Short Story as a genre developed in the 19th century, though we find stories written in ancient Egypt much before. Who hasn't heard of Leo Tolstoy, Guy de Maupassant, Rudyard Kipling, Arthur Conan Doyle and hundreds of other famous short story writers! In terms of length, short stories have a length of between 1000 and 4000 words. However, with the passage of time these short stories became shorter in length and came to be known as flash fiction or microfiction.
Microfiction—also called, flash fiction, hint fiction, nano fiction, short short story etc—refers to any story told in 300 words or less but not more than 1000 words. Ernest Hemingway, Steve Almond, Stephen Graham and many other writers have written microfiction. Hint Fiction, an anthology of microfictionby Robert Swartwood contains stories that have only 25 words and Micro Fiction: An Anthology of Fifty Really Short Stories (ed. Jerome Stern, 1996) contains fifty short stories (microfiction). Microfiction appeals the reader in this fast-changing world where the click of a mouse or a touch pad brings the entire world to his/her room. Somebody has likened a novel to a ten-course meal, a full length short-story to a delicious sandwich and a short short story (microfiction) to a chocolate truffle. The microfiction writers save the reader's time by talking about only what is relevant and leaving what is unnecessary. It has lately emerged as a genre in itself without disturbing the longer short stories and the novel.
In Urdu, too, microfiction, called afsanchah, isn't an unknown genre. Saadat Hasan Manto wrote many shorter stories, so did Ibrahim Jalees. Some people call them a joke while some say that they are shorter fiction. Whatever labels are given, it is a fact that microfiction is gaining currency in Urdu also. Dr Nazir Mushtaq's tinkey (Straws—Budgam: GNK Publications, 2020-2021) is a collection of brilliant 100 micro-short-stories (afsanche) written in Urdu. These stories have come from not any Urdu scholar but a medico who is a renowned practising physician in Kashmir. He is known far and wide for his literary tastes and his love for Urdu. Many of these stories have already appeared in the print and social media and have been received well by the readers. Many of these short stories have been already translated into English by the present reviewer and published on social media.
'Tinkey' (Straws) by Dr Nazir Mushtaq is a timely reminder that things are falling apart in the Kashmir society, and the rich cultural traditions and ethos that bound it together for generations are fast losing their relevance. Elderly people who would read 'tinkey' might, at times, feel offended for not believing what has been dealt with in these stories. Living with their age-old value systems, our elders find it hard to digest that this society of ours which had earned the name of being an Abode of Saints and Dervishes could face any existential threat and indulge in activities that are contrary to their beliefs and traditions. But, the younger generation knows well what changes our society has under gone and how social values and customs are dying a slow death. It is not therefore surprising that many short stories in this collection will raise eyebrows and get a stunning remark, "Oh, has this really happened? I can't believe it!" However, one has to believe that this has happened and is happening. We have to accept that the Kashmiri society—be it Muslims or other groups—has, over the years, seen many incidents which have shaken us to the core. With the coming of technology, people got exposed to different cultures which resulted in compromising our own culture. Old value system is no longer believed to be sacrosanct. For instance, corruption that was pooh poohed earlier has now become a norm not only in Government offices but also religion. A bearded Muslim is supposed to be honest, dedicated and humane, but is he really? Is the beard necessarily a mark of being a true Muslim? When Dr Nazir Mushtaq shows a bearded Muslim accepting bribe, we get shocked: '"Give whatever you want. Since it is the month of Ramazan, I won't take anything by hand. You move to this side of the table and put the amount in this drawer." Saying this, he opened the drawer' ('A Beggar 32. Note: numeral refers to the page No of the collection). Similarly, the Head Clerk Nooruddin (in 'Worshipper' 23) accepts bribe not before counting the amount which he says is 'sunnah'. Satisfied that the amount is full, he says to the client, "…let's offer the prayer." The client is shocked and cries out, "O my God! Is it Friday today?" However, there are honest people like Mujibur Rehman (in 'Honest' 96) who doesn't fall a victim to greed. Mujeeb wanted money very badly. His Bank Manager gave him a bag full of money to keep in his home as he suspected that police and the Income Tax Department would raid his house. Mujeeb's son is very ill and if he didn't arrange money for operation, his son could die. Mujeeb did take money from the bag but only to put it back there for "Mujibur Rehman was renowned for is simplicity, honesty and keeping in the City Bank. Everybody respected him." A Class 4th employee in Food and Supplies (in 'Honesty' 30) too found an opportunity to swindle in order to feed his hungry children, but his honesty stopped him from doing it. Contrary to this, Tiger (in 'Adhering' 31) after raping and dumping an innocent teenage girl into a well refuses to take pork. He scolds his companion for making him eat the forbidden mutton.
Dr Nazir Mushtaq has dealt with almost all aspects of society including his own profession. In 'Luck' (182-83), a wrong blood report costs Adil's life, and in 'ECG' (161-2), the new ECG machine shows all doctors except Dr Chander Prakash Rao having one or the other problem. However, next day, the narrator gets a call that Dr Rao died of cardiac arrest.
'Tinkey' contains stories our stories, its characters are from us—Muslims and non-Muslims, Professionals and commoners—and its themes are the 'straws' that have started scattering here and there, breaking our society into fragments.
'tinkey' has a nice getup; it printing is appealing to the eye and its paper is of good quality. I am sure Urdu lovers will appreciate and enjoy the collection and its creator.
Professor (Dr) Mohammad Aslam is Ex HoD, Department of English, Kashmir University