By Intizar Husain
HERE is the autobiography of an uprooted soul, a man who felt little attraction for the land he was born in. It was only after his migration at the age of 20 that he, while settled in Karachi, slowly and gradually developed a sense of loss. The haunting memory of the lost land started disturbing him and he embarked on a journey to rediscover and narrate the story of that land.
This is what Anwar Ahsan Siddiqui writes in his autobiography, penned during the last few years of his life. It has been published under the title Dil-i-Pur Khoon Ki ik Gulabi Sai by Scheherazade press.
The autobiography is unknowingly divided into two parts, the first portraying the lost land and the other the writer’s account of his time spent in Pakistan, with particular reference to his experiences as a leftist activist.
Siddiqui’s memory is brimming with remembrances of the past — a rich memory delving into the minute details of events long gone. There are graphic descriptions of the vast ancestral house, spacious enough to accommodate a large number of relations including distantly related old women, each with idiosyncrasies of their own.
Among the occasional visitors were the dancing girls called dominis, who, as depicted by Siddiqui, made their appearance on special occasions such as on marriage ceremonies or festivals and entertained the residents of the house with their songs and dances. He quotes bold lines from their songs and the equally bold gestures of their dances.
While talking about the atmosphere of the town in general, Siddiqui in particular mentions the lunatics who stood distinguished amid the crowds in the bazaar and could be seen wandering aimlessly in the streets and lanes, attracting the attention of passers-by.
When describing all this, Siddiqui seems to be reliving his childhood days, recollecting all the moments of joy. The whole atmosphere of the basti, known as Fatehgarh, comes alive with the vibrant culture that Siddiqui paints vividly.
From Fatehgarh to Karachi is indeed a long way. So when we come to the next chapter of the story of Siddiqi’s life we feel a dip. The little boy, well-rooted in the place of his birth and enjoying small pleasures, is left behind. In place of him we see a boy growing older during the long, arduous journey to a distant land, not knowing what is in store for him there. In Karachi we find him bewildered in the new surroundings, trying his best to reconcile with the changed circumstances of his life.
Siddiqui has ably captured this experience of unexpected change and depicts it realistically. Once again, we see his ability to describe life in a graphic manner. He shows us the way of life of the regions left behind.
Karachi was already a city of apartment buildings. As for the huts, they had swiftly cropped up to provide some shelter to the refugees. They demanded from the newcomers a reconciliation with the changed residential conditions. They were required to change in their way of life accordingly. Siddiqui has minutely observed this process of change and has ably described it.
Then we see a shift in Siddiqui’s descriptions, from social conditions to the political situation in Pakistan. He himself was in a constant state of change and flux. He was now involved in politics. His association with the Left led him to become an activist for their cause. The rest of the book is a political statement in which he narrates the activities of the leftists, particularly of the Karachi students allied to them, in the background of the political situation in the country.