officer in Pakistan.
Not unlike the author’s previous three publications, the stories in this collection bring home to the readers, in imagined, somewhat surreal fictions, diverse social, cultural and psychological problems faced by a society mired in unrealistic taboos, bigotry, injustice, income inequality and double standards.
All the stories have surreal undertones and have been rendered in a rather spare style.