Come in, come in. Please, esteemed guest, kindly take off your shoes. If you wish you may recline on the charpoy. Are you comfortable? Can I bring you a glass of hot sweet chai? This heat is insufferable, no? Perhaps cool water instead? Or a hand fan? Perhaps you would like to meet the local Maulvi for some spiritual comfort? Or see a show from the village juggler?

The voices from Ali Akbar Natiq’s collection of Urdu short stories permeate my subconscious. I am not here; I am there, immersed in an unfamiliar world I should recognise. Every story has left an imprint in my mind, his narrative leaping from the page and transporting me to rural Pakistan. The intermingling of fantasy and reality unravel in simple tales that bequeath a dark underbelly of contradiction and injustice. The themes are heavy: superstition, oppressive customs and tradition, religious bigotry, social hierarchy – a bitter and sarcastic pill in the guise of unadorned stories. These can be superficially devoured in quick succession and enjoyed for their macabre humour. But reflect on them and you will realise that Natiq is articulating the deeply troubling nature of the times we live in. His is a world of desolate universal emotion. It is no coincidence that these feelings encapsulate the media imagery informing our perception of rural Punjab for it is in this region that we enter the abode of his mind and locate his tales.

Ali Akbar Natiq, What Will You Give For This Beauty? Penguin India, Haryana, 2015.

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