Moazzam Sheikh’s love affair with the short story
The cover of Cafe Le Whore and other Stories, Moazzam Sheikh’s new collection, his second one, appears to evoke the lead story. It is replete with bright haunting colours but still strikes an elusive tone, almost like the narrator’s repeated encounters with his dead mother in a city cafe and his later frustrated search for her, intertwined with his meetings with a down and out whore.
The story strikes in places a hysteric fun pitch, that makes it a racy read but then you come up short against a certain melancholy tone which is what this story leaves you with.
A short story for the most part has a lineage, not in just what it says but even in how it is written, and because an explanation for why I wrote a blurb for this intriguing, wonderful and hard to place collection must be convincing, it must begin with some of Moazzam Sheikh’s translated stories in A Letter from India (Penguin 2004).
Moazzam’s introduction for this earlier collection talked of his efforts searching for contemporary short stories from Pakistan and how surprisingly difficult it turned out to be. As these stories show, there is a rich heritage of stories, not merely in Punjabi and Urdu, but in other languages, other locales and by writers, largely forgotten but skilled craftsmen of the form. The collection included many voices unfamiliar to the Anglophone reader, and Moazzam’s journey was in quest of a literature, that existed in different languages and dialects from regions even marginalized, most of which had long remained hidden or was ignored; it was also an attempt to show the different narratives that are possible, even within the short story.
Perhaps the lead story, ‘A Letter from India’ is an apt title for the book too, for despite the divisive politics that created two countries of one, homes and hearts are always hard to divide; languages and a shared history will persist across . . .