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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Madness of Waiting

Muhammad Hadi Ruswa

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To purchase The Madness of Waiting

Title: The Madness of Waiting
Author: Muhammad Hadi Ruswa
Genre: Novel
Written: 1899 (Eng. 2012)
Length: 124 pages
Original in: Urdu
Availability: The Madness of Waiting - US
The Madness of Waiting - UK
The Madness of Waiting - Canada
  • Translated and with an Introduction by Krupa Shandilya and Taimoor Shahid
  • Includes 'The earliest extant review of Umrāo Jān Adā'
  • Includes a facsimile of the original Urdu publication

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Our Assessment:

(-) : neat little historical curiosity, nicely packaged -- though a pretty limited work in and of itself

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Times of India . 23/9/2013 Ipshita Mitra

  From the Reviews:
  • "This translation is an outcome of commendable research and tremendous hard work. It is a literary product that gives us a chance to feel closer to history, learn a little more about our culture and heritage and above all preserve a fading memory. With elaborate footnotes, annotations and the original Urdu text attached to the translation in the end, The Madness of Waiting is an experience 'waiting' to happen !" - Ipshita Mitra, Times of India

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Muhammad Hadi Ruswa is credited with writing what is often called the first Urdu novel, Umrāo Jān Adā (see, for example, Frances Pritchett's translation). Loosely based on George Reynolds' Rosa Lambert, Ruswa's 1899 novel and its eponymous courtesan-protagonist continue to enjoy great popularity. In the Introduction to The Madness of Waiting Krupa Shandilya reports that the first edition of Umrāo Jān Adā carried an advertisement which announced this work on its back cover -- and also promised that Umrāo Jān Adā herself penned the complementary tome. Shandilya dug up a copy of the long forgotten work -- published only a month after Umrāo Jān Adā (on -- presumably not coincidentally -- April Fool's Day) -- and with Taimoor Shahid has produced a translation of the text, in a lovely little volume that includes a facsimile of the original.
       It is a fascinating little curiosity. The Madness of Waiting is presented as the work of Umrāo Jān Adā -- and specifically a response to Ruswa's Umrāo Jān Adā. Annoyed that Ruswa made her life public in this way, she claims to want to turn the tables and The Madness of Waiting is, indeed, about Ruswa. Of course, Ruswa is the author behind both works -- acknowledged even to some extent by fictional author Umrāo Jān Adā, as she reports in her introductory letter to the reader having gone to Mirzā Sāhib's and found there, among other things, "an incomplete manuscript of a maśnavī, Nālā-e Ruswā", from which she quotes extensively in 'her' account.
       The Madness of Waiting is basically the story of Ruswa's lifelong passion for the neighbor-girl, Sofia. The childhood friends were kept apart by their different backgrounds -- religious (she's an infidel !) and otherwise -- and by the social mores of the day which repeatedly prevented Ruswa from properly conveying his feelings to her. As adults they eventually reconnect and find some happiness, and true happiness seems possible. Sofia has one last piece of business to deal with abroad before they can perhaps be together forever, but even as she sails home: "on a ship called 'Utopia'" ... well, perhaps some things aren't meant to be.
       Ruswa is introduced as an exceptional person -- gifted, smart, charming -- but he's a damaged soul, too:

These attributes however, are tempered by bouts of insanity.
       The 'madness of waiting', indeed !
       This little novel tells what's behind Ruswa's melancholy bouts of madness -- the story of the love that ultimately could not be. Bits are quite nicely done, though everywhere there is rather a tendency towards melodramatic excess. Unfortunately, much is also glossed and leapt over -- with Umrāo Jān Adā making excuses such as: "Unfortunately, after this, many pages of the maśnavī Nālā-e Ruswā have been lost" (and she makes little effort to fill in the blanks).
       The narrative tension is also not always presented in ideal fashion, with Umrāo Jān Adā over-explaining on more than one occasion:
The passion of love had overpowered Mirzā Ruswā from that very moment, but the blow that came afterwards almost killed him. But I will postpone telling you about that last blow, and tell you about some other terrible incidents that followed this one.
       As a literary text, The Madness of Waiting is pretty rudimentary, and only remnants of the (presumable) original poetic feel survive the transition into English prose. Still, there are some nice bits here, and there is an outline of a story -- albeit with relatively little flesh to it (though what there is has a lot of vim and vigor to it).
       The framing story -- the premise that an author's character has turned the tables on him and now exposes his darkest personal secrets in a work of her own -- is what makes this an appealing concept-novel, and even without familiarity with Umrāo Jān Adā this opposing work works quite well. Presumably it works even better as a reflection of the earlier novel, but given the rather basic style and story-telling it seems almost just as well that it's a very short tale.
       Still, given the whole historical context -- and with the translators' useful notes and Introduction -- it's a worthwhile little read.

- M.A.Orthofer, 15 October 2013

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The Madness of Waiting: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Urdu author Mirza Muhammad Hadi Ruswa (مرزا محمد ہادی رسوا) lived 1899 to 1931.

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