Like any other country, Pakistan too has been producing geniuses in various fields.
But this piece is not about them.
It is about those highly talented Pakistani men and women who experienced the flip side of genius: i.e. an awkward and often torturous state of mind that some describe as being a kind of madness.
This is a study of Pakistanis whose lives have been touched by a strain of overt brilliance whose cost has sometimes been mental anguish, social isolation and unfulfilled (or only partially realised) talent.
Born in Rawalpindi, Parvez started his career at the Punjab University. A restless soul, Parvez moved to London in 1955.
Parvez was highly motivated to increase awareness of the new developments in painting he witnessed in London and consequently attempted to integrate Modernism into Pakistani art.
In the late 1960s Ahmed returned to Pakistan and moved to Karachi. Across the 1970s Parvez rose to become one of the country’s premier artists and a huge influence in the then thriving art scene of the city.
In spite of being surrounded by young admirers, Parvez remained to be restless and impatient, never satisfied.
His lifestyle became increasingly erratic. Nonchalant about being hailed as a genius by art critics in the UK, US and Pakistan and able to sell well his work, a contemporary noted that Ahmed treated money ‘as if he hated it.’
Most of it was spent on alcohol and this attracted ‘free loaders’. However, sick of the company he was attracting, Ahmed began frequenting the various Sufi shrines of Karachi.
Though he had already experimented with drugs like LSD and hashish in London, he became a habitual hashish user at Karachi’s famous Abdullah Shah Ghazi shrine in the Clifton area.
In fact by the mid-1970s, Ahmed could be seen exchanging hash pipes with fakirs at the shrine. But he continued to paint prolifically.
A 1970 Modernist painting by Ahmad Parvez that was successfully exhibited in various renowned galleries of the UK and the US.
Art critic, Zubaida Agha, in an essay on Ahmed Parvez writes that the more fame Parvez gathered the more erratic and ‘unhealthy’ his lifestyle became.
By the late 1970s he was almost permanently staying at the Abdullah Shah Ghazi shrine.
A Lahore-based artist, Maqbool Ahmed, who was a student at the Lahore College of Arts in the late 1970s, told me how he came to Karachi to meet his idol, Ahmed Parvez, but was shocked at what he found: ‘This was 1978. Parvez was a mess. He didn’t even acknowledge my praise and presence.’
Maqbool said Parvez could have made millions: ‘He did make some money but it seemed he wasn’t interested. He behaved as if he was selling his soul to people who had no clue what his art was all about. Perhaps, it was this guilt that drove him into the hands of the fakirs.’
Even when in 1978 the government bestowed upon him the prestigious Pride of Performance Award, Parvez continued his bizarre lifestyle.
Then it happened. And no one was surprised.
In early 1979, Ahmed was found dead on the grounds of the Abdullah Shah Ghazi shrine. He was 53.
Lamenting Parvez’s self-imposed isolation and destructive lifestyle, an art critic writing for DAWN in 1979 added that ‘Ahmed Parvez still had another 20 years of genius left in him.’
But perhaps, it was this genius that so tragically sealed his fate as well?
______________________________Saadat Hasan Manto
Today hailed as one of the sharpest and most insightful Urdu short-story writers, Manto reflected the many traits found in the characters he created for his stories: Men and women with a desire to settle in settings that continued to seem alien and even hostile to their mental and emotional dispositions.
Born in colonial India, Manto produced the most compelling stories.
The partition of India into two separate countries baffled him and this bafflement became a regular theme in some of his most enduring short stories.
Though, a progressive in his politics, Manto could not fit into the fold of the famous ‘Progressive Writers Movement’ (PWM) that was churning out literature to initiate socio-political change.
It was the language and the imagery that he used in his stories that many of his progressive contemporaries could not come to terms with. They found them to be ‘crude,’ leaving Manto free to become what he really was: An uncompromising individualist.
Divorced by the ways of the PWM, Manto continued producing stories about misunderstood, and at times painfully inarticulate individuals trying to come to terms with the meaningless violence and the sudden (and at times bizarre) feelings of separation that followed the 1947 partition of India.
Abandoned by his progressive contemporaries, Manto soon found himself facing a barrage of accusations by religious outfits and the government.