A poetic exchange
Javed Anwar could not live long enough, but has surely lit a candle capable of 
guiding the way for future poets

By Dr Abrar Ahmad

Javed Anwar, a marvellous poet, a friend and a psychiatrist was laid to rest on the cool gloomy evening of Nov 28 in Lahore.

He lived in Austria and was on a short visit to Pakistan, which he loved and missed terribly. He belonged to the generation of exceptionally gifted poets who emerged on the scene during the 1980s bringing with them a clear shift that became recognised because of them.

His first two books established him as an important poet — predominantly a Nazm poet. But one thought he needed to grow out of the influence of his favourite seniors like Akhtar Husain Jafri and Saqi Farooqi. In an Urdu article, I suggested him to grow out of these influences and to find and discover his own voice. He must have felt bad but did not react. To be honest, being contemporaries we did share a mild harmless friction which never became strong enough to come on surface.

As a person, he was extremely friendly and pleasant and met everyone with a big smile on his face. Most of his close friends belonged to the Qasmi group (Funoon) though he never became part of the meaningless polarisation of those years.

Once, I commented on Saqi Farooqi’s poem published in Symbol with a categorical reservation. In the following issue, I was a bit surprised to find a letter by Anwar in defence of the poem, not forgetting to add a few lines of sarcasm against me, though retaining his typical friendly tone. I took this in good spirit. We hardly met since he lived abroad and I could not ever know of his visits here.

We last met in 2010 on the occasion of Halqa Arbab-e-Zauq’s election. Spotting me, he hurriedly came and smilingly embraced me and whispered “Bura tu nahi manaya?” I asked him to wait for my reply. He then asked if I had seen his new collection Bhaireyay Soyay Naheen and the next day it was in my hands. I could feel the strong impact of his poems that were crisp and a pleasant read. The tone was rhetorical and clearly-defined; different from N.M Rashed’s lofty and Majeed Amjad’s humble tone. I simply loved the collection. I wanted to convey this to him but he wasn’t around.

A promising poet is one who has a capacity to absorb the tradition and create a little more; in fact add to it. Anwar’s exposure to the Western world and literature added to his own rich poetic experience. He assimilated whatever he read and utilised it to enhance his own creative potential. But his vocabulary essentially borrowed from the Urdu poetic tradition and his metaphors originated from his own soil.

Anwar is not an easy poet. One needs to concentrate to enjoy and appreciate the multilayered meanings of his dense poems, borne out of a thick compression of thoughts, emotions and ideas. Not easily unfolded, these poems demand even from a trained reader to focus and refocus. The selection of his words creates a resonance that keeps coming back to the reader with an altered echo each time. The narration element adds to the readability of his works — and we remember them.

The question is: whether his work is enough to earn him a permanent place in literature? The answer is yes.

Javed Anwar spent his early young years in Pakistan. While he was here, whenever we met, we exchanged smiles, hugged each other and that was all. And then he left the country. Thanks to the internet, we came into regular contact recently and exchanged abundantly on literary issues and poetry. We shared and discussed poems. It was through email and Facebook that I finally conveyed to him my immense liking for his recent works. Before his last visit, he sent me email that unlike earlier times, he had reserved an entire evening and a night for me this time. That evening, however, never came. He is now an integral part of memory though we’ll keep meeting him through his words.

He was purely a son of the soil who remembered the locales he lived in, with an intense tone of nostalgia. As an enlightened progressive, he always equated himself with the downtrodden and expressed his deep concerns over the geo-political issues and the on-going disastrous extremism in the country. This concern he effectively expressed in his works.

It was Bernard Shaw who wrote: “Life is no brief candle to me. It is a sort of splendid torch that I want to make burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations”.

Javed Anwar could not live long enough, but has surely lit a candle capable of guiding the way for the future poets.


Call and come
Younas Javed’s first novel is full of tricks, innovative language and moral conflicts

By Adnan Adil

Kanjri Ka Pul 
By Younus Javed
Publisher: Jamhoori
Pages: 208
Price: Rs 340


Younus Javed is a popular playwright and has earned a name as a researcher with voluminous and valuable works on classical poet Nasikh and the history of Lahore-based literary club, the Halqa Arbab-e-Zauq. Among literary circles, he is also known as a poet and a short-story writer. Four collections of his short stories, mostly written in the format of social realism, have received wide appreciation. Kanjri Ka Pul his first novel tells us the story of three prostitutes with rich customers. This has been a favourite theme of teleplays and films, but Javed has written it differently, delving deep into the tricks of the trade and the mindset of the characters.

The novel narrates the story of three women – Zohra Mushtaq, Feroze and Saba Zadey – who get out of their miserable or boring life by selling their bodies and become very rich. Big landlords and the corrupt are their customers. They shower these women with money, land, cars, jewellery etc, but the lives of all of the three courtesans come to tragic pass. The years of immoral life do not deprive them of their conscience and basic human emotions. The women abhor incest when confronted with it and fall in love — the reasons that create moral conflict in them. One woman leaves the luxurious life to find internal peace; the other gets murdered and the third one commits suicide.

Zohra Mushtaq is shocked when one of his customers, whom she likes as well, seeks to keep her adolescent child as his mistress, not knowing that she is his own bastard child. Later, the girl, whisked away by her mother abroad for higher studies, marries a boy who happens to be her real brother. The other call girl, Feroze, falls in love with a customer and gets murdered while trying to save him from the trap of his conspiring “friends.” The third one, Saba Zadey, commits suicide when she finds that one of her customers is actually her real brother. It appears that any mention of incest in the novel automatically triggers tragedy and finally punishment.

The novel also has male characters, despicable ones – husbands of the call girls who become pimps of their wives and sex-driven rich people and a mullah, Maulvi Attar, who provides spiritual solace to a morally disturbed Zohra through his lectures on the man’s relationship with God and helps the woman to build a great mosque-cum-school. In the end, Attar, too, as against his rhetoric and appearances, comes out as a worldly man who proposes Zohra for Halala marriage (a kind of temporary second marriage that qualifies a woman to marry her first husband after divorce from the second one) which she turns down to his annoyance. Attar takes his revenge by conspiring and inciting people to destroy the mosque, built with the money earned at a brothel. In his character we get the reflection of a real mullah in Lahore that was quite infamous for contracting Halala marriages in the red light area.

Another character of the novel is the nihilistic mob that raises slogans against a worship place built with the ill-gotten money; ransacks the mosque; kills the driver of Zohra Mushtaq who had come to see its inauguration; and attacks the woman and burns down her expensive car. The crowd has its logic and selective morality. It wants to punish the prostitute for providing money for the mosque and a school for girls but does not ask its builders as to why they accepted this money. Here Javed connects his story to a historical incident of 1939 when Saleha, a prostitute from Lahore, saved the lives of 14 Khaksar workers who had clashed with the British force. Saleha was tortured by the police but she never divulged the truth. Saleha is the same woman who got a bridge built with her money in the Baghbanpura locality which came to be known as Kanjri Pul. This bridge has a symbolic significance in that it served people as a public utility and the prostitute for her salvation from a sinful life to a life of public service. The character of Zohra is inspired from Saleha’s life. In contrast to unsympathetic, ruthless and cruel behaviour of the crowd, the prostitute’s personality exudes characteristics of compassion, mercy and repentance over her sins.

While describing the call girls’ encounters with men, Javed portrays the lifestyle, manners and lingo used by mistresses; at some points graphically narrating intimate love scenes. The story races along like a feature film, though the real relish lies in Javed’s short, curt sentences and dialogues. The language is contrived lingo with innovative phrases and symbols to describe situations, emotions and the voices of the characters. 



Zia Mohyeddin column
Down Memory Lane
(First night nerves)

I defy any actor who claims to be devoid of the sense of first night nerves. It is conceivable that if you only have to appear at the end of the second Act to announce that ‘Dinner is served’, you may walk in, cool as  a cucumber, but I have known one or two actors who got so worked up waiting in the wings that they botched their line.

My friend, David Turner, was once cast to play one of the ‘Gentlemen’ in Shakespeare’s Richard III. He had only one line to speak: “Towards Chertsey, noble Lord?” David Turner was a Method actor who had spent all his time on acquiring the persona of a conscientious attendant. When Richard, having wooed Lady Anne, said, triumphantly, “Sirs take up this corpse”, Glazier, ever alert, moved forward to say “Towards Chelsea, noble Lord?”

Not so long ago I was standing in a darkened corridor, no more than three feet wide — there being no backstage facilities — about to go on the stage on cue. A man who I thought was a stage-hand, approached me and asked me if I was familiar with the poetic works of his father-in-law. I would have slain him with a look but it was too dark. I said nothing. I did not want to tell him that I had never heard of his father-in-law. I just hoped that he would understand that I did not wish to conduct a conversation with him, but he was persistent. “Sir,” he said, “His poetry is out of this world. You will surely fall in love with it.” I whispered that I was about to go on, and that he should tell me about it another time, but he wouldn’t budge. Mercifully, someone from the management arrived and led him away. I will say this much for the son-in-law: he helped me steady my nerves.

No actor can step on the stage on an opening night without feeling butterflies in his stomach. A few pretend to be immune to this occupational disease and a few are strong-willed enough to convince themselves that this immunity is genuine, but I find it hard to believe. There is a weight of responsibility which comes when you have achieved a standing in your profession. It is only natural that established actors should become more and more prone to stage fright as the years stack up behind them. They have, in the course of their careers, set their own standards and it is not the fear of the audience, nor the terror that they might forget their lines which makes them tremble; it is the dread that those self-imposed standards may not, for once, be upheld. It is not a conscious thought process, but I feel that it is the main reason underlying ‘first night’ nerves.

I have little patience, however, with those who indulge their nervousness to the extent of spoiling their performance. If an actor is undisciplined enough to allow his own self-consciousness to intervene between himself and his talent, he should give up his profession and devote all his time to running a laundry.

I produced O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night at the old Alhamra in Lahore a long long time ago. The remarkable aspect of this event was that it coincided with the Broadway production of Long Day’s Journey into Night in which the great American actor, Frederic March, starred in

Normally, rights of a successful Broadway play are not released to amateur companies until a year after its run. Eugene O’Neill’s wife Oona, held the copyright. I haven’t kept a copy of my letter, but I remember saying that I was the spokesman of a group of serious-minded theatre enthusiasts who wanted to promote thought-provoking drama in Pakistan. We were in awe of the great Eugene O’Neill and we wanted his work to reach out to a cultural centre like Lahore. I mentioned that our resources were limited but I promised, solemnly, to pay the copyright dues out of the proceeds of our gate money.

Lo and behold! I got the go ahead.

I had worked on the play as much as I could in a three and a half week rehearsal period. Then, all of a sudden, the opening night arrived. I do not remember ever having a greater attack of nerves than on that occasion. It may have had something to do with the fact that I was also playing a major part in the play.

I spent a couple of hours pottering about, rearranging a handful of props, straightening a valuable rug which had been lent to us by the kindly Angela Williams, for the umpteenth time. (Angela, a fine actress in the mould of Flora Robson, should have played the part of the highly strung mother but she had to be away in England.) Finally, there was the scuffling and murmuring of the audience on the other side of the curtain. Jal Nasserwanjee, my assistant stage manager, looking bleary-eyed from lack of sleep, stood near me in a daze. I asked him if he would be able to open the curtain without any hiccup and he practically sobbed. The front curtain at the old Alhamra stuttered and hissed as you pulled it apart. If you held the rope at a certain height and gave it an almighty heave, it opened in one swift motion. I had to calm Nassarwanjee down and that helped me.

The late Sami (Farid) Ahmed —  stage manager, imaginative actor, wonderful man of the theatre —  tugged at my sleeve and told me to leave the stage. He appeared to be calm, but his twitching smile betrayed his inner turmoil. I gave Nussurwanjee a push, whispered “Good Luck” to all and sundry and retreated into the wings, and, amidst a dying murmur, the curtain parted, for once, smoothly. This settled my own edginess.

The evening was altogether an extraordinary experience. There was a strange whiff of approbation in the air. The old Alhamra was a very small theatre and the front row was only inches away from the stage. Mohsin Shirazee was cool and steady and played extremely well. I was all over the place but gave, on the whole, a reasonable performance. One reviewer called it a tour-de-force.

I was pretty chuffed until I heard, that when Mrs Campbell (the brilliant 19th century actress;  Shaw was one of her paramours) played Hedda Gabler, in a provincial theatre, towards the end of her career, someone told her that her performance was a tour-de-force. “I suppose”, she said as she made a pillow of her arm, “That is why I am always forced to tour.”


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