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DAWN - Features; July 11, 2006

July 11, 2006

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Ahmad Nadeem Qasmi: versatile and cultured

LAHORE: A versatile writer and one who became a legend in his lifetime, Ahmad Nadeem Qasmi was born in the Anga village in the Khoshab district on Nov 20, 1916.

Coming from a family of saints, Qasmi’s father, Pir Ghulam Nabi, was widely known as a Majzoob. Qasmi or Ahmad Shah as he was then known, passed his matriculation examination from Sheikupura in 1931 and did his graduation from the Sadiq Egerton College, Bahawalpur, in 1935. He adopted Nadeem as his literary name and derived the last part of his name from his grandfather, Muhammad Qasim. After remaining jobless for some years, he was employed with the Reforms Commissioner, Lahore, as a clerk, later, he joined the excise department in 1939 as a sub-inspector. However, he found the job much against his temperament and resigned in 1942, taking up employment with the Darul-Ishaat headed by Maulvi Mumtaz Ali and his son Imtiaz Ali Taj. Qasmi was then taken on as editor Phool, a children’s magazine, and Tehzeeb-i-Niswan. Meanwhile, he also started editing the literary magazine Adab-i-Lateef.

In 1946 when the Pakistan movement had inspired the Muslims of the subcontinent, Ahmad Nadeem Qasmi joined the Punjab Muslim League as a whole-time worker. Later in the year he was appointed at All India Radio, Peshawar, as a script writer. However a year later, he returned to Lahore to join the monthly Sawera and thus returned to literary journalism, which was his driving passion. With the assistance of Hajra Masroor, then a budding story writer, he brought out the monthly Naqoosh. But they both had to part with the paper due to pressure from the establishment.

At the famous conference of the Pakistan Progressive Writers Association in 1949, Qasmi was elected its general secretary. He was arrested in 1951 under the Safety Act during a general sweep of left writers and activists and detained for some months. In 1953, he was appointed editor of the daily Imroze, the sister paper of the Pakistan Times, published by Mian Iftikharuddin’s Progressive Papers Ltd. When Gen Ayub Khan took over the organisation in 1958, Qasmi resigned his editor’s job with Imroze. He was again arrested and jailed.

In 1963, Qasmi launched his literary journal Fanoon with the assistance of Habib Ashasr, and kept this paper running against heavy financial odds. In 1974, he was appointed director of the Majlis-i-Taraqqi-i-Adab on the death of Prof Hameed Ahmad Khan and held the post till his death.

Qasmi, both prolific and hard working, produced nine poetry collections - Dharkanain, Jalal-o-Jamal, Shola-i-Gul, Dasht-i-Wafa, Moheet, Dawam, Loh-i-Khak, Jamal and Baseer.

Qasmi’s love for literature acquired a more specific dimension in a leaning towards poetry in the 30s. Noon Meem Rashid had a profound influence on him. When Qasmi was student at Sheikhupura, the headmaster of the local high school was Fazal Elahi Chishti, Noon Meem Rashid’s father. It was at that stage that Qasmi wrote his first poem, mourning the death of Maulana Muhammad Ali Jauhar, and he never stopped.

Qasmi had developed an association with the well-known writer and satirist Muhammad Khalid Akhtar when living in Bahawalpur and borrowed books from his library. Chekhov became his ideal. In the 30s, his first short story was published in a periodical called Rooman of Akhtar Shirani.

He had 16 short story collection to his credit – Chopal, Bagooley, Tulu-o-Gharoob, Girdaab, Sailab, Aanchal, Aabley, Aas Paas, Daro-Devar, Sannata, Bazaar-i-Hayat, Barg-i-Hena, Ghar Say Ghar Tak, Kapas Ka Phool, Neela Pather and Koh-Paima. He also edited Manto Key Khatoot, a collection of essays, Naqosh-i-Latif, and a separate collection of critical writings.

Qasmi has left behind a son, Noman Qasmi, and a daughter, Naheed Qasmi. His wife had died decades back, and a daughter, Nishat, some years later.

Erudite, cultivated, sincere and soft-spoken, Qasmi was a guide to and mentor of many well-known writers and poets of present times. He always remained a source of inspiration for the young and was generous in helping them.