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A wise man once said, “There are two kinds of writers in this world. The first group of writers are like oil, as they lubricate the socio-economic system, keep status quo and try to maintain all the age-old traditions. The second group of writers are like sand, as they challenge the religious, social and cultural traditions of their time. No wonder they are criticized by the traditional writers and readers.

In my opinion, Baland Iqbal belongs to the second group of writers. He challenges traditions at many levels. At the first level he challenges the form of traditional creative writings. He does not write a novel or an afsana, a short story, he writes an afsancha, a short short story, only one or two pages long, and writes in such a symbolic and metaphorical way that sometimes the story seems like a prose poem. His creative writings do not follow the traditional forms of Urdu writings. I have read some of the short short stories of Jogander Paul, Mazhar-ul-Islam and Khalil Gibran that have the same flavor of writing.
Baland Iqbal does not only challenge the form of creative writing, he also challenges the ideas, concepts and beliefs of his community. There are certain themes that are close to his heart.

Baland Iqbal challenges the traditional concepts of God and Religion. He challenges blind faith and asks people to think critically and reflect on the age old traditions in light of modern science, philosophy and psychology. He wonders if there is a kind and merciful God, why there is so much violence, exploitation and abuse in this world. If God is omnipotent and omnipresent, why does He not create a just and peaceful world? If human beings are like His children why are they suffering so much? In his short short story shikwah, Complaint, translated by Dr Faraz Masood he writes, “Late into the night, the white-haired old artist cried in his prayers and pleaded to God, “Why? Why is it even necessary…You drew life out of dead colours; You knew this, right? Behind these skewed crooked lines exist lost sorrows of the eons gone by. Hunger, poverty, illness, deprivation and hopelessness of centuries behind them. The colours of Your paintings are bloodied with human sacrifices. Your brush brought the colours of spring, out of permeated thoughts of Your sub-conscious. You should have let it live there, as a part of Your essence. What was the need of our existence? Just to know Your own self or to measure Your creativity. You know this, right…
My creation sells in the art galleries only once, but Your creation…over and over again !!!’” (Page 15)

Baland Iqbal is well aware that all those writers and artists, scholars and intellectuals, philosophers and revolutionaries, who challenge the traditional concepts of God are considered heretics and infidels and persecuted, hanged or put in jail, even stoned to death. Traditional people do not realize that these artists are helping them grow to the next stage of evolution. They are helping them look towards the bright future rather than the dark past. Baland Iqbal expresses this dilemma of a creative artist in his story, Khuda ka but, The Sculpture of God, translated by Dr Naseer Ahmed in these words, “When people came and knew that Azer had created a sculpture of God, there was an uproar. Mobs rang bells in their places of worship. “Kill him, Kill him…”Kill the sculptor. He has blasphemed against our God”.
“Burn him alive because he has created the sculpture of our God.”

‘They set his house on fire and watched him burn alive. But no one saw that buried deep in the ashes of the house was a clay figure that had turned to gold. The sculpture of God that Azer created…the sculpture of an innocent child…that was frail and naked, with fragile bones, whose hungry eyes had tears in them and hands carried an empty bowl.” (p 34)

Baland Iqbal also challenges many human relationships of his community. He feels very distressed when he sees people exploited, manipulated and abused in the name of love. He is aware that women suffer in patriarchal societies where men have the power given to them by social, cultural and religious traditions and in some cases, they abuse such power. Such abuse of power is evident in sexual relationships. Baland Iqbal in his short short story Sugaag Raat, The Wedding Night, translated by Dr Faraz Masood, expresses it in these words, “Suddenly there was a knock at the door that broke her chain of thoughts. She thought that she would open her eyes and look at her Prince Charming but she couldn’t lift up her dream filled eyes. The footsteps seemed to have stopped at the door but after some silence, an eloquent masculine voice reverberated the room.

“Madam, please offer two rakaat prayers because its sunnat-e-rasool and I’ll also take a quick bath which is necessary before the intercourse”. He looked around in the light-filled room and said, “ Turn off the light, its forbidden”

Soon, the sound of falling water from the bathroom and spreading mascara from her wet eyes explained to her the meaning of a wedding night, created by the mating of spiritual and social shades of religion.” ( p 23)

Baland Iqbal not only focuses on the exploitation of women by men but also the abuse of small boys by those male adults who are obsessed by their sexual perversion. Such sexual abuse creates havoc in the lives of the victims. In his story, pehla pyaar, First Love, translated by Dr Faraz Masood he writes, “Every night, the wrapped snakes punctured holes in his body and crawled in them, as if it was not his body but their burrows. They spewd out of his body, as though they were feeding off his blood. Although Master Shareef quit his school after two years but he left crawling snakes to sting Raheem Daad for the rest of his life.” (p 87) As a psychotherapist, I am well aware that those men and women, who experience sexual abuse as children, need years of therapy to heal from those psychic wounds.

Baland Iqbal has challenged many social, cultural and religious traditions that are violent and cruel. Victims of one such tradition are known as Shahdaula’s choohas. In this tradition first-borns of the family are given to the mausoleum of Shahdaula in Multan, Punjab, Pakistan. Children wear iron-caps, which retard the growth of their skulls and result in permanent disability because of their disproportionately smaller head size…hence called choohas or mice. They wear a wooden rod on their heads with a clay pot on top of it, dancing and begging in the streets. They remind us of the times when the feet of young Chinese girls were tied to keep their feet small as men liked small feet in women. They are disturbing examples of child abuse. Baland Iqbal in his story Bhaint, Sacrifice, translated by Dr Faraz Masood writes, “Shahdaula’s chooha with red eyes stared at the crowd, people started throwing pennies and dimes. One street-boy ran to his cabin and brought some leftover rice and started pouring it in his mouth and shouted,” He is not an imposter, and he is God-blessed, offerings on him fulfill your wishes.” (p 69)
Shahdaula’s choohas, children with metallic caps, are symbols of those communities where children are physically, emotionally and sexually abused and their creative wings clipped. They are not allowed to think freely and challenge those age old traditions that have caused so much suffering. No wonder children brought up in such violent social environments become suicide bombers that kill innocent men, women and children in the name of a merciful God.

Baland Iqbal through his controversial short short stories challenges us to stop being ostriches and accept the harsh realities so that we can raise our children with love and help them become caring and compassionate human beings who can accept the challenges of the 21st century. He is well aware that human minds are like parachutes, they work only when they are open. I would like to congratulate Baland Iqbal on creating such thought provoking short short stories.

Baland Iqbal, Angel’s Tears Urdu Ashiana UP India 2010