Title: An Evening in Lucknow – Selected Stories
Author: K.A.Abbas; Edited by: Suresh Kohli
Publisher: Harper Collins
Pages: 226 + special features including an interview with KA Abbas
Genre: Modern Classics
Price: Rs 299
Rating: 5 out of 5
Khwaja Ahmed Abbas is best known as the screenwriter who penned many of legendary filmmaker Raj Kapoor’s films, including Awara, Shri 420, Jaagte Raho and Bobby among others. He was also the writer-director of Saat Hindustani which introduced Bollywood icon Amitabh Bachchan. What is perhaps not so well known (especially to today’s young Indians) is that Abbas was also a journalist, short story writer and novelist and has left behind a prodigious body of work — 73 published books in English, Urdu and Hindi.
Abbas belonged to the Nehruvian era: a time when writers were hugely influenced by Communism and this was reflected in his stories, whether for celluloid or print. In fact, Raj Kapoor’s early movies, which echoed the struggles of the common man and were steeped with a social conscience, were a result of his long association with Abbas who was known as a die-hard Marxist.
Abbas’ unique voice runs through his collection of short stories titled, An Evening in Lucknow. The stories are steeped with the passion of a newly independent India that is still wrestling with its rustic roots even as urban issues come to the fore, echo the struggles of the underprivileged Indian, and reflect the author’s belief that “the improvement of man… is the greatest mission of a writer.” All of Abbas’ characters are flawed individuals, grounded by their circumstances and choices, and yet he writes of them with immense compassion and understanding. Be it Rahim Khan, the cruel patriarch whose feudal ways have forced his family and neighbours to shun him, Sylvia, the nurse who yearns for a life beyond the hospital, or Babu, the besotted flower-seller who can only love the sensuous dancer from afar…each one is memorable and has a core of humanity that pulls you deep into their trials and triumphs.
Apart from the fascinating stories, the book also features an old interview with the late author and gives a glimpse into his mind, his philosophy and the times of which he wrote so passionately and in such an evocative manner. Not one to mince words, he said about his tumultuous relationship with Raj Kapoor: “Of all my stories, Awara received the best treatment from Raj Kapoor. And Bobby received the worst. I did not write the dialogues of the latter and the dialogue writer made some changes. Raj Kapoor too made some changes and kept on putting in more songs and dances.”
This is one book that should be on the book shelves of lovers of Indian fiction.