Dasht, Barish aur Raat”, a recent collection of short stories, marks another milestone in Atiya Syed’s literary career. It contains 20 promising short stories, like her earlier collections. Even though the subject matter is entirely different this time, there are familiar patterns in her latest short stories, like the previous ones, which were noted by critics earlier such as deceptively simple plots, poetic language, third-person narratives, author’s omniscient voice, and her emphasis on characters’ inner worlds, thoughts and feelings. At the same time, she does not ignore the external realities of their physical world. She paints a picture as how her characters look like with minute details and the graphic descriptions of their inner beings with the skilful use of similes and metaphors.

Atiya’s stories from this collection could be broadly divided in two categories: the first category in which she deals with human emotions, psychological make-up and reactions of her characters; whereas, on the other hand, in the second category, she deals with current affairs, international politics, and the suffering of have-nots. “Dhelwan”, “Dehleez”, “Don Carlos”, “Sabzandhera”, “Pichalpai”, “Tilsme-Hosh-Dilruba”, “Wapsi”, “Do Chirrayan”, “Bella Roma”, “Sidharth aur Gautam” (that is a translation from “Herman Hesse”), “Aik Mamooli Admi” can be included in first category, which deals with individual human emotions, their dreams, desires, fears and choices that change the course of their lives. She juxtaposes her characters in such a way that they seem to be pitted against the forces beyond their control, which often is the reality of human experience. This painful reality comes in different flavours in her short stories. In “Dhelwan”, for instance, the protagonist is pitted against the inevitable process of aging that is life altering in the form of amnesia. She beautifully describes the pain, helplessness and suffering of an aging lawyer, who is lonely, not only in the traditional sense, but also getting lonelier due to his progressing amnesia and his fateful fight against that decaying mental process. However, the story ends with his stoic resignation of fate and with the peace that it brings to his troubled mind and heart.

There is a journey from cliché to metaphor in her story “Pichalpai”. The cliché “Pichalpai” becomes a metaphor to reveal the emotional insecurity of a beautiful housewife, who in spite of her worldly success starts competing with her house maid, who embodies the classic characteristics of the ‘other woman’ - who could come and take away her husband like a successful warrior claims his or her prize.

In the second category of stories, which deal with worldly and political realities, she uses different techniques of satire and irony, while employing her knowledge of international world affairs as in “Zikar Uss Paree Wish Ka”. Here, she reminds me of Jonathan Swift’s “Modest Proposal” when she writes about former US President George Bush’s international policies. The command and journalistic simplicity of her analysis of world’s political order and its working, is dazzlingly witty and satirical.

The other short story, for example, that matches in satire is “Khamoshi”. It employs a technique of Socratic dialogue and irony, which tears apart the social sham of so-called spiritual leaders of our society and their ultimate ulterior motives - a food for thought for many.

The overall appeal of Atiya’s short stories is worth noting. Mostly she does not name the place where the story is happening. The readers furtively look for the names of places, and then name these landscapes according to their own imagination and experience. Thus, they create their own text according to the “Reader-Response Theory”. According to Wikipedia: “Reader-response criticism is a school of literary theory that focuses on the reader (or "audience") and his or her experience of a literary work, in contrast to other schools and theories that focus attention primarily on the author or the content and form of the work.”.

Strong characterisation, tight-knit plots, varied themes, quest to search for all present existential and philosophical questions of human experience, different technical treatment of stories ranging from magical realism to flashback, force us not to label Atiya Syed as the writer of a single category. Indeed, she can be labelled as ‘writer of uncomfortable questions and situations of life’. She does not present a magical world to her readers, but presents the stark reality of human experiences in its totality, full of contradictions, mysteries and opposites.

She leaves the readers with hard to face questions about their personal, moral, political and social values, and stealthily provoke them to take their part of standing up for themselves and revise the choices to make living a worthwhile experience. Surely, all existential and philosophical questions become social and personal ones at one stage.