By Dr Abrar Ahmad
Mitti Adam Khati Hai
By Mohammad Hamid Shahid
Academy Bezyaft, Karachi
Price: Rs 150 Pages: 122
There has been an over extended silence in the field of Urdu novel writing, making one wonder as to what stopped our writers from trying their hands at an art form as vast as life itself. The situation has suddenly changed during the last couple of years when novels of substantial merit started appearing one after the other.
'Mitti Adam Khati hay.' by Mohammad Hamid Shahid is the latest in the series. It's a short novel, and once you start reading the same brevity and the economic yet creative utility of words become its mainstay.
The central theme of the novel is the separation of east Pakistan in 1971. We may note here that the author belongs to a generation that was born and brought up as a Pakistani, having no traumatic recollections of the partition of 1947. The novel is one of the first creative pursuits addressing the split of our country by a member of this generation.
The story portrays two landscapes. One is the rural feudal setting in Punjab where the intricate human relations, the cruel dominance of the landlords and the psyche of the deprived is beautifully presented. From this locale the two main characters emerge. One is the narrator, who apparently announces his impartiality and assigns himself the task of only compiling a story. Soon we realise that he is an integral part of the central theme. From the same setup, Captain Salim emerges as the central character.
The other landscape is the battlefield of East Pakistan where Capt. Salim with other members of the fighting force approach the shores of Chittagong in a ship, all charged with a throbbing emotion to display their skill and bravery in order to save their country. But as they approach the coastal city, they perceive an air of hostility and enmity which dilutes their idealism into a haunting suspicion -- strong enough to demoralise them.
After they land, there is narrated a series of events which gives the reader a flavour of what happened, both in the battlefield and outside. The story ends with soldiers on a steamer waiting for Captain Salim in the dark of the night. He appears with Muniba, the Bengali wife of his fellow officer, who has fallen in love with him and has decided to leave her spouse, land and people. She is refused passage by other soldiers but helps the wounded Captain on to the boat. In the night of parting, Captain Salim catches a glimpse of Muniba who after being shot rises up, only to settle in the cruel ocean waves.
The following chapters contain a far more captivating narration which addresses the conclusions drawn from this adventure. The author beautifully philosophises the bitter realities and fate of the humans who fight for land both at micro and macroscopic levels. For land, he says, is destined to cover the dead bodies of humans only.
Water and soil are two dominant metaphors which in the perspective of a unified Pakistan convey a certain specific meaning. Soil is solid and firm while water moves restlessly and turns into a cruel tide when disturbed -- a tide which destroys any land.
The novel contains chapters with titles for each one -- a rare method adopted in a short novel. We usually witness such titles in voluminous works. The author could very well do without them. Nevertheless, it's an impressive novel which unfolds the talent of Mohammad Hamid Shahid as a competent novelist. By creatively utilising poetic metaphors in place of flat details he has infused an element of uniqueness in his work. A brace intact officer turns schizophrenic when he gets deprived of love and is haunted by memories of defeat and desertion.
In his incoherent thoughts, he remains fixed to the eternal truth of love and death. The author has affectionately dealt with the human situation and the novel bears a rare quality of becoming an integral part of the memory of any reader of Urdu fiction.
Price Rs 120 Pages 344
'Duniyazad' 18 reached the stands a few weeks back. The Karachi-based magazine is edited and compiled by Asif Farukhi. The current issue accommodates valuable material and is studded with big names of the subcontinent.
Intizar Hussain in his article 'Adab aur Ablagh' tells in his individualistic manner how things used to be. There existed a bond between man and nature and the fantastic tales told were appreciated not only by humans but even birds gathered around dastaan go and wept with him. This metaphorical expression reminds us how things have changed. The man to man and man to nature association has been severed badly. Now fiction and poetry is no more the concern of the humans anymore. Resultantly, the gap that has been created is filled by the critic. Intizar concludes that we need an intervening link between the author and the reader. Hence literature can only be communicated through the medium of criticism, rendering the role of the critic unquestionable. It's an interesting conclusion and provides a unique approach to the issue.
Ishq is an omnipresent element in all literary pursuits but it has been almost exclusively related to Urdu ghazal. A section deals with the subject which includes a fluent and intelligent speech on the issue delivered by Shams-ur-Rehman Faruqi. In a categorical way, Faruqi dismisses the apologetic stance we assume while admitting and recognising this element in our poetry. He subtly points to the different shades of this magnificent emotion and not limiting it to its mijazi context. He documents the validity of his argument by quoting examples.
Shamim Hanafi looks at the subject differently. He rightly concludes that Ishq is a way of life and not an isolated human experience. He also comments that only those poets with exceptional wisdom and artistic command can covert it into a lasting poetic expression. Farhat Ehsas identifies the resonance of this passion in Mir's poetry in a well written article.
Zafar Iqbal maintains his prolificity both in poetry and criticism. His ghazals included in the journal remind one of the imagery which characterise his ghazals in 'Gul Aftaab'. All his three articles are interesting: One points out a mistake in Iqbal's couplet; the remaining two revolve around his own contemporaries Intizar Hussain, Nasir Kazmi and Ahmad Mushtaq. While commenting on Intizar Hussain's short stories, he goes a bit too far in declaring him as a simple reproducer of ancient tales. This seems like an over-simplification. Intizar has no doubt utilised these dastaans but has added his own 'impurity to the gold' to announce his individuality and prove and produce the relevance of his works to his own times. It is difficult to dismiss Intizar with just a stroke of pen.
Faruqi writes on Ahmad Nadeem Qasmi with a combined sense of love and awe. Farooq Khalid recalls his personal interactions with Qasmi in an interesting manner.
In the ghazal section, Saqi Faruqi remains unique in style but fails to produce a forceful impact one naturally expected from such a seasoned poet. Anwar Shaur keeps his typical style and content intact while Ahmad Javed impresses by giving a Persian tinge to his poetry. Irfan Sattar in his ghazal seems to consolidate the features of his own diction in the process of development. Mohammad Ali Manzar comes out with ghazals which emit an aroma of freshness. Another promising poet Zulfiqar Aadel is also included.
The section on nazm is simply marvellous. All poets displayed exceptional brilliance with Fahmida Riaz, Sehar Ansari, Nasreen Anjum Bhatti and Nahid Qamar standing out. Inam Nadeem competently translates the Punjabi poems by Amar Jeet Chandan, a poet of quality and style. Among short stories Altaf Fatima has produced a good piece. Nayyar Masood is known as a magical realist but in his short story 'Khaliq Abad', though he infuses an element of mystery but falls far short of standards set by himself in his previous works. More than 100 pages are reserved for foreign literature. Farukhi deserves special appreciation for his commitment and talent of bringing out a standard journal on a regular basis.
Jean-Paul Sartre's play 'Huis Clos' depicts an unusual version of Hell sans torture tools and the burning marl
By Asmah Ahmad Hyat
Eventually all of us are either going to hell or heaven. Clearly more are headed to the former than to the latter. Thus, over the centuries, in quest of more information on mankind's final destination, many have searched to define what it will be like. Religious manuals have described hell in graphic details, aiming to forewarn humanity of what they can expect if they err. The Christian and Muslim Hell is fiery and endless. The Hindu Hell is ruled by death gods. The Jews call it Gehennah. Hells are often populated with demons, tormenting the damned.
Modern understandings often depict it abstractly.
In my quest to better understand this plausible destination ultime, what I did not find in the works of Michelangelo, Dante, Milton, C.S.Lewis, I stumbled upon in a small, simply written book by a man called Jean-Paul Sartre.
Although not a religious man, Sartre was fascinated by the idea of hell, a permanent state of suffering. He set off on his quest researching what led man to Hell. According to Sartre, human beings are terrifyingly free. We are responsible for the choices we make; we are responsible for our emotional lives
His theory of Existentialism stemmed from this very idea. It is a concept he propagated and made popular through his works.
"Man can will nothing unless he has first understood that he must count on no one but himself; that he is alone, abandoned on earth in the midst of his infinite responsibilities, without help, with no other aim than the one he sets himself, with no other destiny than the one he forges for himself on this earth." (from L' tre et le Ne´ant / Being and Nothingness, 1943)
But when man errs and shuns his 'infinite responsibilities' and commitments on Earth, he chooses Hell.
I found Sartre's version of Hell refreshingly different in the beginning of his book 'Huis Clos' (No Exit). The name in French signifies a closed room. Just four walls. There are only four characters: the Valet, Garcin, Estelle, and Ine´s. The entire play takes place in a drawing room, Second Empire style, with a massive bronze ornament on the mantelpiece. One by one the Valet escorts the others in. He goes and comes as he pleases and does not answer when called for.
Garcin, a pacifist publicist (the book was written in 1944) enters first. He asks, "where are the instruments of torture?". He knows he is in hell and expects torture. The Valet leaves him alone, asking how he could believe in such silly stories about Hell.
Slowly he discovers the method of torture. There are no mirrors on the wall, he is dying to see what he looks like. He cannot. This is a man who loves only himself and is being deprived of a vision of himself. He cannot blink. A blink is a break. This hell is continuous. There is no respite. No sleep. The lights stay on. There are no books, only a paper knife....
Enter Ine´s. A deceased postal worker. She assumes Garcin is the torturer. They spend a long time sorting out the confusion. In comes Estelle, a beauty whom Ine´s would have wished to welcome with flowers. The thing is, there are no flowers. It is stuffy.
She complains about how shabby the sofa is, how uncomfortable the setting. She wants to apply some lipstick. Again there is no aid to her vanity. No mirrors.
They wait for the suffering to begin wondering,"what is going to happen?" The uncertainty is overwhelming so they swap stories of who they were to while away the time. They omit the reasons for being here at first but little by little they trap each other into telling their stories.
Garcin used to torture his wife incessantly, coming home night after night smelling of drink and women. Estelle married a man old enough to be her father and killed the child they had together. Tortured, he shot himself in the face. Ine´s killed her lover Florence and her new partner in a fit of jealousy.
They all know each other inside out by this time. Each of them blames the other for having erred. They question each other's morality. The accused is incapable of effective defense. After all they are in hell for having sinned!
Gradually all links to their previous existence are severed. Their universe is now what surrounds them. And then they begin to discover a pattern to it all:
Estelle: I'm looking at you two and thinking that we're going to live together. It's absurd. I expected to meet old friends, or relatives.... It's mere chance that has brought us together.
Ine´s: Mere chance? (....) I tell you they've thought it all out. Down to the last detail. Nothing was left to chance. This room was all set for us.
Estelle: So it was all fixed up beforehand?
Ine´s Yes. And they've put us together deliberately.
They discover the reason soon enough. In this private hell of theirs, each one is the others' torturer. Garcin and Estelle cannot have each other as Ine´s keeps them in constant jealous scrutiny. They drive each other mad asking questions, reproaching. They cannot kill each other. They are dead already. They are condemned to "this agony of mind, this creeping pain that gnaws and fumbles and caresses one and never hurts quite enough."
When the door suddenly flies open they cannot leave. The uncertainty of what waits on the other side and the fear of being judged by those they leave behind arrests them. The ultimate reality of it all dawns on them
Garcin: You remember all we were told about the torture -- chambers, the fire and brimstone, the "burning marl." Old wives' tales! There's no need for red--hot pokers. HELL IS--OTHER PEOPLE!
As you read the play, put yourself in that drawing room with two people you dislike most in the world. Sartre's version of Hell is hair-raising. Bon Voyage!
No language in the world is more suited to the subtleties of diplomatic equivoque than English. The art of speaking English lies in never saying what you really mean. English is not necessarily a means of communication, not when it comes to parleys between nations because both sides, like Humpty Dumpty, use a word to mean exactly what they choose. Connor Cruise O'Brien, the redoubtable Irish writer and diplomat, once recounted in a television interview, that a U.N. French interpreter was quite out of his depth when he translated a British delegate's carefully phrased speech on self-determination for Cyprus as "When Her Majesty's Government talks about 'independence', it clearly means 'independence' and ...ahem... not independence...." I recall an equally priceless comment made by Anthony Eden, after Britain invaded Egypt in 1956: "Far from being at war", Eden said in the Commons, "Britain and Egypt are only in a state of armed conflict." Such gems are rare to come by.
But it is not just the arena of politics in which the language confounds you. It is understood among the sophisticated circles that if an Englishman says, "We must have lunch one day", he doesn't mean it. Woe betide the unsuspecting foreigner to whom such a remark is addressed. He may feel reasonably pleased about the intended hospitality to be extended to him soon: he may even ring up a couple of days later and try to fix lunch only to receive his first rebuff.
But if the remark has been made to another Englishman, he knows perfectly well that there is an unspoken message which only means that the man who is extending the invitation is telling you, "I am saying this to seem nice, but you are well aware how unlikely it is that we will actually have lunch."
The most commonly heard expression that you hear in pubs, in restaurants, in park benches, or in the sitting rooms of middle class homes is, "You can't believe anything a politician tells you." Nobody trusts a politician (this is true of most societies). If public tolerance of politicians was at a low ebb throughout the 20th century, the Blair era has plummeted it to rock bottom. It is no longer a scenario of shaking your head and saying "One side is as bad as the other." Now you are more likely to hear, "You can't trust either set of bastards."
And yet, silver-haired patricians make impassioned speeches in the Commons about moral rectitude and how, given half a chance, their party's manifesto about putting wrong to right is the most effective and imaginative programme ever conceived. Do they believe that anyone (except their most die-hard followers) takes them seriously? Human nature, being what it is, I think they do.
The system of masking the truth (not only in England but in all those democracies based on Westminster) is so ingrained that every politician is convinced that he is not telling the untruth. It does not take long for anyone in politics to believe that he is an honest, straightforward and highly credible individual. When one of the ministers in Major's Tory government told a Commons select committee that on occasions Parliament is lied to, there was an uproar in the house. Members were shocked not by what he had said but the fact that the minister had told the truth.
In England English is no longer spoken as it used to be. There was a time when the BBC only employed presenters and announcers who could speak Queen's English in plummy voices. Now you hear disc jockeys, anchor men, reporters and newscasters speaking North Country or Brummy or Scouse. Romantics like Simon Montefiore believe that the language of kings and Shakespeare is now proudly spoken only by millions of ordinary sub-continentals. During his travels in Burma, he found beggars and workmen speaking elegant English. The young man who bicycled him around Rangoon wished him goodbye saying, "You are from Golden Britain Sir, I tell my children about your merry kingdom. Oh my heart grieves for Golden Britain."
The most marvellous incident, he recalled, occurred when he was approached by a procurer offering girls: "Guv'nor, would it be important if I were to take the liberty of offering you some virgins?"
"How do you know they are virgins?", he asked.
"I know Guv'nor, I've had them myself."
* * * * *
The greatest culinary revolution that took place in the 20th century was that red meat came to be recognised as the most harmful thing for human health. Vegetarian food, that had been looked upon as a faddist cuisine, became popular. I am, of course, talking of England, for in our part of the world a meal in never considered to be proper unless it includes plenty of meat dishes.
There are two types of vegetarians in England; those who include fish and even an odd sliver of white meat in their diet, and those who avoid eating any living creature. Statistically, they may be in a minority, but their food preferences have influenced the larger, carnivorous population so much so that a few years ago, a million pound campaign was launched to make people aware that meat was a necessity they ought not to ignore.
Gone are the days when food writers advised their readers where to buy an aubergine or what an artichoke looked like. Today, most chain supermarkets sell not only fresh herbs and pesticide-free vegetables, but also free-range eggs and a staggering variety of organically grown potatoes and salad leaves. The attitude of the shoppers has been so transformed that in the posher grocery stores no housewife would dare pick a sack of ordinary 'King Edwards' without first making sure that no one is watching her.
Health-conscious middle classes took to eating vegetables because they had been brain-washed to believe that celery and lettuce was good for them and meat and two veg was bad for them. Today the paths of vegetarianism and concern for healthy living have diverged. A diet of processed cheese, digestives and cream-cakes; or aubergines, artichokes and courgettes may be free of meat but it is now being judged to be unhealthy. Doctors have now come to the conclusion that a wide variety of foods that will include fresh fruit and raw vegetables must also allow occasional indulgence to red meat and chicken. They have based their observations after conducting a thorough research into the eating habits of teenagers and young women -- the group most committed to vegetarianism - who, it so happens, are highly prone to eating disorders.
Cookery programmes in England and America offer you newer and newer methods of preparing vegetable cutlets, spicy aubergines and sauted asparagus, as well as elaborate salads which contain exotic fruits and pasta concoctions doused in the most expensive olive oil. Their creations leave a great deal to be desired, as far I am concerned. The fact is that there is nothing like a tender noisette of lamb.