Painda’s war novel rewrites Pashto literary motifs, weighs empathy against violence
Pashto literature has historically revolved around poetry and boasts of a wide array of classical traditions in this regard. It has seldom found solace with prose, with almost no work concentrating on drama.
Painda Muhammad Khan’s Da Dasht-e-Lut Musafir rewrites this trajectory. Set in the Libyan battlefields of World War II, the novel tells the story of soldiers involved in one of the bloodiest affairs of the history of mankind.
Painda does not depict his characters as demigods who are undertaking a divine mission. They are very human despite their industry at bloodshed. He handpicks them from a variety of societies like Italy, Germany, India and Africa and put them in a situation where the key to triumph is survival and the key to survival is violence. Despite drawing heavily from Pukhtun traditions, Painda remains holistic in his approach and incorporates a world view of his plot in an interesting way.
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The depiction of war machinery is so accurate that the writer himself seems like a cavalryman narrating the happenings of his surroundings. His knowledge or warfare is awe-inspiring.
The author deviates from standard Pashto literary motifs by exploring the complexities of a soldier’s life that is set in a society quite different from that of Pashto speakers. Every good literary piece has a coherent starting and ending equilibrium. The quality lies in the narration of the conflict and with Da Dasht-e-Lut Musafir, Painda’s story is told by two supernatural beings whose observations of men who kill for a living are quite telling. One is tasked with advocating the good deeds of the men while the other is shedding light on the darker aspects of their personalities. The one charged with the latter takes the other to the battlefronts near Tabrooq in Libya where guns are mowing down hordes and hordes of people and one man takes pride in his belligerence against the other. The discourse over the simultaneous presence of two opposite traits in man is a journey worth taking.
The writer is a long-serving educationist and the author of two books on college pedagogy and college management
Published in The Express Tribune, October 18th, 2015.
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