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KARACHI: Feminist writings, their detractors discussed

June 11, 2003

KARACHI: An evening at 13th Book mela with the sparks of wit and humour coming from Mushtaq Ahmad Yusfi and Ahmad Faraz, who had probably come to be a part of the mela from Islamabad, was quite luminous.

Fahmida Riaz, Fatema Hasan and Asif Farrukhi, the co-authors of the book ‘Khamoshi Ki Awaz’, Mobin Mirza, Razia Fasih Ahmad and others came to join the evening a bit late.

The discussion among the writers moved on one basic contention that the women poets, writers and creative artists throughout the literary history had been generally ignored, debased discriminated, unacknowledged, unfairly treated and taken as one from some inferior breed.

Fahmida, whose satirical article is part of the book, was most critical when she said, “The critics do not value the poetry or creative prose of a woman writer, pass it on patronizingly, and at times sarcastically comment on her looks and lifestyle rather than value them for serious judgment.” She quoted critics Waris Alvi and Zamiruddin Ahmad, who devalued the work of eminent writers like Qurratulain Haider. Fahmida also mentioned such scholarly women writers, who had been totally ignored by male critics.

The topic emerging from the book was, earlier, introduced by Asif Farrukhi and forcefully supported by Fatema and to some extent accepted by Ahmad Faraz, who said, “Such an attitude from some male writers only speaks of their gender bias and has nothing to do with literature. The time will come when the invaluable contribution of women writers will be acknowledged,” he said. Supporting his views, Fatema said, “We are trying to bring that time closer.”

Razia Fasih Ahmad, who had an admiration for Fahmida’s article that she had already read, said that women were more sensitive than their male counterparts. The unjust treatment towards women writers was in fact a social problem, she added. But women, to her mind were “not totally ignored”.

Literature cannot be divided on gender basis, Ahmad Faraz said and added that there could be no male or female literature. Actually it was the attitude, which created problems. There were so many male writers and poets ignored and also maligned by the critics. He quoted Josh Malihabadi, who had to suffer a lot because of their detractors.

Earlier, Fahmida in defence of the feminist writings quoted the examples of ‘Dalit’ literature from India and the Black literature from North America only to prove that the Indian Dalits and the Black Americans had to work hard to establish their separate and distinct identities, because they were being ignored for centuries. So were the women writers in our cultural environ, she contented.

‘Look, I am not a woman and yet they have not written a word about me,” remarked Mushtaq Ahmad Yusfi laughingly to the amusement of everyone. But, he was serious when he said that among the five noted critics in Karachi, not a single critic had written on his writings during the last 25 years. He was unhappy to find that the remarks on the book covers and the adolatory comments in the books were taken as “literary criticism” — and regretted the writer’s indulgence in self-praise while denigrating the others. He suggested laughingly that at least a ten-year embargo on the ghazal writing should be imposed for better health of poetry.

No one should expect any revolution from any book whatsoever, Mushtaq Yusfi remarked. He said that the days of the French Revolution had gone since long, so, if a change was to happen it would emerge through a political action. He recalled that the presence of around 70 women members in the parliament was not due to a feminist movement, but it was because of a political move.

Fahmida quoted “The Clash of Civilisations” by Samuel Hungtingtan and “The End of History” by Ziring, the two books which shook the world with the message that something was going to happen before the 9/11 disaster.

At the outset, Qaiser Zaidi welcomed the guests at the 13th Summer Book mela thronged by the buyers, vying for the autographs from the writers sitting there in the narrow corner of the shop, christened as ‘Gosha-i-Yusfi’.—Hasan Abidi