Originally published in the Journal of South Asian Literature 18,2 (1983), pp. 149-152. Slightly edited for this online version.

Source: "Bikram, baital, aur afsanah," from Lafz (Lahore), Part 2 (January 1974), pp. 7-11. Thanks are due to C. M. Naim for his advice and assistance.

Vikram, the Vampire, and the Story

by Intizar Husain

translated by Frances W. Pritchett

The future of the short story is dark because trees keep growing fewer in the world, and men more numerous. In a world of nothing but men, journalism can grow, but the poem and the story cannot. Journalism and oratory are merely the human world's means of expression. The poem and the story are not solely human means of expression; they were born from the interaction of the human and the non-human. The story was born in a time when trees were many on this earth, and men few. When night fell, there was a handful of men around the fire, and beyond them nothing but darkness and more darkness, trees and more trees.

        One of nature's creations can be replaced only by another. Forest can be replaced by desert; desert by high mountains or the shore of some noisy sea. Meditation, the training of the imagination, and creative action can take place even in the shade of a banyan tree, in mountain caves, in the expanses of the desert-- but not within the walls of factories. And sky-high buildings cannot replace sky-high mountains and dense tall trees.

        Now there is no escape from sky-high buildings, noisy factories, row upon row of houses and apartments. That mass of humanity, which Jose Ortega y Gasset portrayed forty years ago in the context of Europe, is now, in the shadow of the industrial age, welling up in our cities also. Traffic is so heavy that trees are continually being cut and roads extended. Buses are full of people, and motorcycles and taxis are so noisy they make normal speech inaudible. But even so there is a dearth of transport.

        The problem of housing is just as difficult. The houses are few, and the dwellers many. New residential areas are being developed. Where yesterday there was a forest, today there is a forest of houses and apartments. Even so, getting a house is a problem. An empty house is a thing of the past. Houses which remained empty for years-- so that even their locks grew rusty-- are no longer to be seen. Such houses became mysterious, nourished the imagination. and gave birth to stories.

        Nurture of the imagination was the responsibility partly of empty, mysterious houses, partly of dense old trees, partly of birds and other animals. All these were active participants in the life of the society. Love of humanity, no doubt-- but Tulsi, Kabir, and Nazir's love of humanity was not wholly with reference to humanity. It arose out of that mysterious relationship between the human and the non-human, which was the foundation of the flourishing societies of those days.

        But now, with our sky-high buildings, noisy factories, and massive machinel, we are entering a new age of barbarism. Thanks to this barbarism which seems like civilization, the area of experience is shrinking, and the jungle of facts and infonmation is spreading. Man's relationship with the jungle is breaking down, and man is becoming a jungle-being.

        Today the Twenty-Five Tales of a Vampire could not be written. Why? Because the Vampire said, "It's good to pass the time in talking of good things while travelling. So, Raja, listen to the story I'll tell you. And if you speak on the way, I'll go back." But now we have begun to speak a great deal. Speeches, newspaper statements, conferences, discussions-- our roads are full of noise. While  [150]  travelling on these roads, conversation between a human and a non-human is no longer possible. In the midst of continuous noise we have become hard of hearing. There are some voices that we now cannot even hear.

        When Raja Vikramajit spoke on the way, and the Vampire went back and hung on his tree, the realistic story was created. Social reform, the portrayal of political conditions, revolution, commitment-- these are Raja Vikram's own carved idols; or, in the words of D. H. Lawrence, wastebaskets of ideas and opinions that we carry on our heads, not knowing that inside us breathes a dark continent. The story-telling Vampire is hanging somewhere far away, on a tree, lost in thought. While Raja Vikram, with the wastebasket on his head, keeps talking and claims that only his talk is a story! What kind of a story is it if a man is cut off from the universe and takes his wastebasket for the universe?

        Look at the stories written in the realistic tradition. Then look at the stories written in rebellion against this tradition. In neither kind does the Vampire speak. In both kinds Raja Vikram is adumbrating his own lofty views. Sometimes he takes up the cause of social reform; sometimes he raises the cry of revolution; sometimes he speaks of commitment; sometimes he bears the message of optimism and thus encourages the community. What other choice does he have-- since the crowd is large?

        In buses, in cinema halls, in cultural lectures, the crowd had its own taste, its own likes and dislikes. When someone is not able to satisfy this taste, the cry goes up, "Kill him for his bad verses." Thus [as Ghalib says],

How narrow is the world of us oppressed ones
In which an ant's egg is the sky
What kind of a world is it where nothing but human faces can be seen in every direction? The rest of the universe, with its trees, beasts of prey, and shadows-- where has it gone?

        Once there were tales in which man appeared as part of the universe, sometimes among human faces, sometimes surrounded by unknown non-human forms, sometimes in a town, sometimes wandering in a forest away from the town. That was a human world whose windows opened on the unknown forest; a world constantly journeying from the known to the unknown. On that hazardous journey one sometimes ran into a vampire, sometimes had to fight with dragons and demons, sometimes even took on a different body. Whoever was left behind on the road was left behind; but whoever emerged became Man.

        The new age tried to remove the forest from the world of Man. Man should go in any direction with confidence; nowhere should he see a deer-- which he might follow, and thus lose his way. The new story-writer thought that the forest had really disappeared. He began to present a human world whose windows did not open on any forest. But Man is his own devil. Demons were born in cities, and men began to take on different bodies even without magic.

        If, while journeying through the forest, a man took on a different body, then through his human effort he returned to his own body. A man's entry into a different body, then his return to his own, proclaimed the victory of the human essence. This great human epic was told in ancient stories. But Kafka's man changed his body in the midst of a bustling city, and he never had the lucky to return to his own body. The death of the human essence, the end of epic, the end of the tale. And it is not restricted to Europe; wherever men fall under the influence of such conditions, the same thing will happen to them.

        But the socialist intellectual says, "Don't say such a thing! It's an incitement to despair, a devaluation of humanity. Man is great, O Lord; he cannot  [151]  become a monkey." And if it is despair, then so what? Only Man can despair; monkeys do not despair. To despair and to write poetry were Mir's destiny. Monkeys neither despair nor write poetry. But if they get their hands on the Collected Works of Mir, they can certainly tear it to pieces. Progressive criticism has torn Mir to pieces-- Mir and every verse and story which smells of that despair. "It smells of Man! It smells of Man!"

        Certain verses of Munir Niyazi astonish me: in this age, walking along in the city, how does this man suddenly emerge in the forest? I am astonished and envious, because continually walking in the city and breathing in the midst of a crowd do not please me. It seems to steadily deprive me of my human qualities. After all, why shouldn't I turn some corner and, leaving the city behind, find myself in the forest?

        The fear a man knows in the forest is different from the fear of the city. It is fear of the unknown. Fear of the unknown develops depth and retentiveness in a man's character. But now fear of the unknown has vanished. Now we are absorbed in fear of the known. Fear of war, fear of civil war, fear of language riots, fear of being killed in a traffic accident, fear of being mugged by a criminal. These fears are humiliating, and how undignified are these kinds of death!

        The Buddha said that people are like children, and enjoy listening to stories. Therefore he told stories. And Jesus spoke in parables. He told one parable: "Look at fig trees and all the trees. When their buds open, we know that summer is near." But how can we know about winter and summer, and how can we tell stories, parables, and tales, since the world is being emptied of trees? The neem tree that told me about summer and the monsoon season in my childhood-- I don't know what shape it's in, whether it's standing or has been sacrificed. Listen to the words of Kabir: "Seeing the carpenter come, the tree begins to tremble." But now the whole society of trees has trembled-- and been uprooted.

        Children of the industrial society do not consider themselves children and do not enjoy listening to stories. They have silenced the Vampire, while they themselves speak in loud voices, crying out slogans. They say that these slogans themselves are today's stories. Then why do I persist in writing stories?

        Perhaps because a neem tree was outside me, a neem tree is inside me. Whatever may have happened to the outer tree, let the inner one not wither. My commitment is to my neem tree, with its bitter fruit. "Cling to the tree," the neem tree and the story, without any "hope of spring." For people are no longer like children, and they do not enjoy listening to stories.

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