Shaukat Siddiqui was a great novelist. He was the only writer of his time who wrote against oppression with full sincerity. Reading his writings always made me feel as if a bonfire was burning within him. He had such a command over expression that his writings felt like emitting a burning sensation.
There were five voices like Shaukat Siddiqui in Russia. A revolution was the result there.
Had we had four more voices here, a revolution against oppression too would have come.
~ Abbas Athar, Kahan Gaye Voh Log (Where Have Those People Gone)
If memory serves well, this is a remembrance of 1940, when it was a common line that whichever youth does not associate with the Progressive Movement, they must have their mental checkup done. This line was not stated without reason. Rather the truth is that in that period, every educated youth seemed impressed with progressive ideas. Young people achieving maturity in that period were fortunate enough to obtain the company of acclaimed Marxist comrades of that time.
One name among such fortunate youth is that of Shaukat Siddiqui, who was born a hundred years ago today.
Shaukat Siddiqui was born on 20 March 1923 in Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh. His father was Altaf Hussein Siddiqui. Young Siddiqui passed all educational stages in Lucknow, and finished his Matriculation at the age of fifteen. He attained his B.A. degree in 1944, and did his M.A. in Politics from Lucknow University at the age of 23. However, he began his journalistic life very much in the middle of getting his education, and in 1944 he was nominated the editor of monthly Tarkash (Quiver).
This was the time when the Second World War was at its height, the process of freedom and division of the freedom movement along communal lines was appearing certain. Shaukat Siddiqui had not only been influenced by the Progressive Movement, rather he had actually participated in this movement as well. Inevitably, like all other youth, Shaukat Siddiqui too was worried for his future. In 1950, Shaukat Sidiqui’s entire family migrated from Lucknow to Lahore, and thereafter his family shifted to Karachi.
He began life in Karachi in great poverty. He had become associated with the Progressive Writers Association (PWA). Due to this very reason, he could not obtain a government job, so he decided to be fully associated with journalism and assumed employment in the daily Pakistan Standard and the Times of Karachi, and thereafter became affiliated with the Daily Imroze.
The end or conclusion of Shaukat Siddiqui’s short-stories and novels occurs on a savage realism: meaning the defeat of the poor and oppressed, and the victory of the cruel and powerful
In his journalistic life, Shaukat Siddiqui came into contact with the underworld, habitual criminals and goons of Karachi – this very observation came in handy while writing novels and short-stories.
He certainly adopted the profession of journalism but in reality he was very much a short-story writer. So in 1952 his first short-story collection Teesra Admi (The Third Man) was published. In 1954, when the PWA and the Communist Party of Pakistan were banned, along with Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Abdullah Malik, Hameed Akhtar, Ahmad Nadeem Qasmi and Syed Sibte Hasan, Shaukat Siddiqui too was put in prison.
1958 was the year when his novel Khuda Ki Basti (God’s Colony) was published. This novel is the reason for his fame. It has been written in the context of the immigrants settled in Karachi. He achieved international fame from this very novel. His progressive ideas fully came to the front in the novel. Conservative classes accused the novel of presenting socialist ideas; these accusations were not without reason. Such is the state of the novel’s popularity that in the last 65 years, 59 editions have been published in Urdu alone in Pakistan, whereas the novel has been translated into 42 languages including Chinese, Bulgarian, Czech, Bengali and Gujarati, as well as in seventeen languages in Russia. It is the most read Urdu novel. Thus, it can be said without exaggeration that Khuda Ki Basti is an international novel, meaning a novel of global importance. I have no doubt in saying that this great novel is to Urdu literature what Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables is to French literature. Had he written nothing else other than this amazing novel, his name would still have been immortalised in Urdu literature.
This novel was also presented three times in dramatic form on Pakistan Television (PTV), which like the novel achieved unparalleled success and this drama is among PTV’s memorable plays.
Shaukat Siddiqui also wrote two further novellas and three complete novels, whereas his first short-story Kon Kisi Ka (Everybody is Selfish) was published in the weekly Khayyam (Tent-Maker) in 1940. Along with writing eight dramas, he also wrote newspaper columns in 1988 with the title of “Tabqati Jeddojehad Aur Bunyad-Parasti” (Class Struggle and Fundamentalism).
His second great novel is Jangloos (Wild Men). It is also called the Alf Laila (Arabian Nights) of Punjab. Shaukat Siddiqui wrote this novel after researching it for twelve years. To write it, he learned Punjabi and Seraiki, studied old maps and the registers of the lands of patwaris (village registrars) and stayed in Dipalpur and Sahiwal. The savagery of class struggle of the feudal system is seen in this novel. While this novel was presented on PTV too, its broadcasting remained incomplete since the drama was written in the background of feudalism in Punjab. So, due to the intense opposition of a particular class, it was concluded after merely eighteen episodes.
His third great novel is the voluminous Chaardeevari (Enclosure) which has been written in the background of his ancestral Lucknow. Also dubbed as the Alf Laila of Lucknow, according to the late Zahid Dar, it is his most unique and great novel, but our critics did not view it whereas Khuda Ki Basti achieved great fame due to its plot, characters and clear, thoughtful dimensions.
Reviewing Shaukat Siddiqui’s technique briefly, he was not convinced by literature for literature’s sake – rather he writes the solid reality of literature for life’s sake. He was a firm socialist, but one will not find any sloganeering, revolutionary-provocative language in his short-stories. His language and descriptions are very plain and everyday. He does not write difficult Urdu but writes popular language. He lets a story remain a story as if it is a news report – he does not write any philosophy, ideology or profound thing from his side.
The majority of Shaukat Siddiqui’s characters are criminal, selfish, greedy, scheming, cheaters and cruel. A very interesting thing is that he writes his short-stories and novels with a firm criminal mind; to the extent that it seems as if some criminal rather than a writer were at work.
One finds a deep observation of human psychology in his short-stories and novels; the character which at one point seems very decent will deceive when the time comes.
The end or conclusion of Shaukat Siddiqui’s short-stories and novels, too, occurs on savage realism: meaning the defeat of the poor and oppressed and victory of the cruel and powerful.
Shaukat Siddiqui was awarded the Adamjee Prize in 1960 for his literary services. In 1997, he was given the Pride of Performance; the Kamal-e-Fan Award in 2002; the Sitara-e-Imtiaz in 2003; and the Aalmi Farogh-e-Adab Award in 2005. He also remained a member of the Communist Party and the PWA. Shaukat Siddiqui was regarded among the journalists who were considered as the close friends of former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (ZAB). He also remained the editor of Daily Musaavat (Equality). This was the very reason that from 1972 to 1977 he was the fellow-traveler of ZAB in all his foreign tours.
Shaukat Siddiqui was basically a novelist. The novel is a very difficult genre and very few novels have been written in Urdu.
He was fortunate to have had a doctorate done on him at the University of Karachi in his lifetime.
Shaukat Siddiqui, who served literature for more or less 66 years, passed away on 18 December 2006 and was buried in Karachi. Although he lived a life of 83 years and 9 months and disappeared from sight, his literary work is alive and acting as a guide for people bearing progressive ideas – and it will continue to do so. 2023 marks his birth centenary and on this occasion we pay him a vigorous tribute with the determination that the struggle against all kinds of oppression and exploitation will continue.
His philosophy can be gauged by what he had written in his iconic novel Khuda Ki Basti:
“You search for life sitting in closed rooms and reading books, and I have seen life in the brothel. I have seen life in small huts and narrow, dark alleyways […] Look at life with the naked eye, and see the extent to which it has become a victim.”
He would have been a Noble Prize winner had he not written in Urdu. I simply love his writings.