DAWN - Features; November 10, 2001

Published November 10, 2001

Recalling Mumtaz Mufti: LAHORE LITERARY SCENE

By Ashfaque Naqvi

THE senior most writer of the country at the time, Mumtaz Mufti, passed away in October, 1995. Since then his death anniversary has been observed in different cities of the country under the aegis of a trust created in his memory by his son, Uxi, who needs no introduction, in collaboration with one of his ardent admirers and disciples, Abdal Bela, an army doctor and also a short story writer.

The same trust orgnaized a function in a prestigious hotel of the city. The hall was overcrowded with guests. Quite a few had come down all the way from Islamabad. It was at this function that I met some old friends after a very long time. One of them was the filmmaker and poet, Sarwar Bhatti, who was not attending the function but standing in the doorway waiting for someone, or something, who told me that Ashfaq Ahmad and others had already passed that way. The other was Anwar Zahidi, an Islamabad-based physician and scion of a family of writers. He is himself an eminent short story writer and translator of English books, the best of which is the autobiography of Pablo Neruda.

In the beginning of his literary career, Mumtaz Mufti was considered a non-conformist writer having liberal views. Like Mumtaz Shireen he appeared influenced by Freud. As Ashfaq Ahmad, a close friend, once said before partition, Mumtaz Mufti used to read unpopular literature and even novels by a Swedish writer. he disliked the partition plan but later became a patriotic Pakistani and defender of Islam and its principles. His main transformation from a liberal to a hardline sufi came about after he came under the influence of Qudratullah Shahab. All the same, he did manage to retain his individual accent and wrote on subjects which were frowned upon by the conservative elements in society. However, in his book, Labbaik, a reportage of his Haj pilgrimage, he seems to be the victim of hallucinations. I have myself prayed with others in the Masjid-i-Nabvi many a time but never saw a seven-foot shaheed of the Jang-i-Uhud sitting next to me as mentioned by Mumtaz Mufti. However, in his book, Talash, regarded by some to be his best, he has highlighted the true spirit of Quranic teachings.

The personality and writings of Mumtaz Mufti are many splendored. Always behaving like an elderly teacher and guide, he had a soft corner for women writers and always encouraged them. No wonder that Parveen Atif and Neelam Ahmad Bashir, besides many others, were in the forefront that evening receiving the guests and conducting them to their seats. Prof Nazir Ahmad, who was one of the speakers that day, has written a 654-page book under the title, Fiction-nigar: Mumtaz Mufti. No other author, I think, has had the honour of having a more voluminous book written in critical appreciation of his work. But Kishwar Naheed has her own way of looking at things. In a detailed review of the book, she has both appreciated and criticized the learned critic. She says Mumtaz Mufti had plenty of human weaknesses as well but the author has only mentioned that which is good about him.

The proceedings started with Ahmad Bashir occupying the presidential chair flanked by Ashfaq Ahmad, Bano and Uxi. But as it always happens, such functions tend to get too long; they drag on and on. The main culprit was Aqeel Ruby who was conducting the proceedings. He consumed a lot of time by his glib talk and unnecessarily long and oblique literary references, probably in an effort to prove that he was a very well read person. Then some others, equally in love with their own voice, made some boring, rather exasperating speeches. One of them started with 1905 and kept tracing the 91 years of Mumtaz Mufti’s life in a monotone. It was only Col Abdal Bela, the compiler of a 1,600-page book on Mumtaz Mufti, who confined himself to relevant details, spoke about how and why the Mumtaz Mufti Trust was formed, and how, while posted at Multan, he was instrumental in getting a prominent city road named after the great writer and a library hall dedicated to his name.

However, when Aqeel Ruby announced that he had received a long list of those who also wanted to come up and speak. I saw agony on the face of the chief steward of the hotel. He went up to the stage and whispered something in the ear of one of the organizers. It was evidently to tell him that if all those people were be allowed to wield the mike, they would overshoot the time allotted to them for use of the hall. At the same time, I saw many people vacating their seats and rushing towards the exit. I also joined them.

Most of the people had come to listen to Ahmad Bashir and Ashfaq Ahmad but were denied the pleasure by the harangues of others.

* * * * * * * *

I AM always happy to read about awards given out to writers and the monetary benefit accruing to them for their work. The recent Kamal-i-Fun awards have gone to Mushtaq Ahmad Yousfi and Ahmad Faraz for prose and poetry, respectively. I understand Yousfi has donated half his prize to the Edhi Foundation and the other half to the Shaukat Khanum Hospital. I don’t know what Faraz has done about it as I hear that he is somewhere abroad and in a hospital. I wish him an early recovery.

Now these awards are for books of poetry and prose. For poetry, it is understandable but there is a lacuna in the one for prose. This part of literature comprises literary criticism, novel, short story, humour, inshaiya, drama, travelogue and biography. Now how can a book of humour be compared with a biography?

* * * * * * * *

IT is common on Western countries to produce a publication informing the readers about the recently published material available in the market and providing them with a brief review of each. I was, therefore, surprised to see a similar publication in Urdu, Book Post, edited by Asim Butt and Hameed Shahid. However, I think it is the brainchild of Aamir Riaz, a local publisher who is shown as its managing editor.

The contents of the publication have been neatly divided into different sections such as literature, politics, history, journalism, Punjab and so on.

* * * * * * *

KANWAL Feroz, now with a doctorate under his belt, is becoming a better poet by the day. Here are two verses of his from the monthly Shadaab:

Aashiqon ki dua muhabbat heh

Maan jao khuda muhabbat heh

Voh jo eeman say bhi heh barrh kar

Mein nein us say kaha muhabbat heh.

A disappointing exercise!: DATELINE HYDERABAD

By Aziz Malik

THE people of the Hyderabad district must pay dearly for their choice of the representatives in the first local government election under the devolution plan. Barring a few, these representatives are not highly qualified. Members of the district council are supposed to be the cream of the district because they are the elected Nazims of their respective union councils and leaders of the working class, women and minorities.

The first casualty is the English language. At the first meeting of the district council held on Sept 10 — it was an informal meeting to introduce the members to each other — a councillor demanded of the house to ban the use of English because , in his opinion, it was the language of the “Kala Angrez’ (the black Englishman).

No one took him seriously because almost all of them were talking at one time. However, convener Nawab Rashid Ali Khan, a former provincial minister and MPA, had allowed the members to express themselves as freely as they would like, for everything was supposed to be off the record in absence of a regular agenda. Thus the entire talking revolved round one point, i.e. facilities for and privileges of the members.

The first regular meeting of the district council, which will be named district assembly on July 1 next year, was held on Nov 29 and was no better than the introductory meeting. Most surprisingly, one of points of the agenda spoke of “confirmation of the minutes of the last meeting”. This was unnecessary because the previous meeting had no agenda — it was just an introductory meeting.

However, it gave an opportunity to Abdul Majeed Wahidi to complain that the minutes had not been recorded properly as the words “Kala Angrez” had not been mentioned in his resolution against the use of the English language in the house. He insisted that all proceedings should be recorded in Urdu and Sindhi but the house remained indifferent to his pleadings, did not clap or applaud as he looked around.

This was not because of any sympathy for the English language but because there was a pandemonium in the house. Whether anyone took any notice or not is another matter and the members did not care less, but the fact is that the lingua franca of the world was killed and buried by the district council here on Oct 29, 2001, in absence of the district Nazim, Dr Makhdoom Rafiquzzaman, one of the greatest exponents of the English language.

The irony is that the district Nazim is making concerted efforts to promote English in all educational institutions of the district. He is planning to introduce English at the primary level. His interest in promoting the English language can be judged from the fact that at a meeting with the Sindh education secretary, Nazar Hussain Mahar, the other day, he had emphasized the need for appointing trained English teachers in every school.

And who says that English is the language of “Gora Angrez” or “Kala Angrez?” It is the language of the world and is synonymous with progress and knowledge. One could say without any fear of contradiction that even the children of the majority of our elected representatives are studying in English schools. It was a sad experience witnessing the proceedings of the would-be district assembly of the historic district of Hyderabad.

On Oct 30, which was the second day of the session, many newspapers had shrieked “fish market” and there was no exaggeration about it. The district council hall on Oct 29 had been turned into a fish market. Everyone was trying to score points on the arrest of Lala Zahid Pathan, the Nazim of union council No. 2, Tando Allahyar, who was picked up by the police in a murder case.

They said the Nazim was not only falsely implicated but was also tortured and stripped by Tando Allahyar SHO Aijaz Tareen and an ASI. They criticized the SHO and demanded his dismissal, although the issue was not the agenda. They were so perturbed because it concerned a Nazim of a union council. A subcommittee was also appointed to investigate the matter. It was, however, assumed by the house that an elected member could not commit any offence and that he was above the law. The legal question which the district council completely ignored was whether it had any right even to discuss the matter when it was sub judice.

Even before the verdict of the court, the inquiry committee has recommended the dismissal of SHO Aijaz Tareen and ASI Din Mohammad Mughal. All canons of justice demand that any further action against the police officers should be held in abeyance till the decision of the case by the competent court of law.

The first formal session of the council had started on a wrong note as the members did not take their seats at the scheduled hour although they were present in the veranda, and the session started late by one hour. And when the session started, a large number of members staged a walkout in protest against the arrest of Lala Zahid Pathan after making fiery speeches.

The second walkout was staged by a woman councillor when the convener requested her to sit on the seats reserved for women members. This hurt her “ego” and she staged a walkout with a couple of her supporters. On the second day of the session, convener Nawab Rashid Ali Khan appointed a 14- member house committee to find out ways and means for the election of different committees and procedure to be adopted for running the house in a smooth manner.

The second day session as usual also started late by an hour. The pandemonium was again the order of the day as every member wanted to speak at one and the same time, with or without the permission of the chair on the issue of Lala Zahid Pathan, which continued to haunt the house. Only cordless microphone was arranged and the house is still without proper furniture.

The two sessions of the house which have been held since Aug 14, 2001, have been disappointing and there are no rules of business to conduct the proceedings. One can only hope that our elected representatives will come of age in due course.

‘A war to save our civilization’: TV REVIEW

THE American president, Mr George W Bush, said this in a nationally televised address on Thursday night (seen in Pakistan on Friday morning) adding that in the last two months Americans had lived through a period unlike any other in their history. Now, Mr Bush is not exactly known for his intellect and remarks like these — repeatedly shown on international news channels — prove exactly that.

The British prime minister, Tony Blair, has said on various occasions that the bombings were not a war against Muslims or Islam — a point many people are beginning to question but simply a war against “terrorism” (why leave out the Irish Republican Army in this, then?). However, remarks like Mr Bush’s give the distinct impression as if the war is certainly being fought to preserve (as he has said ad nauseum) “the American way of life” or to save civilization. Clearly, the sort of civilization that is being saved does not allow for people with long beards — unless of course they happen to be rabbis living in New York and clergymen associated with the Orthodox church — or people who look Middle Eastern or Asian and live in mud houses or, better still, in caves.

The non-civilized part of the world is presumably non-European by definition and does not speak English, or French, or Spanish. In addition to that, the civilization that Mr Bush wants to be saved is based on principles of democracy, individual liberty and reason and logic as expounded by people like John Stuart Mill, Hobbes, Rousseau, Descartes and of course their spiritual ancestors Plato, Socrates and Aristotle. Clearly, Afghanistan’s cultural antecedents do not have such pedigree, the only distinctly European connection is through Alexander who was — according to some experts — the first person to conquer it. The fact that many Afghans — probably after they have shaved off their beards and worn western dresses — could easily pass of for, at least, like people from southern Europe does not really matter in the scheme of things because they are not Christians nor Europeans which means it’s ok to bomb them.

So if Mr Bush believes that the “war against terror” is being fought to save ‘civilization’ then he should come out in the open and say what the critics have been saying all along: that it in fact really is a war against a civilization, perhaps a civilization that is intolerant and at times violent, but then is America all that tolerant or non-violent?

To quote from Robert Fisk of Independent: “So why on earth are all my chums on CNN and Sky and the BBC rabbiting on about the ‘air campaign’, ‘coalition forces’ and the ‘war on terror’? Do they think their viewers believe this twaddle? Certainly Muslims don’t. In fact, you don’t have to spend long in Pakistan to realize that the Pakistani press gives an infinitely more truthful and balanced account of ‘war’... than The New York Times; and all this, remember, in a military dictatorship. The Beirut daily As-Safir ran a widely-praised editorial asking why an Arab who wanted to express the anger and humiliation of millions of other Arabs was forced to do so from a cave in a non-Arab country... Again, Muslims have been outraged by the hypocrisy of the West’s supposed ‘respect’ for Islam. We are not, so we have informed the world, going to suspend military operations in Afghanistan during the holy fasting month of Ramazan. After all, the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq conflict continued during Ramazan. So have Arab-Israeli conflicts. True enough. But why, then, did we make such a show of suspending bombing on the first Friday of the bombardment last month out of our ‘respect’ for Islam? There is another disturbing argument I hear in Pakistan. If, as Mr Bush claims, the attacks on New York and Washington were an assault on a ‘civilization’, why shouldn’t Muslims regard an attack on Afghanistan as a war on Islam?

“The Pakistanis swiftly spotted the hypocrisy of the Australians. While itching to get into the fight against Mr bin Laden, the Australians have sent armed troops to force destitute Afghan refugees out of their territorial waters. The Aussies want to bomb Afghanistan — but they don’t want to save the Afghans. Pakistan, it should be added, hosts 2.5 million Afghan refugees. Needless to say, this discrepancy doesn’t get much of an airing on our satellite channels.”

POSTSCRIPT: For all its grumbling against Al Jazeera, the Americans finally have come to realize its potential. This past week, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Air Force Gen Richard Myers gave an interview to the network. — OMAR R QURAISHI



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