A word about letters 
By Kazy Javed
A tribute to Dr Baloch
With the demise of Dr Nabi Bakhsh Khan Baloch past fortnight we have lost a peerless scholar who remained committed to learning and writing all his life. He wrote, edited, compiled or annotated on history, literature, culture, education and Sufism about a 100 books. He also penned dozens of research articles on various subjects in English, Sindhi, Urdu, Persian and Arabic languages. His writings will be read long into the future but thousands of his students and admirers will not be able to find another teacher like him.



Conjoined to tradition

Natiq creates imagery and metrical rhythms that sound new and unfamiliar

By Sarwat Ali



Be Yaqeen Bastiyon Main

By Ali Akbar Natiq

Publisher: City



Pages: 94

Price: 150


One of the ongoing rebellions has been to break the mould of poetic expression in Urdu. Every now and then one has come across poets wanting to do just that -- some have done it successfully while others have achieved only partial success. It appears that Ali Akbar Natiq has the potential of breaking away from the classical mould of Urdu poetry.

The most dominant of course has been the ghazal and, now with almost one hundred and fifty years into that rebellion, victory cannot be announced with any degree of certainty. Some rebels, though making an appearance have given the indication that even if victory is not in sight at least some travellers on the road to rebellion are heading in the right direction.

From the stage managed experimentation prompted by the Anjamun e Punjab to Iqbal and then N.M.Rashed, Mirajee, Majeed Amjad, Munir Niazi, Gilani Kamran, Iftikhar Jalib, Sarmad Sehbai and now Ali Akbar Natiq, the journey has been long and not that easy to traverse.

Many found a compromise like Hasrat Mohani who did not abandon the ghazal, but while keeping the integrity of the form intact, only swapped themes with those that were being introduced in the nazm. Faiz carried the colourful intensity of the ghazal into the vaster arid expanse of his nazm. But in the last three decades or so, the departure from the ghazal has been carried even further by what has been written as not even poetry -- but prose poem -- a contradiction in terms which may mean anything. Intention being that the poetical form is too well-wrought for the expression of a prosaic experience for what is left of the human experience in contemporary world --the mere prosaic ness of experience.

In the classical age probably the experience that was worthy of being expressed in a well wrought form came to be called poetry, but since the last many centuries that experience has been in a continuous state of down-gradation. Now there is hardly anything worthy of an expression that is larger than life or carries the residue of an intensity that made it different from the material of experience that went into the making of others forms of human expression like fiction and prose.

At times one wonders whether the quality of experience has downgraded or is it just the desire of the poet to flow with the mainstream. These days, especially since the high noon of the Romantics, the poets have felt marginalised as if not being really the voice of their age or if not being heard. The society has no time to listen to the voice of conscience, instead it lends its ears to something which had a greater din and hence drowns everything which is of a lesser volume.

Ali Akbar Natiq has been exposed to the contemporary writings in the Middle East particularly in Arabic and Persian. He has lived a few formative years in the Middle East and his curious self seemed to have imbibed the contemporary literary sensibility of a region which has been through many upheavals -- the armed struggle in Palestine to the containment and suppression of free expression in dictatorial states of all denominations. In this paradox, much literature of great substance has been produced in the Middle East. Faiz too was exposed to that literature while living in Beirut and was full of admiration for it. He also translated a few poems in Urdu and was of the view that Arabic literature had a feel of contemporaneity about it. The same feeling one gets in reading Ali Akbar Natiq -- he has a unique expression and style which is quite refreshing and yet is conjoined to tradition.

Though there many be a suggestion of frustration about the worth of human advancement and experience but it is haloed by an echo that resonates from the past -- the past embedded in the imagery of classical poetry that calls for a greater and a more heroic action from mankind, destined to achieve great heights and fulfil promises that have been bogged down by the wastefulness of its own endeavours and adventures-- somewhere caught between the two with the end result being far below expectation.

Fahmida Riaz in her introductory remarks has called him a courageous poet -- if this is the direct translation of juratmand because he has treaded on ground which is unsheltered and has tried to evolve an expression that befits it, in the process creating imagery and metrical rhythms that sound new and unfamiliar. But to an initiator of poetry melts into the totality of experience -- the feeling as well as its expression, the two taken as a whole.

Natiq has also been a short story writer and to many the two different expressions or forms may be quite contrary to each other with differing challenges and expectations. It appears that he has acquitted himself on both counts. His expression in poetry is quite mature and incorporates images created out of current living that has a traditional ring to it.


Myth of Sisyphus

A comprehensive study of writers who
participate in the intoxicating dance of art and death

By Altaf Hussain Asad

Raag Rut Khwahish-e-Marg Aur Tanha Phool

By Dr Safia Ebad

Publisher: National Book

Pages: 381

Price: Rs 400

Dr Safia Ebad delves deep into the macabre. Her book Raag Rut Khwahish-e-Marg Aur Tanha Phool is a study of suicide, particularly of those writers and artists who bowed out of life out of their own choice. When Ebad studied the lives of various artists who were besotted with suicide, she made it a point to write a detailed dissertation on the fact, with special reference to Urdu literature.

Raag Rut Khwahish-e-Marg Aur Tanha Phool, considering its subject matter, is not a dull book. It seems, this unusual topic was close to Ebadís heart as one feels that she has tried to develop the whole thesis with a pyramid of facts. At the very outset, Ebad writes that the basic purpose of the book was to objectively analyse the cases of suicide. While it is hard to believe that anyone can handle the subject of suicide objectively, the point is that Ebad does not condemn or glorify these artists with a death wish.

Ebad puts the whole concept in perspective as she explains what the major religions say about suicide. She, however, avoids taking sides and narrates the views with a certain detachment which should be a hallmark of every serious researcher.

After a detailed religious synopsis about suicide, we find ourselves face to face with many world renowned writers who chose the path. They are: Sappho, Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, Alice Walker, Sadiq Hidayat, and many other famous writers.

Sylvia Plath is an interesting case. Her poetry reverberated with a longing to die by choice. Anne Sexton narrates that "often very often, Sylvia and I would talk about our first suicide at length, in detail and in depth between potato chips. Suicide is after all, the opposite of poem".

However, Ebad has made some errors. Edgar Allan Poeís death was under mysterious circumstances, therefore there is no clear indication that he committed suicide. Neither is the case of Shabbir Shahid, a very talented poet from Khushab, who mysteriously disappeared one day. Nothing was heard or is known about him to this day and his associates and colleagues were unable to trace how he ended his life, therefore he is still missing and did not commit suicide until proven otherwise.

The book also focuses on Urdu writers who committed suicide. Who can forget Sarwat Hussain or Shakaib Jalali. Her pieces on Sara Shagufta, Anas Moeen, and Sarwat Hussain are not only moving but also quite revealing. Her piece on Sarwat Hussain, a forgotten genius, and Sara Shagufta can be described as brilliant. There are other writers who did not commit suicide but treaded a somewhat similar path. They are: Saadat Hasan Manto, Allauddin Kaleem, Sagheer Malal, Jamila Shaheen, and Jaun Elia. Sagheer Malal, a brilliant poet and translator, is also a forgotten genius. His poetry is simply majestic and one thinks he should have stayed a bit more. Novelist Mohammed Hanif chanced to live in a flat where Malal used to live; Hanif says when he flipped through the pages of the books in Malalís study, he was simply amazed and he learnt books should be read this way.

Ebad interestingly does not include Mustafa Zaidi Perhaps, she is of the view that there may be other causes of his death. But, in the literary fraternity, it is an established fact that Mustafa Zaidi committed suicide. She met and chatted with many people close to late Mustafa Zaidi and has concluded that his death was not a suicide. According to her he may be a victim of a conspiracy hatched by his colleagues as he was having a lot of troubles in his job.

Ebad consulted a lot of people to get a better understanding of the writers under her study. She travelled to many cities and interviewed all concerned people to give more weight to her opinion. This makes this book quite up to date and relevant for the budding scholars.




A word about letters

By Kazy Javed

A tribute to Dr Baloch

With the demise of Dr Nabi Bakhsh Khan Baloch past fortnight we have lost a peerless scholar who remained committed to learning and writing all his life. He wrote, edited, compiled or annotated on history, literature, culture, education and Sufism about a 100 books. He also penned dozens of research articles on various subjects in English, Sindhi, Urdu, Persian and Arabic languages. His writings will be read long into the future but thousands of his students and admirers will not be able to find another teacher like him.

Baloch served as vice-chancellor of Sindh University, chairman of the National Commission on History and Culture, vice-chancellor of the Islamabadís International Islamic University as well as the founding chairman of the Sindh Language Authority.

He was a fine personification of the Sindhi tradition of scholarship. I met him many a time at different places during the past two decades and found him extremely refined and a kind person.


New books

Fatima Mernissi who earned worldwide fame with her book Beyond the Veil some three decades ago, has added to her reputation-- as an Arab feminist scholar-- through Scheherazade goes West. The book presents a new image of Scheherazade, the heroine of The Thousand and One Nights and makes a comparison between the women of the East and West.

The book is very interesting though one fails to find any reason to agree with the author on many points. She paints Scheherazade as the symbol of Eastern women and says she is intelligent, dynamic and rebellious while western women are passive, imbecile and submissive.

Fatima Mernissi leans heavily on Kant to understand western women. Kant was no doubt a great philosopher and there are some scholars, including Bertrand Russell, who regard him the greatest thinker of the western philosophical tradition. But his insights and judgments about women should not be taken seriously. He was a misogynist who never married and had no experience of women.

Zahida Hina has made a fine Urdu translation of Fatima Mernissiís book and has been published by Mashal Books as Scheherazade Mughrib mein.

M. R. Shahid may not be in the grip of some obsessive fascination with the dead but he certainly has a bent for necrologies. He has published two thousand pages in the form of four books on those who are no more with us.

Published in two volumes, his first book carried short biographical notes on hundreds of eminent persons in various fields buried in 105 graveyards of Lahore. This 873-page book was followed by a 625-page volume on notable persons laid to rest in numerous cemeteries of Rawalpindi and Islamabad.

Shahidís third compilation provided information about hundreds of men of our armed forces martyred during various conflicts with India since 1947.

Shudha-e-Punjab Police is the title of M. R. Shahidís latest 437-page book which provides details about the personal in the Punjab Police who laid down their lives during the performance of their duties. The necrology compiled by the author is quite impressive as it carries more than eight hundred names.

A posthumous collection of Mahboob Azmiís humorous poetry under the title Mukarar Kahay Beghair has been published. Azmi who died in 2009, was a popular poet and also penned novels and short stories.

Riaz Mahmood Anjum has translated Anupama Choopraís much talked about book King of Bollywood: Shah Rukh Khan and the Seductive World of Indian Cinema into Urdu. It has been published by Book Home titled Shah Rukh Khan: Bollywood ka Be-taj Badshah.

Book Home has also published Urdu translation of Jules et Jimís novel Muhabat ki Ajab Kahani. The translation has been made by Muhammad Anwar.


Poet and editor

Azhar Javed is a popular literary figure of Lahore whom you would come across at any notable literary or cultural gathering in the city.

He is a poet as well as a journalist but is primarily known for editing the famous literary magazine Takhleeq which he has been bringing out for the past forty years.

So far as I know the magazine is read mostly by men but its editor is mostly admired by women. Two of them hosted two parties for him during the past two weeks. The first was given by novelist and short story writer Atiya Syed while the other was arranged by dancer Zareen Panna who likes to hang out with the literati. These parties provided a pleasant opportunity to many men and women of letters to enjoy beautiful April evenings together.

The April 2011 issue of Takhleeq has seen the light of the day carrying poems, ghazals, short stories, literary articles and a number of letters addressed to the editor. A 2-page Punjabi language section entitled Punjab Rang too, has been included. A brief introductory note on more than twenty newly-published literary books is perhaps the most interesting part of the magazine. Veteran critic Dr Anwar Sadeed has shed light on some new foreign books in a separate article.

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