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My latest read is a bit special! It is an English incarnation of a collection that in 1930’s became the harbinger of a new era in Indian literature. You guessed it right! I am talking about the “Progressive Writers’ Movement”. This book, originally authored in Urdu, laid the foundation of a liberal and progressive stance in Indian Urdu and Hindi writing that heavily influenced the literatures in other Indian languages as well. The Urdu word Angarey literally means ‘embers’ and so was the book that generated a lot of heat and arguments due to its out-of-the-box style and ideas.
‘Angarey’, an anthology of Urdu short stories, was published in December 1932 in Lucknow and was banned in March 1933 for its ‘ultra-progressive’ and ‘blasphemous’ ideas by the government of ‘United Provinces’. Amazingly, the four contributors- Sajjad Zahir, Mahamuduzzafar, Ahmed Ali and the only woman in this brigade, Dr. Rahid Jahan were publicly excoriated but they did not apologize and stayed firm on their stance. The entire stock of this title was burnt and only five copies could be saved. There is much more about it but I would not disclose anymore here, for it will be a spoiler for readers.
(Dr. Rashid Jahan and Mr.Sajjad Zahir)
Through techniques like ‘stream-of-consciousness, ‘interior monologue’ etc. the four authors have vented out their disgust towards the clogged and putrid society that had reduced women into mere objects fit only for recreation and procreation. Overall, ‘Angarey’ shows disdain for puritanical and rotten religious dogmas and ideas and was truly, quite ahead of its times. The translation is good and the foreword has been written by the actress Nadira Zahir Babbar, daughter of Mr. Sajjad Zahir, one of the contributors and major personalities associated with the Progressive Movement.