Syed Muhammad Ashraf’s The Silence of the Hyena, is a collection of stories and a novella that offers observations and commentary on the variegated lives and emotions of animals and humans which are often difficult to differentiate. The stories present a complex scenario populated by figures who could be animal, human, or both, in a montage of the young and the elderly, bystanders, heroes, villains, crooks, thieves, and more. In ‘Death of an Antelope’, Ashraf paints a picture of the cyclical nature of life and death, where the old are replaced by the young, punctuated with its moments of violence, and how outside the event, ‘The sun would rise again the next day’ (p. 7). There is something simultaneously bleak and hopeful in this futility that the story offers through its simple and minimalistic prose with as much action happening in the antelope’s thoughts as in its lived reality. This style permeates all of the stories which mirror animal and human experiences through a prose which is sharp and sparse and yet poetic in its deliverance of the narrative.
In the three short stories, ‘And Then Laughed the Hyena’, ‘The Hyena Cries’ and ‘The Silence of the Hyena’, the reader sees a series of events around the figure and the person of the hyena from different angles and distances, filtered through diverse human presence. From a family hearing stories of a hyena at night to a hunt for the hyena to the stuffed dead body of the hyena, this triplet goes from frank to subtle to frank admissions of the presence of the animalistic in humans. The moment of recognition when the hyena stops to exchange glances with the family of humans foreshadows the parallel killing of the hyena by the villagers and the fake encounter of a poor villager who is used for corrupt political practices and is commented upon by yet another slice of life in a group of passengers on a train, in this interconnected narrative. Ashraf’s commentary is soft but incessant and sharp.