DAWN - Features; March 27, 2008

March 27, 2008


Najiba Arif’s scenario of Urdu literature

Dr Najiba Arif who teaches Urdu literature at the International Islamic University, Islamabad (IIUI) has recently published a collection of her critical essays Rafta-o- Aainda that stand out for the hard work she has done on her material, examining it from different angles and exploring not just its literary worth but also the thought content, with comparisons and evaluations by other critics to give the reader an idea of her position. Besides being a very scholarly way, I think it is also a safe way of handling our writing community which has no tolerance for even neutral comments and would not have anything less than something dripping with superlatives. It has made the critic’s job entirely uncomfortable as a lot of unnecessary padding has to be made available and tortuous miles roamed to camouflage the grain in the chaff. This often results in obstructing dramatic findings. Najiba is confronted with the same dilemma, though she has Dr Rashid Amjad on her side who praises her clarity of thought. And I beg to agree with him because she is absolutely succinct in her analysis, and her discourse is exhaustive. But the findings give a look of muffling, of a mild subversion, which too I must admit, is none of anybody’s fault. It is the system, the long held tradition and the please-all culture that even the giants have not been able to resist.

In the first section of the three, the books comprises, there’s a rambling discussion on the mainly western aspects of modern civilization in the light of Iqbal’s thought; the evolution of mystic trends in Urdu prose and what we may call, for a plainer statement of the gender issue, the women’s movement in Urdu literature. The second section on poets has studies on Noon Meem Rashed, Faiz, Munir Niazi, Iftikhar Arif, Anwar Masood, Ehsan Akbar, Inamul Haq Javed, Izharul Haque, Parveen Tahir and Hamida Shaheen. The third part deals with prose writers Mumtaz Mufti, Mushtaq Yusufi, Manto, Ataul Haque Qasmi, Ajmal Niazi, Hameed Shahid, Fatima Hassan and Waheed Ahmad.

In her essay on civilization Najiba discusses the economic core of modern Western civilization that appears to dominate all other aspects of its intellectual, cultural and social life that Iqbal had rubbished already by the earlier decades of the last century. It is a pleasing talk to our Muslim ears and there is much widely held thought and opinion that in general even most western scholars would not contest. But what this denunciation misses very markedly is the fact that with all its faults the Western society, sans its politics, is a very creative social set up with limitless scope for human development. We, on the contrary, with all of our heart and soul intact, have sunk into a moribund situation from which we are finding it difficult to extricate our languishing limbs. The West with all its material moorings may yet discover its soul someday but we who have never lost it find ours cramped in its hard unquestionable shell.

The essay on mystic prose looks at various prominent writers from this mostly unused angle. The works of Mumtaz Mufti, Intezar Hussain, Ashfaq Ahmad, Bano Qudsia, Khalida Hussain, Mukhtar Masud and Quratulain Hyder have been studied with close attention to specific themes, characters and attitudes. Intezar Hussain’s disenchantment with the present, Mumtaz Mufti’s encounter with the supernatural, Ashfaq Ahmad’s dalliance with folk wisdom and Quratulain’s with the vision of the new Sufi. The essay expands the perimeters of Sufi expression by bringing in contemporary themes within its discussion.

Among very interesting write ups in the poet’s section are Najiba’s analytical study of N.M. Rashed and her interpretations of his verse; what is behind Faiz’s popularity; the sorcery of Munir Niazi’s prismatic vision and what makes Iftikhar Arif’s crowded life so lonely. Both Parveen Tahir and Hamida Shaheen have been treated with insight. This open and easy discussion of some of the old and new poets of our time does provide a fairly good view of the trends and tendencies that have characterised Urdu poetry over the last half century. Professor Fateh Muhammad Malik rightly describes her as a new name among the more modern of Urdu critics. This may be her first collection of essays but certainly it is not a beginner’s work. There’s a mature intellect and a fine creative perception that one discovers in the pages of this book.

The critical essay on the works of Mushtaq Yusufi in the prose section is an acute and incisive piece and in it has gone much deep study of this great craftsman of our time. Similarly her study on Mumtaz Mufti’s fiction in the backdrop of contemporary trends is also very enlightening. But on Manto’s controversial story, Tobatek Singh, she is probably more unconvincing as an advocate than the theorist, my friend Fateh Muhammad Malik.

Dr Rashid Amjad has praised Dr Najiba Arif for her clarity of thought. She is both communicative and readable which is not often the case with criticism. Then he says her vision is clear as regards literature, by which I believe he means she has no prejudices and probably does not belong to any coterie of writers. That may be so though, I fancy, a tilt is discernible. It is our privilege as readers to examine all opinions.

Multinationals should help promote literature

Naseer Turabi

By Naseer Ahmad
At the beginning of his poetry collection, Naseer Turabi explains his family background and his passion for poetry with the help of a couplet by Saadi Shirazi, “My ancestors were all religious scholars, but your intense love has inspired me to become a poet.”

The family name Turabi immediately invokes the name of his illustrious father, Allama Rasheed Turabi, whose pictures hang on the walls in the drawing room of his house near Yousuf Plaza. The late Allama Turabi was a very popular orator and erudite scholar of his time. He died on December 18, 1973, but lives on in the audio and video recordings as well as in his admirers’ hearts. Naseer, whose resounding voice is similar to that of his father, elder brother Allama Aqeel Turabi or younger brother Salman Turabi, has veered a little off the ancestral path. His grandfather, Maulvi Sharraf Husain Khan, was also a religious scholar in Hyderabad (Deccan).

Although Naseer has so far published only a slender collection of his poetical works titled Aks-i-Faryadi, his ghazals have been picked up, sung and made more popular by renowned artistes such as Ahmed Rushdi, Runa Laila, Gulshan Ara Syed, Asad Amanat Ali Khan and Abida Parveen. “I’ve never tried to have my poetry sung. But somehow these eminent vocalists have picked my poetry from here and there and sung them,” says the poet.

Born in Hyderabad (Deccan) in 1945, Naseer Turabi studied at Sindh Madrasstul Islam and did his graduation from the Jinnah college before doing his Master’s in journalism from Karachi University. On the recommendation of Faiz Ahmed Faiz, he began his career at an insurance company as a PRO and then the information department where he rose to the post of deputy director before quitting the job and setting up his own modest business agency.

“My two sons, Danish Turabi and Rashid Turabi, are well settled and I live a contented life. I’m content with my poetic achievements also and do not aspire for much.”

Often seen at TV mushairas, either compering or reciting his own salam or naat, he is essentially a ghazal poet.

“Initially, I wrote poems, but Nasir Kazmi told me in 1967 that I was ruining my ghazal as he believed the poems I wrote were in the idiom of ghazal.” He doesn’t agree to the notion that ghazal is a genre that is easy to handle. “Rather it is a test case for a poet. Every couplet of a ghazal may have a different subject, but there is an underlying unity of mood. And a good poet has to maintain this undercurrent throughout the ghazal.”

Arguing that when a cricketer hits a six, various firms reward him with big prizes, but there is no such incentive for poets and writers who keep creating literature throughout their lives. He suggests that multinational firms should encourage poets and writers. He says literature takes people away from violence and makes them compassionate and mellow. “The multinationals should buy one-third of books of genuine writers and distribute them as complimentary copies. This will encourage the authors and help promote Urdu literature and earn goodwill for the firm,” he says.

In this context, Naseer praises Dawn for its initiating an international mushaira soon after independence. “I was a young child then. But my seniors tell me that it was a huge success. Poets such as Firaq Gorakhpuri, Jigar Muradabadi and Josh Malihabadi recited their poetry at it. Just imagine the commitment of those people to our culture and literature that an English-language newspaper provided a forum for it. Majeed Lahori named it Azeem-ud-Dawn Mushaira. But, alas, as everything popular is hijacked by commercial ventures, the newspaper could run that mushaira only for a couple of years.”

He also proposes that newspapers publishing literary sections publish works of poets who need introduction and recognition, and let known poets be published in established literary magazines.

He laments that programmes such as mushairas, bazm-i-adab and bait-bazi, which were once the hallmark of college life, are no longer held in colleges. “So these newspaper pages are the only forum that may be available to young writers.”

Naseer says he himself began with a radio programme called University magazine in 1962. “That programme gave me recognition and I was invited to various mushairas. After I recited my verses at a mushaira in Peshawar, Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi asked me to write for his literary magazine Funoon.”

He says Urdu literature is deteriorating. “The slide will continue as there is no hope of improvement. Good literature is produced by a good audience, just as a good readership helps write good books. In the heyday of Urdu literature there was an educated India. Today’s education is geared to commercialism.”

Answering a question, he says there may be some good poets, but there is no great poet among the current lot. “In fact, great poets ceased to be born with the passing away of Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Nasir Kazmi and Aziz Hamid Madani.” He says these three poets inspired him a lot and he was lucky to have been close to them. “But the learning process is such that we are not sure when and what we learn from whom. For instance, even a common man may utter a word and we may exclaim, ‘Oh this is how this word should be pronounced’.”

Naseer says in marsia Hilal Naqvi’s is the biggest name after the trio of Josh Malihabadi, Nasim Amrohvi and Syed Aal-i-Raza. “He has made immense contribution to the genre of marsia, indeed’. Speaking on Josh, he says, he was not a ‘poet of revolution’ as he is usually described. “Josh sahib is a ‘poet of ehtijaj’ (protest). He demands that an ugly and unpleasant system be rooted out, but he does not propose an alternative to fill the void. He is a great magician of words, there is no doubt about it. .... On the other hand, Iqbal suggests that this system be uprooted and replaced with this one.”

© DAWN Media Group , 2008