Literature: 
No thankyou

If we, as a society, grow up believing that literature is an integral part of life, only then will we embrace it

By Amara Javed
I can 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.

Story of short story 
By Abrar Ahmad

Urdu Afsana Aik Sadi Ka Qissah
By Anwar Ahmad 
Published by Muqtadira Qaumi Zuban
Pages: 921
Price: Rs. 560
There 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.

Loss of a progressive voice
By G Abid Jaferi
Dr Afzal 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 to him.

Zia Mohyeddin column
The Turbaned Turk

In the 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.



Literature: 
No thankyou
If we, as a society, grow up believing that literature is an integral part of life, only then will we embrace it

I can 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.

"It's 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 now."

The 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.

So then, 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."

Nadia 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."

The 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 lifetime."

Most 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.

Teachers 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.

A few 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.

 


Story of short story 

Urdu Afsana Aik Sadi Ka Qissah
By Anwar Ahmad 
Published by Muqtadira Qaumi Zuban
Pages: 921
Price: Rs. 560

There 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.

The 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.

The Urdu 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.

'Nasshay 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.

The book 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.

Anwaar 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.

Chekhov 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.

He 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.

The 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.

An 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.

Dr. 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.

 


Loss of a progressive voice

By G Abid Jaferi

Dr Afzal 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 to him.

A Ravian, 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.

Afzal 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.'

He 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:

Tum nein kia kia na wafaoon

ka dilaya tha yaqeen

Tum to do char kadam bhee

na merey sath chaley

Yoon to pehle bhee hooa

kartea hai laikin kam kam

Dard kuch aur siwa hota hai

jab sham dhaly

ahsas-e-bey kasi mujehy aisa

kabi na tha

tanha tha mein par itna bhee

 tanha kabi na tha

iss sheher mein her ik kee

zuban par hey mairee bat;

yoon meira nam khalq mein

 ruswa kabi na tha

With the 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.

The 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.

Afzal 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:

Teer ik seenay main garh

 jata ha

ab to soocha ha kisi say na

 milain gey

jiss sey miltey hein, bichar

 jata ha


In the 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.

Some of 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 -- or women.

No 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. 

It would 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. 

And some 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.

The main 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 together.

Nothing 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 disputation.

I have 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.

That has 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."

He 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." 

It is 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.

Mr. 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?"

It is 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.

                                                            *  *  *  *  *  *

The 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."

Harker 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.

The 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.

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