This Urdu Short Story About How Human Beings Can Do Anything To Keep Up Appearances Is Timeless

By Ather Ahmed | 3 Oct, 2017

Literature is meant to help you discover new things not only about reading and vocabulary but also in terms of learning about different cultures, time periods, styles, eras and historical events, even. Literature offers an insight into the world that was, the world that is and even the world that may be. This stands true not only for English literature but also for other languages. Urdu Literature, in particular used to be big but now it’s usually just reduced to reading the mandated Urdu books for your syllabus.

For the connoisseurs of Urdu literature, though, it offers an abundance of literary treasure and this short story by Ghulam Abbas is just one of them

 

Overcoat authored by Ghulam Abbas who was a renowned Urdu writer and produced a series of short stories in his lifetime

Source: dawn.com

 

The title is a reference to the fancy ‘overcoat’ the main character is dressed in and it’s also a metaphor for how an overcoat is used to hide and protect from the outside

So, the story follows a man strolling down the streets of Lahore under the British Raj during the 40’s. This man seemingly has it all figured out, and to the reader, he appears as someone belonging to noble origin. Passers-by look at him with admiring looks and appreciate his impeccable dressing sense.

Source: Sikh Museum

One moment that distinctly stands out, in establishing the overcoat clad man’s seemingly noble origins is  he goes to a Pan Wala and ask for change for a ten rupee note. Ten rupees was worth a lot in those days so the Pan Wala offers to get it from somewhere else but the guy just casually gives him one paisa and gets a single Goldflake cigarette.

Later on, he goes to different shops catering to the elite, only to come out without buying anything.

As he’s moving about, getting noticed by everyone in the market, he gets hit by a brick truck and he dies on the spot. When he’s taken to the hospital, he is stripped down in both a literal and metaphorical sense.

Wearing nothing but torn cheap sweater beneath the overcoat, his body reeks of someone who hasn’t even taken a bath in ages.  The implication here is that he belonged to a way lower socio-economic class than he initially gave the appearance of belonging to. Leading the reader to realize how people present images of their lives that may not necessarily be true.

The story is a very layered introduction into how far an average human being would go to “keep up appearances”

overcoat-image
Source: Outis666 / YouTube

The short story deals with deeper, and in some ways, sinister themes. Even those like myself that are not well versed in literature could figure out that in essence, it’s about insecurities that arise from a class divide. It is also a commentary in some ways on our fascination with Western ideals of  luxury stemming from generations of colonial rule.

What I would like to end this on is that Overcoat made me laugh as a child. While it didn’t made me cry as an adult, it did made me contemplate over a few things.

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