KARACHI, Nov 29: The presence of ace novelist Abdullah Hussain, scholar Dr Nomanul Haq, novelist, travelogue writer Mustansar Hussain Tarar and eminent artist Zia Mohyeddin on Friday at the Arts Council of Pakistan made the second day of the sixth International Urdu Conference worth remembering.

The first session of the day, presided over by Satyapal Ananad, was on contemporary Urdu poetry. Those who spoke on the subject were Khurshid Rizvi, Prof Sahar Ansari, Shahida Hasan, Ziaul Hasan, Fatima Hasan and Khwaja Razi Haider. Interesting points were raised during the discussion, especially with regard to prose poetry.

The mood of the programme shifted in the evening with the session dedicated to the memory of those critics, poets and writers who had recently passed away. It was presided over by Prof Dr Zafar Iqbal and broadcaster Raza Ali Abidi. Artist Zia Mohyeddin read out a piece on his friend, guru and cousin Daud Rahbar. He reminisced about the time when he was a boy looking up to the elder cousin as well as accompanying him on the tabla when he sang a classical raga in a ‘kothi’ in Lahore. He said Mr Rahbar had started writing poetry at a very young age. His mother died when he was three years old. At the time, two characteristics of his personality stood out: a happy go lucky (khilandra) boy and an intellectually inclined young man. He would also take part in literary meetings and visit places like Pak Tea House. He was so learned that even as a teenager he would teach the finer points of poetry to a middle-aged aspiring poet from Rohtak. Then he went to Cambridge which brought about a sartorial change in his life. Back in his country, allegations were levelled against him, because of which he left his homeland and settled in the US. He wrote many books, including Sureeli Baatein.

Mr Mohyeddin’s paper was tinged with humour but towards the end, his voice trailed off and he had a lump in his throat. He said Mr Rahbar once in a note to him had advised him not to make grief part of his being (dukhon ko apni zaat mein shamil na kerna).

Dr Nomanul Haq also spoke on Daud Rahbar and touched upon some other intriguing facets of his life. He said he’d known Mr Rahbar for three decades and first met him when the former was at Harvard University. He was a wonderful conversationalist and an expert on the ilm-i-urooz (the metrical or technical side of poetry). He in that respect gave quite a few examples from Ghalib and Iqbal’s poems where Mr Rahbar helped Nomanul Haq understand the metrical intricacies of those poems. He said if he were to tell the audience about two remarkable features of Mr Rahbar’s erudition they would be his eloquence and remarkable letter writing. He then read out excerpts from two of the letters written to him (Nomanul Haq) that illustrated how good a prose writer Mr Rahbar was.

Dr Ayub Sheikh spoke on Sirajul Haq Memon. He said Mr Memon was the pioneer of Sindhi media, a novelist, a short story writer and a journalist. He was 20 when he translated a Krishan Chander novel into Sindhi. He was also the one who encouraged literary giant Amar Jaleel to write newspaper columns.

Malahat Awan talked about poetess Shabnam Shakeel and highlighted the role of ‘empathy’ in her life.

Saba Ikram shed light on Mahmood Wajid Hashmi’s life and work and said he was a restless soul (bechaen tabiat) whose modernist stories had strong elements of symbolism and abstraction.

Dr Jaffer Ahmed’s paper was on Dr Mohammad Ali Siddiqi. As a critic, he said, Dr Siddiqi aggressively advocated the progressive cause. He was a very well read man and used his knowledge of other social disciplines to enrich his literary criticism. He had always known the difference between literature and propaganda.

Jazib Qureshi talked about Shafi Aqeel and said he was an eminent journalist who had a profound interest in folk literature.

Prof Dr Zafar Iqbal discussed Dr Farman Fatehpuri’s accomplishments. He said he was a literary journalist and a critic, but most of all was a top-notch researcher.

The third session of the day was in recognition of writer Mustansar Hussain Tarar’s achievements. The segment was hosted by critic Ziaul Hasan and Raza Ali Abidi while Abdullah Hussain spoke on Mr Tarar’s writings.

Abdullah Hussain praised him as a novelist but did not think that his other writings were as good as his novels. He said he’d written on the flap of his novel ‘Bahao’ and termed ‘Raakh’ a great novel. He argued that there were a handful of novelists in Urdu because the genre required immense hard work. After years of work one still needed to revise what one had written. He articulated it meant ‘whether or not you can create a world of imagination’.

Tarar’s address to the audience and response to Ziaul Hasan and Raza Abidi’s questions was laced with wit and learnedness. But he first requested the audience to give a standing ovation to Abdullah Hussain (which it did) and then said he didn’t have a favourite among the novels that he’d penned. He, however, quoting Chinese Nobel laureate Mo Yan, said ‘Bahao’ was one of his novels the likes of which he himself might not be able to write again. He said as he belonged to Punjab, his stories were based in that region. Also, rivers featured in each of his story. People often mentioned the strong female characters that he created. He believed every creative man had a feminine side, and in his case it was 40 per cent of his personality. Those who were 100 per cent men usually wrote about females who were either prostitutes or their beloveds.

Mr Tarar told the audience that once he received a call from a Sikh fellow who lived in Indore. He had read all his books and was interested in knowing that how he in his book ‘Khas o Khashaak Zamaane’ he managed to come up with Sikh characters with accuracy. To which the writer replied one could change one’s religion but culture remained the same.

In relation to his travel writing, Mr Tarar said as he wasn’t a reporter, he wanted to create an overall impact in his travelogues. He said when he went out on a journey, stones and rivers spoke to him. When asked about how much research went into his books, he said it had a big role to play but that shouldn’t become obvious to the reader.

After the session, two books — ‘Abhi Kucch Der Baqi Hai’ by Akhlaq Ahmed and ‘Sarab-i-Manzil’ by A. Khayyam — were launched.

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