A few years back, Fakhar Zaman wrote his sixth Punjabi novel “Toon Keh Main” which was widely acclaimed and translated into Urdu, Hindi, Gurmukhi and a couple of other Indian languages. Now this novel has been translated into English by Hamid Yousafi and Chaudhury M Ashraf under the title “You or I?.”
Fakhar Zaman has an individual technique of novel writing which is based on symbolism, surrealism, free association. His writing’s total effect is cinematographic. When he wrote his first novel ”Sat Gawachay Log” in early 1970s, Amrita Pritum did a special programme on Doordarshan and declared that this novel had open up new directions and given a new trend for the Punjabi writers of India and Pakistan. His later novels except his magnum opus “Bandiwan” translated into many languages and published by UNESCO and also a UK publisher, all other novels are total departure from the conventional novel writing sort of which are found in India and Pakistan. The present novel has a one central character Khairu, who embodies all echelons of our society. He represents the hopes and despairs, the happiness and sorrow, the aggression and withdrawal, the culture of Punjab, the birds and the trees and the flowers of Pakistan, though it could be of any country because the novel is not localised into one land. Basically it’s a novel on peace and the whole activity takes place in the “no-man’s-land” (is it between India and Pakistan?). Here the trees talk, birds chirp and flowers speak the language of peace and love, good neighbourliness and brotherhood. It is a Sufiistic approach in a symbolic cinematographic manner. For example, the dove, a symbol of peace, sets up her nest on the barrel of a gun and its eggs are taken away by a raven, what represents neocolonialist and expansionist mindset. Khairu’s journey starts when a massive flood in the village engulfs his parents hut and they climb up a tree where he is born. His mother dies in the process of giving him birth and his father is stung by a venomous snake. Khairu, belonging to the lowest rung of society, does all the menial work in the house of a “Wadera”. His one duty is to consistently pull the big handmade fan fixed in the ceiling. He is beaten and abused by the Chaudhury when sometimes he dozes off. From that point onwards, he runs up and adopts the company of different kinds of trees and eventually reaches the no-man’s land. Here every physical reality behind him disappears.
He is happy now in the company of new companions and forgets village where everybody branded him imbecile and idiot. But in the denouement, he enters his village triumphantly, in the company of his non-human friends and his success achieved in the no-man’s-land for the peace is admired by the village inhabitants who say in a chorus that “Khairu you are not abnormal, it were we who were abnormal.” Khairu smiles “You or I?”. —Shahab Ansari