ABOUT THE STORY Among the distinctive traits of Indian literature is the prominence given, from the Ramayana onwards, to monkeys—not just as chattering beasts, but as moral agents serving in different ways to take the measure of man, and sometimes as his fellows in folly. From our Darwinian viewpoint, this gives the literature an unusual piquancy, because it can seem the ancients already knew something that modern man took the long road to discovering.
What can the modern writer do with monkeys and men that keeps this tradition alive? In this story, Intizar Husain, the author of the essential subcontinental novels Basti and Aagey Samundar Hai, offers an ingenious spin on the theory of evolution with a fable about simian aspiration and mimicry. At every turn in the plot, we feel we have intuited Husain’s allegorical and moral scheme and that it is man who will end up, figuratively, as the beast, but his narrative cunning is such that the story is always one step ahead of us.
The story appears in The Death of Sheherzad and Other Stories, a recent collection of Husain’s short fiction translated from the Urdu by the noted critic Rakshanda Jalil, published by Harper Collins.
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