A word about letters  
By Kazy Javed
Remembering the poet of poets
Noon Meem Rashid is probably the only secular poet celebrated by our rather conservative universities. The Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) was the first to honour him by organising a literary event in April last year to mark his 100th birth anniversary — and devoted the maiden issue of its Urdu research journal Bunyaad to him. Punjab University’s Oriental College and Lahore’s Government College University too have followed its example. Both separately organised seminars to pay homage to the poet. Both the well-planned events provided a number of scholars with the opportunity to present their papers on various aspects of Rashid’s life and poetry as well as his place in modern Urdu literature.




The enigma behind the man

In her latest book, Bano Qudsia attempts to capture the essence of
Ashfaq Ahmed

By Sarwat Ali

Rah e Rawan

By Bano Qudsia

Publisher: Sang-e-Meel Publication, 2011

Pages: 636

Price: Rs 1200

After a selection from the writings of Ashfaq Ahmed, titled ‘Baba Sahaba’, Bano Qudsia has now written on the lifetime spent with her husband Ashfaq Ahmed and called it ‘Rah e Rawan’.

In her life, Qudsia has placed Ahmed on a very high pedestal and does not shy away from attributing with him hidden qualities often associated with sages. Being fully aware of it, she does not even claim to understand the man she lived with for more than five decades, bearing many children in the process. So, an attempt at writing the biography of Ashfaq Ahmed took her beyond that ‘one person’— and she started to write about his ancestry, the family including his grandfather, father, uncles, brothers, sisters and their children so as to fully understand the enigma that was Ashfaq Ahmed.

Ashfaq Ahmed was a Momand Pathan whose family migrated to the subcontinent from Afghanistan and then settled in what is now Indian Punjab at a place called Makesar. They had to migrate again at the time of partition to the new country called Pakistan. Qudsia attributes much of the enigma and the multi-layered, complex personality of Ashfaq Ahmed to the various forms of migrations that they had to undertake.

The most difficult time for her, and also the most significant, was when she married Ashfaq Ahmed. She was a Jat, he was a Pathan, and in both families, the tradition of marrying outside the clan was non-existent. Possibly, all hell must have broken loose when she expressed her will to marry a college-fellow. She was resilient enough to not be cowered down by opposition from both the families — and the two apparently got married in defiance. In the days immediately after independence, marrying someone of one’s own choice was still a very rare occurrence and must have raised both eyebrows and hackles.

However, Qudsia’s steadfastness paid off. It proved to be a very good match. Even after his death, she continues to be intrigued by his behaviour, his choices and his demeanour, while attempting to understand him through his family and the circumstances that they all went through in the last hundred years or so.

In worldly terms too both were very successful. Both were very well-regarded writers and Ashfaq Ahmed was something of a cult figure. They also moved upwards socially. From humble surroundings they rose to a level which is considered an example of success in this society. In terms of posting and position and in terms of living style, they did show a remarkable upward mobility unlike many other writers and poets who only lose what they already have.

In the book, besides her own writings, Qudsia has added and collected a whole lot of writings of Ashfaq Ahmed and many of the contemporaries who were connected to them both on the various travails and the vicissitudes that both went through and how they were perceived and regarded by others.

This collection of material and biographical details can be most useful in placing the writings of Ashfaq Ahmed against a perspective. The 600 odd pages are written in a rambling style. Even the writings of Ashfaq Ahmed, edited and published posthumously by her, lacked a well-ordered design. Baba Sahaba was not written with any meticulous pattern in mind, and appeared to meander through the various phases and experiences of his life. An autobiography of sorts written in the first-person was penned in the "hikayat" tradition, and there was hardly anyone who could match the genius of the Ashfaq Ahmed in this genre.

Gradually, with the passage of time, the very particular plot and character and its mutual development was abandoned for the allegorical style where symbols as subtext were supposed to offer a grid of meaning, otherwise lost to a lay reader. The magic of the style was enough to lure the reader into hundreds of pages, but then as one began to sit back, detach oneself and think about the content, the drift was not difficult to guess — because Ashfaq Ahmed was much exposed to the media, rather overexposed. What he said and believed was common knowledge among the literates of this society.

Nevertheless, as one probed deeper, it became clear that he was leading the reader to some area of experience that could not be shared or commonly experienced. The private space of the writer and that of the reader did not necessarily coincide.

As long as Ashfaq Ahmed developed his inimitable style and took the reader up the garden path of love, forgiveness and tolerance of diversity as he did in his earlier work like ‘Gadarya’ it was a palpable experience, its tangibility recognizable. But when he delved deeper into the esoteric and arcane area of mystical communion, the readers failed to go along with him, gradually falling by the wayside.

Bano Qudsia’s prose at times really shines and captivates the moment, the fragility of relationships, the shade of envy and the fickleness of human emotion. There have been few writers who have laid bare the subjectivity of women, especially in a society where all avenue of independent expression are sealed off in the name of propriety, honour and tradition. The repressed woman’s sexual innuendoes and cryptic suggestiveness have being captured by her faithfully. It is only when she places these on a bigger canvas that artistic problems begin to arise. It is not a book that is very well-designed or planned — rather rambles through giving plenty of information, some more useful than the other.


The scholarly critic

Muhammad Kazim’s book reviews are always restrained and cultured

By Altaf Hussain Asad

Kal Ki Baat

By Muhammad Kazim

Ilqa Publications, 2010

Pages: 287

Rs: 495

There are a few committed scholars who continue to enrich literature with their gigantic contribution, but do not like to enjoy the limelight as they silently serve literature. Away from any sort of publicity, they immerse themselves with books and share with readers their knowledge by penning down magnificent books every once in a while. Muhammad Kazim is one of them.

If you look at his literary resume, you are bound to get impressed. His main areas of interest are diverse: literature, Muslim philosophy, classical Arabic literature and Western literature. His pithy and lucid tome ‘Muslim Fikro Falsafa Ehed Ba Ehed’ can be easily described as one of the best-written book on Arabic literature.

Many years ago, Arabic literature became his passion and it gave the readers a detailed history of the subject. There are many other books to his credit that are liked by all the serious readers of literature.

This volume ‘Kal Ki Baat’ brings to light another aspect of Muhammad Kazim: a very serious and disciplined reviewer who sharply scrutinises the books’ contents. If there is any factual error or any other lacunae in the book, Muhammad Kazim doesn’t ignore it at all. Like a thorough gentleman, he points out the errors without ridiculing the author. So each book review becomes a short treatise on the book that he decides to review.

Many years ago, he wrote reviews on new books in the prestigious magazine ‘Funoon’, which have been presented in his volume. Muhammad Kazim writes in the start that he and his friend Muhammad Khalid Akhtar used to read scholarly book reviews in the Observer and other renowned newspapers. This proved to be a very sound training as he strictly followed the style of top reviewers in the pages of ‘Funoon’.

For instance, Ali Abbas Jalalpuri’s Aam Fikri Mughaltay. Now, Jalalpuri was a rarity in Urdu literature as he advocated for a liberal and enlightened approach in life and literature. He wrote many books, which can be described as ground breaking in more than one ways. Muhammad Kazim takes him head on and disagrees with him in a very scholarly way. In a very detailed article, Kazim reviews the book in a detached way. He mostly agrees with the book’s contents but there are few points that he proves are a bit superficial. When Jalalpuri sings paeans of the Bolshevik revolution, Muhammad Kazim reminds us that many artists had to flee from Russia due to the suffocating restrictions imposed by the authoritative regime. So, in his views, all was not well in that regime. This he does in a very restrained and cultured manner, stacking many weighty arguments to prove his point.

Then, when Dr Tehseen Firaqi tries to prove the greatness of Abdul Majid Daryabadi in his book, Muhammad Kazim offers a very incisive and critical view of the life and times of Daryabadi. Thus we see a Daryabadi who has many shortcomings like any other average human being. So the effort of Dr Tehseen Firaqi in glorifying him goes in vain. There is no venom in the pen of Kazim as he often disagrees in a very mild manner.

There are a variety of books that he reviews and he shows that he has complete command of the topics of the books that come under his scrutiny. Muhammad Khalid Akhtar, one of the best Urdu humorists, was Kazim’s friend who used to share with him the latest books. His article on ‘Khoya Hua Ufaq’, satirical essays of Khalid Akhtar, is one of the best essays written on that rare jewel of Urdu literature.

Those who are not fully aware of the genius of Khalid Akhtar are advised to go through this article. His long article about a book of Abdul Malik Khorvi becomes a full-fledged treatise on the genre of Naat.

All these articles on books are a must read for budding book reviewers as well as for laymen. Muhammad Kazim writes grammatically correct and pulsating prose, which never bores the readers.



A word about letters

By Kazy Javed

Remembering the poet of poets

Noon Meem Rashid is probably the only secular poet celebrated by our rather conservative universities. The Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) was the first to honour him by organising a literary event in April last year to mark his 100th birth anniversary — and devoted the maiden issue of its Urdu research journal Bunyaad to him. Punjab University’s Oriental College and Lahore’s Government College University too have followed its example. Both separately organised seminars to pay homage to the poet. Both the well-planned events provided a number of scholars with the opportunity to present their papers on various aspects of Rashid’s life and poetry as well as his place in modern Urdu literature.

Eminent scholar and rector of the International Islamic University Professor Fateh Mohammad Malik and noted fictionist Rasheed Amjad came from Islamabad to grace both the events. Dr. Anwar Mahmood Khalid of Faisalabad, Dr. Zafar Iqbal who heads the Urdu Department of Karachi University, Dr. Rubina Tareen who is chairperson of the Urdu department of Multan University and Dr. Shafique of the Bahwalpur University too were there.

I was particularly pleased to see Dr. Khawaja Mohammad Zikriya sitting on the stage at the Oriental College’s seminar. He is one of the most respected figures of the Lahore academia.

It is interesting to note that Noon Meem Rashid used to insist that versification is possible only in the language learnt in the mother’s lap. He was born in Akalgarh, a small town near Gujranwala, which is a Punjabi stronghold but he made his mark as a trendsetter Urdu poet.

He is not a popular poet. Many critics say he was "a poet of the poets." It means that one has to be aware of the basic concepts and requirements of poetry in order to enjoy and understand his verse. He was not a prolific poet either. The first volume of his poetry ‘Mavra’ appeared in 1941 when be was 31. His fourth and last volume, ‘Guman ka Mumkin’, saw the light of the day after his death in 1975. Two other collections of his verse, ‘Iran main Ajnabi’ and ‘La Mussavi Insaan’ are more famous.

Noon Meem Rashid appeared on the literary scene in the 1930s when Allama Iqbal was the most influential Urdu poet but a process of deviation from both the content and style of his poetry had also begun. The Marxist ideology and progressive movements provided the literati with new ideas while poets like Meeraji, Tasaduq Hussain Khalid and Noon Meem Rashid introduced a new genre, free verse, in Urdu poetry. The genre borrowed from the West.

Style always influences content. So free verse also brought a new sensibility as well as new ideas. Meeraji turned to the local Indian mythology while Rashid veered towards romantic modernism.

A number of books on the life and works of Noon Meem Rashid have been recently published to mark the centenary year of his birth. However, the National Language Authority stole the show by bringing out the first book of the series. Titled ‘Noon Meem Rashid’, it is compiled by two teachers of the University Oriental College namely Dr. Mohammad Fakharul Haq Noori and Dr. Ziaul Haq and prefaced by Iftikhar Arif. The 558-page book carries many important articles penned about the poet during the past 60 years. The writers include noted literary critics and scholars like Aziz Ahmad, Sajjad Baqar, Rizvi, Dr. Aftab Ahmad, Salim Ahmad, Dr. Tabbasum Kashmiri, Alam Khund Mairi and Fahmida Riaz.

The University Oriental College and Government College University, Lahore too have published more than 10 books on this topic. A book of over a thousand pages entitled ‘Aermghan-e-Rashid’ is also to hit the stalls soon. Dr. Tabbasum Kashmiri and Tanvir Saghir have compiled it.


Salma in Russia

Salma Awan has come up with the first book in Urdu on post-communist Russia. Entitled ‘Roose ki aik Jhalak’ and published by the Dost Publications of Islamabad, the book contains 44 chapters. They all narrate interesting stories and quotable anecdotes about the people and places of the country that enjoyed the status of a big power for more than half a century.

Salma Awan is a fine narrator with an observing eye and a mind, which keeps asking questions and looking for answers. Her new book is sure to attract many readers.


China bans English

Go to Beijing or any other Chinese city and the chances are that you will not come across men or women attired in Chinese dress. The same is the case with architecture. One hardly finds traditional style buildings in modern parts of Chinese urban centres. They have been westernised. However, with this background and fastest growing economy in the world, the Chinese elite are giving indications of growing fearful of foreign cultural influence.

A recent directive issued by the country’s publishing authority, the General Administration of Press and Publication, has asked newspapers, books and websites not to use English words and phrases — believing that the increasing use of English words and abbreviations are violating the purity of their language and causing negative social impact.

The fact, however, is that the efforts to maintain purity of language hamper the growth of the language and they usually stem from the fear of new concepts. Beijing’s directive leads to the speculation that despite gaining the status of the world’s second largest economy, China is still cherishing its traditional isolationist tendencies.

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