Dancing Girl Paperback – Nov 2 1993
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From Library Journal
This autobiographical novel, originally entitled Nashtar ( Surgeon's Knife ), was first published in Farsi in 1790, then translated into Urdu in 1893. Known as the first modern Indian novel (influenced by British fiction), this work narrates the tragic love of talented dancer Khanum Jan and Hasan Shah, aide-de-camp to a British officer. After a secret marriage, Khanum Jan becomes ill and dies before her husband can reach her. The author's creative achievements include his interweaving of Indian history of the late 1700s with customs, traditions, and romantic poetry--transforming this tale of doomed love into a creative jewel. Editor/translator Hyder includes helpful footnotes, a foreword, and an afterword. A significant contribution to Indian fiction and its history. Recommended for scholarly collections.
- Glenn O. Carey, Eastern Kentucky Univ., Richmond
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.
This 200-year-old autobiographical romance has something many contemporary romances, with their graphically presented sex and, often, violence, lack--an authentic sweetness of heart that charms with its directness and simplicity. Set in India in the 1780s and written in 1790, this tale of flirtation, love, and secret marriage presents the reader with not only a moving story but also the beginning of an era--Britain's colonial rule in India--and the intermingling of two very different cultures. Shah, aide-de-camp to a British officer of the East India Company posted in Oudh in northern India, falls in love with beautiful and talented Khanum Jan, a dancer of the courtesan caste, one of a troupe of camp followers and entertainers. The young man mingles with troupe members while they are employed by the officer for a year and encamped on his grounds. When they are dismissed upon the officer's transfer, the lovers separate, with tragic consequences. This story of love in a time of multicultural change, which set the stage for the modern Indian novel, seems surprisingly timely, compellingly fresh. Whitney Scott
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Top Customer Reviews
Hasan Shah had available to him an indigenous genre, the masnavi, for the expression of romantic love and the pain of lovers, but The Nautch Girl goes far beyond the confessional mode. What makes The Nautch Girl an arresting work, in the first instance, is the mode in which it is written.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Hasan Shah had available to him an indigenous genre, the masnavi, for the expression of romantic love and the pain of lovers, but The Nautch Girl goes far beyond the confessional mode. What makes The Nautch Girl an arresting work, in the first instance, is the mode in which it is written. The boat journey which Hasan Shah takes to join his wife is the flight of one soul in search of a like soul, the journey of the lover in search of the beloved, and as we know from the use of such imagery in bhakti poetry, a journey of this kind is fraught with hazards: the sea can be stormy, the navigator may be unskilled, the boat may sink from a leak; and when at all the boat appears to have reached the shore safely, at the very last moment it hits a rock. The path of love is just as tortuous as the road to God. All this is there, one might say, in The Nautch Girl, but Hasan Shah invests his account of the journey with fictional devices that have a most poignant effect. There is the love letter from Khanum, tied to a a bit of driftwood; then there is the loss of a shoe at Khanum's tombstone, where Hasan Shah, having gone into a frenzy, fell into a pit; and finally a conversation between Hasan Shah and his dead wife. Hasan Shah certainly appears to have understood some of the possibilities of the novel: dialogue assumes a centrality in The Nautch Girl, and the narrative is pushed forward by having incidents which took place in the narrator's absence recounted by other witnesses.
The figure and characterization of Khanum Jan, however, are what eventually make the Nautch Girl a compelling work. It is not insignificant that the heroine of the first Indian 'novel' should be a dancing girl, a member of a disreputable profession. In that capacity, Khanum Jan could indulge in behavior denied to women of other classes, and most emphatically to upper-class women. She did not, for instance, observe purdah, while admitting that she found it "distressing to go about unveiled". She is more compelling still as a woman of considerable wit and irony, resolute in her determination, mindful of her dignity and independence. Of course Hasan Shah places her squarely within the framework of patriarchy: thus Khanum Jan appears as the exponent of the view that men cannot be held to promises of fidelity, "because it is almost impossible for a man [and only a man] to remain monogamous all his life". As an Indian woman, she will tolerate such lapses on her husband's part as might take place. But Khanum Jan is not hereby compromised, for clearly Hasan Shah did not intend to depict her as a feminist; rather, she evokes certain possibilities and limits, and appears as the embodiment of a love that is freely chosen.