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Literature over the years

August 09, 2013

Photo by Arif Mahmood/White Star
Photo by Arif Mahmood/White Star

Literature in Pakistan from the very start has been embroiled in controversy. The Progressive Writers’ Movement was at its peak in the early years of the country and it analysed Partition, with particular reference to the Hindu-Muslim riots and the resultant exodus, in light of its ideology. It evolved a line of thought it hoped would be followed not only by the Progressive writers but by other writers as well. Dr Taseer, who was counted among the founding fathers of the movement, eventually differed with this line of thought, resulting in his break from the movement. From among the outsiders, two leading literary critics, Muhammad Hasan Askari and Mumtaz Shirin, were foremost in opposing this ideology as they sensed in it an anti-Pakistan stance. The Progressives had initially been accommodative of Manto, in spite of his independent thinking. But they grew unhappy when this independent thinking, which was not in tune with the movement’s line, found an expression in his stories dealing with the riots. The publication of Siyah Hashiay, a collection of stories about Hindu-Muslim riots, led to an end to his uneasy friendship with the Progressives. The most scathing criticism came from Ahmad Nadeem Qasmi who regarded the book as evidence of Manto’s callousness. Manto paid him back in the sane coin. It led to a heated debate between the Progressives and Manto who enjoyed the support of Askari and Mumtaz Shirin. Nevertheless, it was creatively a rich period. In the field of fiction, the Progressive sisters Hajra Masroor and Khadija Masroor were actively writing short stories. In addition to her short stories, Khadija also wrote a novel titled Aangan. Qurratulain Hyder came out with her first novel, Mairay Bhi Sanamkhany, which had a modernist touch and a romantic air. But it stood condemned in the eyes of the Progressives because of its so called decadence and sympathy with the bourgeoisie. During those years, Aziz Ahmad’s novel Aisi Bulandi, Aisi Pasti also came out. After a lapse of long years, the age of the novel appeared to have returned. Ashfaq Ahmad and A. Hameed were two promising short-story writers who made their appearance in those years. Keeping in view the literary scene of India as well, I would say that the dominating figure of Krishan Chandr had retreated a little. It was now time for Manto and Bedi to dominate the Urdu short story. As for poetry, Faiz, after a long silence, came out with his famous poem steeped in sorrow:

Of course, in some quarters the poem was seen as an expression of frustration at the birth of Pakistan. On the other hand, the hawks in the ranks of the Progressives found it lacking in commitment to the surkh savaira, the red dawn. But the poem went on to touch the hearts of sensitive people. A new voice was also heard in the domain of ghazal.

This voice was of Nasir Kazmi. About him, Askari Sahib wrote that here is a poet who has succeeded in capturing in his ghazal the experience of our age, an age tainted with bloody riots and mass exodus across the line of divide. Another voice echoing the sufferings of uprooted people was heard in mushairas. This voice was of Zehra Nigah, who captured the attention of people in a dramatic way. But this short period humming with creative activity and ideological controversies came to an abrupt end under the pressures of what is now known as the Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case. There was an unexpected and sudden round-up of Progressive writers. Faiz was now behind bars, facing the case of his involvement in a conspiracy against the government of Pakistan. It was a bad omen for literature. For a while, all literary activity appeared suspended and Askari Sahib said that literature in Pakistan is now a stagnant pool. Our literary scene took some time to recover from this shock but near the end of the ’50s some new trends started appearing. The long trend of realism in fiction seemed to be giving way to a new mode of expression known as symbolism. The imposition of martial law accentuated this new trend and the ghazal was quick in reacting to the new situation.

So said Anjum Romani. And listen to what Nasir Kazmi wrote on this occasion:

It was during these years that Qurratulain Hyder published Aag ka Dariya, emerging as a novelist possessed with a new sensibility who employed a new mode of expression to say something which went far beyond the immediate socio-political situation. Aag Ka Dariya gave a boost to the novel. Soon Abdullah Hussain came out with Udas Naslain and was immediately recognised as a major novelist. Jameela Hashmi had already won recognition for her short novel Atish-i-Rafta and later she came out with Dasht-i-Soos, which may be regarded as her representative novel. Ikramullah is better known for his novel Gurg-i-Shab, and of all the short stories and novels Bano Qudsiya wrote, Raja Gidh grew popular to the extent of becoming a bestseller. But the novelist who is a bestseller in the true sense is Mustansar Husain Tarar, whose every novel enjoys immense popularity. This age may also be seen as that of experimentation. The short story in the hands of the new writers was first recognised as alamati afsana, which soon turned into what they called tajridi afsana, the abstract short story in the footsteps of abstract painting. In the realm of poetry, the experiment of nai lisani tashkilat should be seen as the brainchild of Iftikhar Jalib. It started with him and ended with Zafar Iqbal, who has not found anyone to follow him. But the experiment of prose-poem went well thanks to the missionary zeal of Mubarik Ahmad. And in spite of the dismissive attitude of senior poets, it has come to stay as a modern mode of poetic expression. The age of Gen Ziaul Haq is best known in our literary world as the age of resistance literature. The post-Ziaul Haq period may be seen as an era of feminist writing, which still persists with a long line of female poets such as Kishwar Naheed, Zehra Nigah, Fahmida Riaz, Fatima Hasan and so on. They drew inspiration from the feminist movement in the country and turned into standard bearers of this cause in literature. The closed girls’ schools of Swat have added a new dimension to this cause.