Soul of an era
There is hardly any other writer of Asim Buttís generation who has painted the dilemma of the
modern man as vividly as he has
By Altaf Hussain Asad
Dastak
By Muhammad Asim Butt
Publisher: Scheherazade B, 2010
Pages: 204
Price 200
Those who suffer from the pangs of alienation will definitely like the ambience of the stories of Asim Butt. The whole atmosphere seems to be quite sombre at times and one comes face to face with many characters that are not ready to compromise in order to a live a hollow and meaningless life. They donít want to accept life with all its ifs and buts. If life does not turn out to be the way they want, they are ready to sacrifice their lives. Suicide is more attractive than a disfigured and sullied life, according to these alienated souls.

Zia Mohyeddin column  
Travels
travails

Time was when I liked going places. In my halcyon days I once boarded a train from Paris to Dujon for no other reason than to have lunch in a restaurant famous for its escargots. In San Francisco, I once spoke enthusiastically about the balmy air of Santa Monica, to my American hostess who told me that if I wanted to have the feel of real balmy air I should go to San Diego ó and I did ó and she was right. This was in my hedonistic days.

 

 

review

Teacher, friend

Sabir Lodhi has included in his sketches some people who became very famous, others who had the ability but did not become famous and some in whom he recognised some vital human trait

By Sarwat Ali

 

Bhulaya Na Jai Ga

By Sabir Lodhi

Publisher: Maktaba e Roshan Kheyal, 2010

Pages: 223

Price: Rs 250

 

Sabir Lodhi was my teacher at the Government College, Lahore. He taught Easy Urdu while I was a student of compulsory Urdu at the intermediate level but since many of my close friends had opted for Easy Urdu I would also sneak into that class for company and some learning. My friends were very comfortable in that class, the atmosphere was very relaxed, a god-sent for freshmen being initiated to college life after the military regimen of the school. Sabir Lodhi was affable and friendly and made the teaching of Easy Urdu an enjoyable experience.

When I joined the Masters programme, Farkhanda Lodhi became my class fellow. She had already worked as a librarian, but took leave to join this programme. She was already a known short story writer of Urdu and being the wife of a teacher of the college was on friendly terms with our professors. Her informal behaviour with the professors gave us the cover to be less intimidated of those grey hairs and thick glasses. She passed out and rejoined her profession and continued to write fiction making a contribution to the growing volume of women writings in Urdu.

Sabir Lodhi taught Urdu for the better part of his life and came in contact with writers, intellectuals, educationists and poets in the fifty odd years of his working life. He wrote about them from time to time, but now after so many years has decided to put his sketches together in one volume. The sketches that he has penned down are fifteen in number and consist of many of the famous persons that he came across or was associated with.

Sabir Lodhi might have showed more reluctance in getting his writings published but the death of his wife Farkhanda Lodhi impelled him to make his writing public because it also includes a sketch of his wife. And needless to say it is the most moving piece in this collection.

Farkhanda Lodhi besides being his devoted wife for more than four decades was also a short story and fiction writer of note. She was the author of a number of short stories and short novels and created a niche for himself in the growing body of women writers who are writing in the various languages of the country with greater consistency and confidence.

She was like any other woman growing up in the aftermath of Partition wanting to grow out of the world prescribed for her. She obviously met many obstacles and as a result she developed a demeanour which made her pliant on the surface but steely on the inside. The circumstances did not totally crush her, the creative being survived in her through her short stories and novels. Perhaps she encountered more obstacles than an average woman as she had to face both nature and society. She cut the figure of a hard working woman who in her resolve never compromised and did not expect to be rewarded in worldly terms only. It seemed to be a difficult life and narrated as such by a husband who was painfully aware of it.

Since she was a known fiction writer, Sabir Lodhi chose not to be one. Instead he wrote sketches of people he knew. He places this below the ability of a creative writer who has to pull out from the depth of the imagination the characters while he relied on the personality of a living character for inspiration.

Like so many hundred of thousands, he migrated in the aftermath of Partition and came to Pakistan. He completed his education at the famous Emerson College, Multan where he met many teachers, scholars and fellow students with whom he would form a lifelong association, either at a personal level or on the basis of respect for their learning and scholarship.

He became a lecturer and started teaching at the Emerson College, Multan, and then Government College Montgomery (Sahiwal) and after a few years was transferred to Government College, Lahore where he spent the rest of his teaching years amidst students and teachers about whom he has written with warmth and respect.

Sabir Lodhi has included in his sketches some people who are or became very famous, while others who had the ability but did not become famous and some who did not achieve even limited fame but in them Sabir Lodhi recognised some vital human trait. He thus throughout his life discovered people. In many he found quality of humanness. The fellow feelings, love, care and the ability to help others are qualities not lost on Sabir Lodhi.

He steps aside to mention them with great force. The people he had written about are Dr Nazir Ahmed, Dr Muhammed Ajmal, Dr Syed Addullah, Qayyum Nazar, Viqar Azeem, Rehman Muznib, Dr. Muhammed Hameeduddin, Mirza Muhammed Munnawar, Mirza Riyaz, Dr Wazir Agha, Dr Anwar Sadeed, Dr Muhammed Majeed Awan, Jaffer Baloch and Ghulam us Saqqlain Naqvi.

Because these individuals were public figures as well the collection of sketches besides the stylistic features of the author also throws ample light on the age and the times. It should also be read as such.

 

 

Soul of an era

There is hardly any other writer of Asim Buttís generation who has painted the dilemma of the
modern man as vividly as he has

By Altaf Hussain Asad

Dastak

By Muhammad Asim Butt

Publisher: Scheherazade B, 2010

Pages: 204

Price 200

 

Those who suffer from the pangs of alienation will definitely like the ambience of the stories of Asim Butt. The whole atmosphere seems to be quite sombre at times and one comes face to face with many characters that are not ready to compromise in order to a live a hollow and meaningless life. They donít want to accept life with all its ifs and buts. If life does not turn out to be the way they want, they are ready to sacrifice their lives. Suicide is more attractive than a disfigured and sullied life, according to these alienated souls.

A serious and committed fiction writer, Muhammad Asim Butt is one of the most creative and original writer of his generation. There is hardly any other writer of his generation who has painted the dilemma of the modern man as vividly as he has done. Initially, his infatuation with Kafka prodded him to translate Kafkaís stories into Urdu. Many other translations are also to his credit. But it was his novel Daira which catapulted him to fame as all serious readers of literature praised his maiden novel. Now his short story collection Dastak is in our hands. In his stories, he turns out to be very mature and focused narrator of the human existence.

The locale of his stories is entirely urban as mostly people living in big cities grapple with many ugly realities of life. They are condemned to live a life which is rudderless. The vapid routine becomes a hellish experience as oneís dreams get disintegrated one by one. A majority of the people continue carry on such day to day drudgery. But then there are a few naysayers for whom existence becomes totally unbearable. "I donít have any clear concept of death. I am neither a philosopher nor a cleric. I donít have much belief in heaven or hell. There might be a possibility of their occurrence. I think I will be condemned to hell provided heaven or hell exists. But I believe that life in hell will not be as cruel as this life is; I want to get rid of this life", utters a character of one of his stories Aakhri Faisla. His dreams get shattered one by one and thatís why he is not ready to accept this moth-eaten life. The power to end his life with his own life gives him a strange thrill as he thinks if one canít be born by choice; he can at least try to die by choice.

Usually we have seen writers resorting to embellished prose loaded with symbols to create a Kafkaesque ambience. But Asim Butt, although he is greatly impressed by Kafka, is a different case altogether. His prose is simple yet very deceptive if you analyse it closely. If your feelings and emotions are pure, even seemingly simple prose can create a powerful impact on readers. Butt has a knack of turning a real incident into a surreal one. Words are sacred for him and therefore he applies them quite cautiously. I think he strongly believes in the advice of Socrates who said that misuse of words is a sin as he was about to drink the bowl of hemlock. And yes, he also is a silent observer of what is happening on our political front. I will particularly mention his story Teen Ghabroo in this regard. At the start, it seems to be a gentle satire on our idiosyncratic politicians who employ every dirty tactic to fool people. But then a sudden twist comes at the end as one learns a new side of the characters. Loneliness is torturing three simpletons, who try to ward it off but in vain.

The pace of urban life is quite brisk and it initially attracts you with all its paraphernalia. It turns a man into a robot, crushing his soul. This may be acceptable for a majority of people; but there are a few who struggle incessantly to try to break this wicked cycle. Butt, with his Spartan prose, has perfectly shown us the sensibilities of such modern men in search of their souls. With his unbelievable mastery and deep understanding of human psychology, Asim Butt delves deep into psyche of human beings and comes out with startling revelations.

Asim Butt has written stories that truly reflect the soul of the era. One can only wonder how he has achieved such maturity and top class craftsmanship in quite young age. Dastak should be welcomed with open arms.

 

Zia Mohyeddin column

Travels

travails

Time was when I liked going places. In my halcyon days I once boarded a train from Paris to Dujon for no other reason than to have lunch in a restaurant famous for its escargots. In San Francisco, I once spoke enthusiastically about the balmy air of Santa Monica, to my American hostess who told me that if I wanted to have the feel of real balmy air I should go to San Diego ó and I did ó and she was right. This was in my hedonistic days.

Nowadays I dread travelling, because travelling means getting into a plane and fastening my seat belt and hoping that the plane would take off, which often doesnít, because the runway is not clear or the caterers have forgotten to bring paper napkins or ó in the case of our national carrier ó the airline has been told to wait for a VIP who has not turned up.

It used to be a joy flying from New York to Philadelphia or Washington or Boston. There was a shuttle service every hour on the hour. You just arrived at La Guardia and literally hopped on to the aircraft. Your fare was collected on the plane. Today, travelling by air within USA is a nightmare.

I hate being frisked at several check points. I feel like a criminal standing by the conveyor belt, my shoes in my hand, waiting for the plastic tub to be passed on to me to dump my jackets, my belt, my shoes and my briefcase in it. Invariably, I either forget to take my watch off or to bring out the small change from my various pockets, which make the beady-eyed attendants give me dark looks.

More often than not I am the one the computer selects for what must be the most degrading search. The process involves my having to sit on a bench (along with one or two other victims) before the beefiest of the special airport scarcity force approaches me and commands that I take my shoes and socks off. Then, in full view of the rest of the passengers, I am made to raise my legs in the position of a pregnant mother about to be examined by a gynaecologist. The tools in his hand, which come in contact with different parts of my body, whirr and buzz. Exasperated, that he has not found anything objectionable, he waves me off.

I have been on a plane which didnít take off because the passengers objected to the presence of a bearded Muslim and I have been on a plane which didnít take off for other bizarre reasons. Air travel in recent years has been nothing but an ordeal.

I can never forget the time I was stranded at Oran airport. The plane developed a fault and we had to wait at the small airport for a little over sixteen hours. The transit lounge had no more than five or six chairs which were occupied by local gendarmes who sat there picking their teeth, shaking their knees, fastening and unfastening their shirt buttons. The passengers walked up and down or stood in groups for as long as they could endure and eventually settled down on the hard mosaic, floor. Some of us leaned against the wall.

I was on my way from Algeria to Tunisia. The stopover in Oran was meant to last no more than half an hour so I left my overnight case with my books and journals on my seat as I left the plane. How I rued my decision as I shifted my weight from one leg to the other.

By mid-afternoon most passengers were sprawled on the floor. Most of them slept or pretended to sleep. There was only one kiosk in the lounge which displayed sad looking sandwiches surrounded by lettuce which had been dead for some days. I wouldnít have minded trying one of these for after a few hours of utter tedium I was peckish, but I didnít have any dirhams or dinars one me, and all my credit cards and a few dollars and pounds were in a wallet which was resting snugly in an inside pocket of my overnight bag. I cursed myself loudly as I walked away from the kiosk. The airline had apparently chosen to abandon the passengers.

After what seemed an eternity, two men in Arab robes appeared with a bucket-like basket and began to dispense a bread roll and a greenish fizzy drink which tasted vaguely of vinegar.

I squatted on the floor to eat my large, unappetising roll; a few other people joined me. There was nothing to do but give vent to our frustration which we did for as long as we could and then fell silent. Someone suggested we should play "sweep," but no one had a pack of cards. The initiator of the scheme was not one to give up easily. He went in search of a pack of cards and returned with a stack of cardboard leaflets announcing the glories of Algeria. We all set about the task of folding the leaflets and tearing them into two halves until we had 52 cards. They were then marked as spades, hearts, diamonds and clubs. The man marking the cards went beyond the call of duty and drew, with amazing accuracy, kings, queens and jacks with a ball-point pen. He got a round of applause.

We played "sweep," then shifted to "call a trump" and then to a ludicrous game in which the object was to avoid being left with the jack of diamonds in your hand. Every now and then you were given the opportunity to shed your high cards and so it was easy to dump the knave of diamonds in the lot. When the player who picked up the lot you had discarded, you were expected to give out a guffaw to alert the others that you had shed the Jack of diamonds. The rest of the players roared raucously. We went on and on until the cards disintegrated into shreds. The gendarmes sitting with legs wide apart, had now gone to sleep, their heads rolled to the side.

We all waited. God knows what kind of a fault the plane had. It was rumoured that a vital part of the engine had conked out and that the spare part had been handed over to a truck driver who had lost his way. Curiously enough, the passengers showed a remarkable degree of patience. No one swore or cursed. No one threatened to sue the airline and except for one passenger, who sat all by himself and kept hitting his temples with his forefingers at regular intervals, no one behaved oddly.

(to be continued)

 

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