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‘Love in the time of terrorism’

December 02, 2013

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KARACHI, Dec 1: The sixth International Urdu Conference concluded at the Arts Council, Karachi, on Sunday evening resonating with one of the two keynote speakers, Intizar Husain’s, remarks that the moot could be called “love in the time of terrorism”.

He said the phrase was inspired by the title of a Gabriel Garcia Marquez book ‘Love in the Time of Cholera’. He lauded the efforts of the conference’s organisers and congratulated the city of Karachi for doing a good job. He told the attendees though Lahore too hosted such events none were bigger than their Karachi counterpart. Referring to a brilliant performance earlier by Zia Mohyeddin he said it was a testimony to the fact that Urdu was a powerful language. He said a group of rebels in a jungle in India were found reciting a Faiz Ahmed Faiz poem which was another example of Urdu’s prowess.

Indian scholar Prof Dr Shamim Hanafi was the other keynote speaker. He began his speech by reading out the couplet: ‘Ye mana zindagi hai chaar din ki/ Buhat hote hain yaaro chaar din bhi’ (I’m aware that life’s too short; but even that’s enough). He said literature and art were produced in isolation but they reached a larger audience. It was up to those who set directions for society to realise that. He expressed his happiness over the presence of the younger generation at the conference because it rejuvenated his spirits as a man of letters. He said art and literature moved at leisurely speed but did bring about change.

Speaker Sindh Assembly Agha Siraj Durrani, who was the chief guest, MQM’s Farooq Sattar, Faisal Sabzwari, Haider Abbas Rizvi and President Arts Council Ahmed Shah also spoke. The following resolutions, among others, were passed on the occasion: a creative environment was not possible without peace; women and minorities should get their rights; and the books that were being wasted at government libraries should be better looked after.

Prior to the final session, artist Zia Mohyeddin spellbound literature buffs with his recitation and reading of pieces from Urdu prose and poetry. He chose prose excerpts from different phases of Urdu literature that ranged from Tilism-i-Hoshruba to a hilarious Ibn-i-Insha nugget on how to come up with fancy names for children. Mohyeddin’s selection of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan’s essay was particularly noteworthy. It was about how people engaged in uncultured, vociferous debates like dogs, subtly hinting at the kind of talk shows that these days one witnessed on local television. The master stroke came at the end when he recited N M Rashid’s celebrated poem ‘Gumaan Ka Mumkin’. The way he made the convoluted nazm sound accessible to the audience was pretty special.

Earlier, an appreciation ceremony of a book ‘Challenges of History Writing in South Asia: A Special Volume in Honour of Dr Mubarak Ali’ edited by Dr Syed Jaffer Ahmed was held. Indian historian Prof Harbans Mukhia, who presided over the event, said he met Dr Mubarak Ali for the first time more than 25 years ago through a mutual friend Ahmed Raza Khan. By that time Dr Ali had published his theses on Mughal Darbar which he had already read. As he got to know him better, Dr Ali’s movement against ‘firqa parasti’ impressed him. Such a movements was difficult to have in India but was more difficult in Pakistan. In India, historians for a long time focused their debates on whether Hindus were mistreated by Muslims or it was otherwise. Both strands of thinking ran parallel to each other.

Prof Mukhia said Marxism made a big difference in India as the focus was shifted to class disparities. After the 1980s and ‘90s another change occurred. Historians began to analyse things in contexts such as ‘history of emotions’, ‘history of space’ and ‘history of love’. He praised Dr Ali for being courageous and for showing determination in his work. He said Dr Ali made his readers learn to question things which were once deemed unquestionable such as the two-nation theory. He argued partition had deprived the subcontinent of a ‘world view’ and added the way we looked at history (from the time he was a student to the time when he retired from the JNU in 2004) had changed.

Dr Mubarak Ali thanked those who had arranged the event and argued that decadence which one saw in Pakistan’s educational institution had impacted on historiography as well.

Dr Jaffer Ahmed said the book was a festschrift, honouring Dr Ali and his works, and had eight invaluable theses by Pakistani scholars and six by Indian.

Buland Sohail said Dr Ali had the vision to offer the people an alternative history. He breathed life into the unknown history of the people and had led a practical movement. He compared him to the renowned historian Howard Zinn, the author of ‘A People’s History of the United States’.

Karamat Ali said Dr Ali managed to break many a taboo, discussing subjects like the two-nation theory. He taught us that history could be a tool to improve people’s lives.

Tasneem Siddiqui said Dr Ali’s body of work had assumed the significance of an institution; sadly, he wasn’t appreciated at the official level.

The first session of the last day was on the 100-year journey of Urdu fiction in which Zahida Hina, Asif Farrukhi, Ali Haider Malik, Mohammad Hameed Shahid, Dr Mustufa Husain and Akhlaq Ahmed read out their papers. Writers Intizar Husain, Asad Mohammad Khan, Masood Ashar and Hasan Manzar presided over the segment. The highlight of the session was Asad Mohammad Khan’s short story that he presented in his presidential address. It revolved around two friends (one, an alcoholic poet who lived in Garden East, and the other Hafiz Yousuf who provided him with a regular supply of alcohol).