Title – The Mirror Of Wonders
Author – Syed Rafiq Hussain (translation by Saleem Kidwai)
Genre – Fiction, Anthology
This one came as a recommendation. The blurb described it as “stories peopled by animals”. Somehow I imagined it to be a series of fantasy type tales – with talking animals. But was pleasantly surprised as I read along. There are actual animals featured here, and genuine animal behavior depicted.
“The Mirror Of Wonders” is a compilation of eight stories by writer Hussain, originally written in the Urdu language. Ironically, Hussain was proficient in English, and even wrote a bit in Persian, but was illiterate in Urdu. On his sister’s and daughter’s admonishment of not knowing his native language, Hussain began learning earnestly and took to writing much later in life. The writer received much acclaim for his Urdu works that were published in the 1930s and 40s, which were translated to English years after his death. This particular book was released as “Aina e Hairat“, a fortnight after he died in 1944, and Kidwai did the translation to “The Mirror Of Wonders” in 2013.
The stories are set in the Terai region of the Himalayan foothills, where Hussain was a hunter before he got into writing. “Atonement” takes us into the wilderness to witness the plight of a tigress and her newborn cubs, and the fate of the feline family when humans intrude into their forests. “Kalua” shows us the undying love of a dog for his human friend, right from puppyhood to adulthood, and the extent our canine friends would go to for us. “Biru” reveals to us the dilemma domesticated animals face when left out into the wild after years of living with humans. “Gori ho Gori” is a poignant take on motherhood – is it any different for humans and animals? Sometimes, only a mother can understand another mother, irrespective of species. “A Nemesis for Every Tyrant” is about the hierarchy in nature – every animal, no matter how big or small, fears something bigger than itself. But man is the most feared animal of all. “Shirin-Farhad” is an eternal love story featuring a pair of house cats, and the extent lovers go to to live and die with each other. “The Voiceless“, my favorite of the lot, depicts the heartbreaking relationship between a horse and his deaf-mute rider. And of course, “The Mirror Of Wonders“, the titular story and the lengthiest from the compilation, about the pangs of separation felt by a monkey on being separated from her child.
Each of the stories is told from the vantage point of animals; humans move in and out and around and between it all, interfering as humans Tend to do. Hussain has beautifully showcased the ignominy of human behavior in these satirical tales. The author having worked as a hunter in his younger days, has brought forth his observations and experiences with animal behavior, providing deep empathy in his writings about them. I read the English version on account of not knowing Urdu. Kidwai has done a fabulous job, deftly bringing these stories to a larger reader audience with his nuanced translation. This is a relatively unknown book – Hussain began his literary journey quite late in life, and barely wrote for a decade, having succumbed to cancer. The original book is popular in Urdu literature, and Kidwai’s translation has recently made it available to a wider audience. You might not find many reviews on this if you choose by popular books or authors, but give this one a go.
Rating – 5/5