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The first time I got introduced to this classic was when an excerpt from it “پاکستان بن گیا” was included in our intermediate Urdu course.
Mesmerised by the language and the ambience evoked by that 4 page excerpt, I yearned to get my hands on the book, which back then was quite the uphill task. To borrow from the cliché, the universe conspired in the ways it sometimes does, and I managed to grab my copy, of this Adam jee literary award winning novel by Khadija Mastoor, at a small book stall in Urdu bazar Lahore.
And to this day I have not been able to put it down. Aangan is one book I can finish and then start over right away. With this happening over the course of decades, it is only natural for a part of me to forever dwell in its richly layered world!
Full of complex drama with nuanced characters- foremost among them the protagonist Alia- who unlike the heroines of popular novels, is a woman of positive action who feels deeply and passionately but fails to relate to the trappings of romantic love- namely the suffering and the sacrifices it exacts from the women closest to her.
What makes Aangan special, is how this story of exemplary sensitivity, beauty and insight is narrated in diction and structure so simple, even an Urdu-challenged reader would have no trouble reading it from cover to cover.
On a personal level, it was for the first time, I found the cataclysmic Partition of the Sub continent depicted as what it really was- a partition of people, of geography, of relationships, of lovers- and not the ‘deliverance from conniving Hindus’ that had been drummed into our heads, courtesy Pakistan studies and state media.
I’m also glad I found this book before ‘empowerment’ and ‘choice’ (values Alia embodies) became buzz words and before political correctness would’ve reduced the deeply misunderstood and conflicted male characters as ‘toxic’.
If I were to summarise Aangan in one line, I would say it’s the story of ordinary people faced with extraordinary circumstances- both personal and political. Given how similar things continue to be, ‘Aangan’ is as relevant today as it was when first written.