Book: The Silence of the Hyena
Stories and a novella
Author: Syed Muhammad Ashraf
Translated from the Urdu by: M. Asaduddin and Musharraf Ali Farooqi
The Silence of the Hyena, originally written in Urdu, consists of eight short stories and a novella. Two translators have brought these stories to English, and is a simple read that takes the reader on a nostalgic trip to a time past and a world both familiar and distant. A world that was not in a rush, where hunting birds was acceptable and where Rs 300/- meant a significant sum of money, and the cultural map of our minds and our stories was not so anthropocentric.
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Most prominent among them are ‘The Vultures’, and ‘Death of an Antelope’, which is a ‘coming of age’ tale about a herd of antelopes, describing their life, their behaviour and how a change of leadership in the herd takes place. The descriptions are quite engaging –
‘The sardar had swayed in place for a few moments, then wheeled around and, dragging his blood-soaked entrails over the dust, made for the river. He had waded in deeper and deeper and eventually drowned. The vultures flying overhead had cawed, eager to feast’.
There are no predators to spice up the story. There is no need either, for the story itself is captivating enough.
The title of the book comes from the four stories that revolve around the hyena, who in the world of fiction, has a rather melancholy reputation. Dharmendra and Divya Khandal write of this in their book Unexplored Ranthambore, in the chapter on hyenas, ‘There are a lot of stories among villagers in India about the hyena being a vehicle of witches, but the animal is respected in some cultures and is also the national animal of Lebanon’.
The Silence of the Hyena may not be a book where one-liners, clever use of words leave you in stunned appreciation. It serves a more primal feature of storytelling – it creates vivid imagery within few pages of worlds we may not otherwise be a part of.
The reader can almost see the hyena, humans and other animals in action. The stories, the manner in which they end, leave the readers in silence. A silence the readers will appreciate.
The story is, refreshingly, not about the role of animals in human life, but animals are given the center stage, even if as metaphors for human life. Nevertheless, they touch the human characters somewhere deep inside, like only animals can. By extension, they connect deeply with the readers.
The one complaint against this book is the absence of joy. Does that reflect our own relationship with the rest of the animal kingdom?
“. . .there are people with broken wings everywhere. Wherever you see a broken wing you will know someone is dreaming of the land he left behind. Stop there for a while to share his sorrow . . . “