of short story
of a progressive voice
count the people who enjoy reading literature -- good literature -- on the
tips of my fingers. More than half of them are literature students, the rest
are borderline anti-socials. Why does it seem to me that lovers of good,
meaty books have become an endangered species in our society? Maybe my social
circle is limited and I'm only exposed to the strata that enjoys gossip and
aimless, ambitionless conversation. Maybe I'm not in the 'in' crowd of
intellectuals. But, I'm a teacher. I know for a fact that today's youth, the
generation which is going to mould the future of this great country of ours,
is more interested in surfing strangers' profiles on Facebook and Orkut than
exploring the grandeur of Shakespeare.
understandable that presently we Pakistanis are surviving amidst political
and social turmoil, but aren't books cleverly designed exactly for these
situations? Isn't their purpose to help us escape into an erudite, fictional
reality far far away from the suicide bombings and uniform debates?"
questions Fauzia, a postgradaute teacher. "Just take a look at some of
the most famous writers in history: Sophocles, Dickens, Yeats -- these
writers faced the dawn of civilization, the rebirth of intellectualism, war.
In one way or another, all of them emerged at a time when society was in
upheaval. It just goes to prove, a time of chaos is a good time for
literature. So why not take advantage of this time and thrust ourselves deep
into a world which offers much more than the harshness of life right
multiple forms of literature -- novels, plays and poems -- have the ability
to introduce us to people, places and situations which we might never come
across otherwise. And at the same time, we feel a sort of affiliation because
after all fiction is nothing more than a selective reinvention of the world
around us. An element of reality will always be portrayed through the
experiences that the characters will face. That's the charm. At the end of a
good piece of literature, you feel as though you have experienced life
without actually having to suffer through it.
what is 'good' literature? Nadia, a research scholar asserts "the
classics are, of course, good literature. Jane Austen and Thomas Hardy are a
good start; Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre if you're more of a brooding
modernist. In literature every man, woman and child will find something of
interest. But in order to find it, you must look for it."
disagrees with people who think that in Pakistan the availability of
literature is scarce. "They are mistaken. The availability of literature
isn't scarce, the interest in it is. It's true that limited exposure to books
is probably to blame. In comparison to the western countries, Pakistan kicks
literature and books to the curb in favour of more science and business
oriented studies; the kind that have real a future. Let's face it, not
everyone (especially not the youth) has the patience, or the heart, to dish
out 700 rupees for a novel or download an e-text."
books are available but the buyer is not. Availability is somehow limited.
Bushra, who studied literature in her Masters says "there is a lack of
good, accessible libraries. The only one that comes to mind is Quaid-e-Azam
Library but that is restricted to college students and holds more critical
material than books for loan. There should be places where children, and
teenagers, can go and pick up a book and read: developing a habit to last a
avid readers enjoy reading modern novels. But the masterpieces should not be
discarded or forgotten. Modern novels are deemed easier, more relatable.
"I have never met anyone besides fellow Literature graduates who read
T.S Eliot or Pinter, or even Shakespeare. These writers are difficult,
obscure at times, but no one can tell me that Paulo Coehlo and Gabriel Garcia
Marquez are not. Living in a transitional society we should turn to these
writers who have already faced these difficulties and learn from them. Eliot
and Pinter can help the modern Man learn more about his shortcomings and
psychological trauma better than anyone else. Read the 'Love Song of Prufrock'
and you feel as though your unexplainable discontentment has been defined.
That is the power literature holds.", adds Bushra.
and students, old and young alike, agree to the availability of books in
Pakistan. They also agree to the disinterest. If we, as a society, grow up
believing that literature is an integral part of life, only then will we
embrace it and ingrain this concept into the minds of the younger generation.
I remember as a tenth grader in America I was able to comprehend
Shakespearean tragedy and was reading major existentialist philosophy as a
part of the compulsory English course. In our O and A Levels, not to mention
Matric and Bachelors, English is shrugged off.
brave students venture out and opt to take (ominous music please) the
Literature course. The others believe that literature is too hard, too boring
and honestly not important enough. To those misguided souls I say this: you
do not know what you are missing. There is nothing more satisfying than
reading a book cover to cover and relishing every word. Literature does have
the power to inspire; you just have to let it. And as you read, you discover
that others can express your personal thoughts and feelings better than you.
It doesn't matter if it's written in a medieval English play or a 17th
century French poem. Human emotion is universal and timeless.
Afsana Aik Sadi Ka Qissah
have been serious efforts in the previous years to compile an organised and
systematic study of short story written through the century. Some of these
projects did succeed in retaining their validity but a majority could not
because of lack of the desired hard work and impartiality. Dr. Anwaar Ahmad,
a celebrated short story writer, notable critic, research scholar and an
educationist comes out with a voluminous research work 'Aik Sadi ka Qissa',
published by Muqtadira Qaumi Zuban, Islamabad.
short story in Urdu is a relatively recent phenomenon with Rashed ul Khairi
identified as the first afsana nigar whose 'Naseer and Khadija' (1903) is
finally being accepted as the epoch of this genre in Urdu. Previously Sajjad
Haider Yaldrum was perceived to be the pioneer of Urdu afsana. Dr.
Moeen-ur-Rehman declared 'Nasshay Ki Pehli Tarang' by Yaldrum as the first to
appear in Urdu. Paradoxically, as a foot note Yaldrum himself announced that
it was translated from a Turkish piece by Khalil Rushdi.
short story is more than a century old now and adaptation of this form has
tremendously enriched our creative pursuits and their stature. Since the
novel is a more laborious project demanding sustained and prolonged focus,
the majority of writers find it easy to pen down their thoughts in the short
story. Today we can point out more than a dozen short story writers bearing a
class, standard and craft with an unquestionable universal appeal. It's hard
to find more than a few novelists of this stature in Urdu. However, the very
recent tilt of our fiction writers towards this genre may alter the equation
in years to come but that remains to be witnessed.
Ki Pehli Tarang' is a comprehensive research work, a sufficient source for
someone who intends to study the evolution of the short story. The book
includes 154 writers while 25 new entrants are also included under the title
'Imkanat'. It comprises new writers harbouring some exceptional promise in
the eyes of the researcher.
is an undeniable document to prove the ingenious effort done by the author
unfolding his enviable affinity and capability for sustained hard work.
Anwaar's pursuit has been dictated as much by sentiment as by the history of
Urdu fiction contrary to Shams-ur-Rehman Faruqi's words that "its
illogical to expect great work in a form just 70, 75 years old." Anwaar
is quite a keen advocate of its brilliance and argues that sometimes in
history, a few decades are more meaningful than centuries.
begins the book with an analysis of the definitions of a short story
examining those from world literature and from sources like encyclopaedia
Britannica, and Americana. He infers, from this study, that there are four
essential characteristics of a short story: it is written in prose; it is a
modern version of oral story-telling; its canvas is limited in comparison to
a novel; lastly it addresses the intensity of feelings while focusing on the
centrality of impression.
observed "If there is a rifle hanging on the wall, it must fire within
the span of the short story!" The author makes an interesting
observation that it was the effect of partition which occupied the bulk of
literature created during those years. He has candidly addressed the possible
reasons behind the finding.
provides the customary data about the writers included but that is done in
all research work. He is an ideologically charged intellectual with his own
vision predominantly progressive in nature. While he has not forgotten to
highlight the salient characteristics of each writer, he hasn't also
refrained from offering a clear-headed critical appraisal and value-judgement
of his own at the same time. He has also traced the influence of certain
major writers on the recent literati, hence defining different strata of
commonality and waves going side by side.
writer honestly regrets not being able to include Anis Nagi, Sultan Jamil
Malick, Ikram Sheikh, Razzaq bin Salaam and Hassan Manzar. A few other names
can be added here like Aslam Siraj-ud-Din, Syed Mohammad Ashraf, Khalid Javed
and Anwaar Ahmad himself. He elaborately discusses Prem Chand, Manto, Qasmi,
Bedi and Intizar Hussain but one feels that Nayyar Masood and Asad Mohammad
Khan perhaps deserved more space.
elaborate account of the progressive writers along with the movement itself
is given while modernism and post-modernism get very limited coverage. This
goes back to the realisation that progressive writers generated significant
waves on socio-political scenario in addition to literature while modernism
and post-modernism hardly expanded beyond the literary domain.
Anwaar Ahmad displays a systematic but calculated hostility towards
conservative or reactionary writers and writings. He remains boldly faithful
to his ideological stance without jeopardising the authenticity of his work.
That not only proves him to be a research scholar but also a creative critic
of substantial wisdom. With reference to short story, there is no other
account that is so exact and authentic.
Mirza a great Urdu poet and short story writer, whose writings appeared on
these pages till early this year, left for his heavenly aboard on in August
leaving his family and a large number of admirers and students to mourn. A
few years ago he shifted to America along with his literary activities for
the treatment of his ailing wife who died last year. Her death came as a blow
Dr. Mirza did his M.Sc in Chemistry in 1956 and taught Chemistry at
Government College Abbottabad. Later he received a gold medal from Peshawar
University in 1963. He was awarded a scholarship to pursue Ph.D in Chemistry
from Zagrib, Yugoslavia.
Mirza belonged to the clan of Progressive writers/poets. His poetry was
influenced by Faiz and Sahir Ludhianvi while his short story are reminiscent
of Krishen Chandar, Manto, Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi, Rajindar Sing Bedi. His first
short story 'Khan Bahadur' was published by the College magazine 'Kaghan.'
started composing nazms and ghazals during his days at Government College,
Lahore. After his first appearance on stage at the college, his presence
became a regular feature at the end of every college function particularly
mushaira. One was:
kia kia na wafaoon
dilaya tha yaqeen
do char kadam bhee
pehle bhee hooa
hai laikin kam kam
kuch aur siwa hota hai
kasi mujehy aisa
tha mein par itna bhee
tanha kabi na tha
sheher mein her ik kee
par hey mairee bat;
meira nam khalq mein
ruswa kabi na tha
passage of time his literary activities expanded in all directions, so did
his circle of friends which included the literary elite of Abbottabad. He
also established a literary society by the name of 'Bazm-e-Ilm-o-Fann' with
Sajjad Ahmed Jan as its President and himself its Secretary. This society
contributed a lot towards the promotion of art and literature holding its
meetings on regular basis.
years 1956-63 brought Afzal Mirza to the peak of his literary activities.
During this very period he organised/staged in the College Hall 'All Pakistan
Urdu Mushaira' three times. Another memorable performance of Afzal Mirza
during this time was the two Urdu plays he staged, 'Satya Nas' and 'Sarai Key
Bahir'. Both plays were appreciated and staged time and again on account of
the performance of their cast. The cast included some well known
personalities of today who were students of Govt. College, Abbottabad.
Another important event was the staging of Ifkar-e-Pareshan. During his
nearly 2-3 hours performance he made the audience burst into laughter.
Mirza earned a great respect and fame on account of his teaching and
outstanding literary trends. His 'Salasil' which he rendered at the farewell
organised by his students and friends on the eve of his departure from
Abbottabad speak volumes of the reverence and love they had for him:
seenay main garh
soocha ha kisi say na
miltey hein, bichar
aftermath of the tube-bombing in London, many Muslims, who used to dress in
Western clothes outside their homes, have now taken to wearing their native
costumes. It comes as no surprise to me that some of them are second or third
generation British Muslims. These young men wish to flaunt their new persona;
they have read their history; they know of their glorious past and they feel
the scars of humiliating wounds, inflicted by the 'infidel West,' more
intensely than their elders.
these young people have been so indoctrinated that they have given up
University careers because they are expected to read books which, to them,
smell of Communism or atheism. Mehboob Ali, a doctor, has bemoaned that some
Muslim medical students have given up their training rather than examine
women. Even in orthodox countries, like Afghanistan, a doctor will treat
Hindus, Christians or Jews, but these young Muslims of Britain, who have
acquired a new zeal about their Muslim-hood, feel that their faith will be
contaminated if, as hospital workers, they are asked to treat non-Muslims --
wonder that the revulsion against such fanaticism has reached a mini climax
and the call to deport 'Pakis' is heard again and again. Trouble is that
'Paki' is a generic word that includes Indians as well -- whether they be
Hindus, Christians, Buddhists or Muslims. The authorities may secretly agree
with those who demand their expulsion, but they dare not say that all Muslims
who wear a Taliban look will henceforth be ousted.
be foolish to think that the three quarters of a million Pakistani Muslims
settled in Britain have now become the followers of the die-hard bigots who
shout 'Death to the Infidels' from many pulpits in Mingora. Most of them are
aware that because of their faith they are now looked upon with suspicion,
but they still go about their tasks believing that they have their rights
intact because they are living in a democratic country.
of them go out of their way not only to maintain harmony but to promote it.
Recently a twenty nine page letter to the Pope was issued from 138 Muslim
Leaders, pleading for a better understanding between Christians and Muslims
based on a shared monotheism and the affinity between the Bible and the
Koran. The signatories embraced a wide range of muftis, Imams (from all
denominations of Islam) as well as scholars and thinkers, many of them
settled in Britain.
thrust of the letter was to invite the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury
to acknowledge that the common scriptural foundations of the two religions
should form the basis for justice and peace in the world. The Koran and the
Bible both contained commandments to love a single god and to love one's
neighbour. The two religions that embrace half of humanity should stand
new in that, you might say; it is the kind of rhetoric you hear in all the
inter-faith seminars and in all those television programmes in which worthies
from all religious faiths sit round a table for a session of platitudinous
not read the letter, only the portion that was reported in the Press. I have
no idea about the tone of the document or the texture of its language, but
considering that it called for better understanding -- and a plea for peace
-- I would have thought that such an epistle would be taken seriously, at
least by the sober newspapers, if not by the tabloids.
not been the case. In a four column article in The Sunday Times, Simon
Jenkins, a reasonable and civilized writer says, "The appeal to
religious tolerance at a time of tension between Islam and the West is
welcome. But what the letter means needs deconstruction."
thinks that the letter is a ruse to claim headlines. It makes no mention of
(monotheistic) Jews, Hindus or Buddhists. "The archaic language",
he writes, "boils down to hoping that the two religions might respect
each other, two religions that embrace half of humanity or, by implication
there will be war."
this implication that he dwells on. He finds it grandiose and dangerous. It
means that the Muslim world has a politico-military power that is in some
sense equal and opposite to that of Christianity. This, he says, elevates the
Jehadist tendency to a status that it does not have and should never think it
has. In a real war the Muslim world is no match for the West. The authors of
the letter would be better employed vetting their own blood-curdling mullahs
and madrassahs than in writing platitudes to the Pope.
Jenkins is right, but what he does not realize is that this is precisely the
kind of statement that incenses the Mussalmans -- even those who are
anti-Taliban. They bristle; they fume; they say to each other, "We make
a sincere effort to seek accord and we are rebuffed. Has the West, become so
intoxicated with its technological and its military superiority that it
thinks it can wipe out the Muslim world? And are we so gutless that we can
allow this to happen?"
godsend to those who brainwash the suicide bombers. Yes, the Western powers
have more tanks, more guns, more bombs, more soldiers, but if one 'believer'
can sacrifice his life and kill ten of the 'infidel' soldiers -- and damage
their machinery into the bargain -- we will take them on. Allah is with us.
* * * *
thinking people of England continue to express their disapproval -- often
their disgust – of the Iraq-Afghanistan wars. Nearly every day there are
letters in the left-of-centre newspapers urging the government to withdraw
from the American-led wars. "How can we describe the death of two
million Iraqis?" asks Stuart Power, in a letter to the Times, "the
destruction of a country, its ancient heritage and its modern infrastructure
and its poisoning, by uranium debris as 'swordplay?' " The mood among
many such people is pretty grim. "I for one", writes Marcus Holler,
"cannot see myself ever voting Labour (again) or the Tories because of
their continual support for both conflicts."
and Powers, like my neighbour, Derek Cruikshank, are well-meaning, humane
individuals who are always ready to raise their voices against injustice and
inhumanity; they are to be found in the metropolises, as well as in the
counties. But they are chary of having a conversation with those who sport a
Yusuf-esque beard and wear a Taliban outfit. The media has shown too many
pictures of such men about to behead a handcuffed white man.
overwhelming impression one gets in England is that the archetypal fear of
the 'turbaned Turk' (in Shakespearean times the Turk was a 'Mohammadan' form
the Indies) has surfaced again in a very real sense.