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DAWN - Features; June 03, 2008

June 03, 2008

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A tale of changing times

By Rauf Parekh


Once Pir Hussamuddin Rashdie remarked that to bring a true cultural life to Karachi many princely states in India had to sacrifice theirs. The gathering of many talented writers, intellectuals and artistes in Karachi after independence, resembling a constellation of shining stars, is a testimony to veracity of the statement.

From a peaceful sleepy town that Karachi was before 1947, the city became the capital of a new-born nation that was struggling to overcome its teething problems. But as if some magician had cast a spell with the magic wand, the sleepy port city of a few hundred thousand was teeming with millions of souls within months that had come from across the border. And among them were scholars held in high esteem across India, poets whose names were a sure sign of a successful mushaira, and writers who were considered among the best. But most of them were trying to eke out a living here.

Pir Rashdie has written about them. There were people who had never even thought of facing bread-and-butter issues. They were educated and belonged to well-to-do families back in India but in Karachi they were looking for petty jobs. It was a true test of character and those who survived those difficult times without resorting to any unfair practices are spoken highly of even today.

Shahid Ahmed Dehlvi had never thought of doing a job. His father, Basheeruddin, was a high-ranking official in India. His grandfather, Moulvi Nazeer Ahmed Dehlvi, one of the great writers of Urdu in the 19th century, held high posts and had left behind a reasonable fortune. Shahid Ahmed Dehlvi got married even before passing his high school examination, as early marriage was the tradition in those days. Later, he joined Lahore’s F.C. College, planning to pass intermediate’s pre-medical exam before joining a medical college. But owing to his wife’s illness, he had to return to Delhi, his hometown, where he was born on May 22, 1906.

After doing his BA Honours in English literature, Shahid launched ‘Saqi’ from Delhi, a literary magazine that was to become hugely popular but to remain a money-losing concern almost for its entire lifespan. But its sister concern ‘Saqi Book Depot’ slowly but surely started making money when Shahid and ‘Saqi’ became well known and some real good books by famous authors got published by the depot.

With the independence in 1947 everything was lost, including the magazine, the depot and the bank balance. Crossing over into Pakistan in 1947, Shahid Ahmed Dehlvi first reached Lahore and sought a declaration for ‘Saqi’, which was denied. Moving on to Karachi and looking for a job, Shahid decided to use his talent in music, which had been his hobby. As a well-off youth, he had learnt to play and sing and he had learnt quite well. So he got a job at Radio Pakistan’s Karachi station. Few people knew that the person playing and singing on radio, named S.A. Dehlvi, was none other than the grandson of Shams-ul-Ulema Moulvi Nazeer Ahmed Dehlvi, also known as Deputy Nazeer Ahmed, the famous novelist. The abbreviated name was of course a deliberate attempt to conceal his real personality as it would have brought shame to the family of great Nazeer Ahmed.

He re-launched ‘Saqi’ from Karachi in 1948 but it remained, as before, a source of great satisfaction and fame, and also a monetary loss, to Shahid.

What made Shahid more famous were his sketches. In his chaste, idiomatic Urdu and a lucid style, he wrote sketches of Delhi personalities. With his sketches he brought to life not only the people he wrote about but also the city, the culture and the times. Aside from his sketches, collected in three volumes titled ‘Ganjina-i-Gauhar’, ‘Bazm-i-Khush Nafsan’ and ‘Taaq-i-Nisyan’, Shahid has preserved the life and times of the city of Delhi in ‘Dilli Ki Bipta’ and ‘Ujra Diyar’ -- the former is a reportage on Delhi’s bloody riots that ensued partition in 1947 and the later is a collection of essays on Delhi.

Translations were another source of joy -- and income -- for Shahid. As mentioned by Dr Jameel Jalibi in an essay, Shahid had to translate for money as well. He rendered over 25 English books into Urdu and prominent among them are translations of Faust by Goethe, Maeterlinck’s work and some novels of Nathaniel Hawthorn. Most of the remaining translations are either novels by minor authors or are books on child psychology. He also wrote on music.

Shahid Ahmed Dehlvi was instrumental in founding the Pakistan Writers’ Guild and was one of the founding members with Qurat-ul-Ain Hyder, Qudratullah Shahab, Jameeluddin Aali and others.

Shahid Ahmed Dehlvi belonged to the culture and times that were strictly traditional and aristocratic. The need to adapt to the new realities in a different environment must have given him a tough time but he stuck to high morals, keeping the flag of at least some traditions high, while fighting it out bravely. His brave fighting must have made his eminent ancestors proud of him but what would have been their reaction to his not-so-traditional ways in the new land is anybody’s guess.

(Shahid Ahmed Dehlvi died in Karachi on May 27, 1967.)

Filtration plants turn ‘obsolete’ within two years

Abid Mehdi

Dozens of water filtration plants have been lying out of order for several months in Sialkot and Daska for lack of proper maintenance by tehsil municipal administrations (TMAs) and the district government.

Residents of the two cities are facing a great deal of inconvenience on account of non-availability of the potable drinking water in hot and harsh weather conditions.

The affected people alleged that the district government and TMAs concerned turned a blind eye to the problem because they paid no heed to repeated appeals of the public for the rectification of out-of-order filtration plants.

These filtration plants had been installed after spending millions of rupees by the TMAs and the district government some two years back.

In Sialkot, the filtration plants were installed at Godhpur, Pakka Garha, Naikapura, Green Wood Street, New Mianapura, Model Town, Hajipura, Sialkot Cantonment, College Road, Pakpura, Puran Nagar and Rangpura.

While in Daska, this facility was provided in Muhammadpura, Jamkey Road, College Road, Sambrial Road, Nisbet Road, Daska Bar Association compound and Government College for Women.

In the absence of any alternative arrangement for drinking water, around 4,200 girl students, teachers and officials of the college have to face a lot of problems.

Citizens Rights Forum Chairman Dr Muhammad Muneer Butt said the authorities concerned did not respond to several complaints lodged with them by the residents.

He said the people were forced to drink unhygienic water which was causing different diseases.

Mr Butt said the health department had already declared the water of Sialkot and Daska contaminated. He urged the provincial government to ensure early rectification of water filtration plants in the larger interest of residents.

When contacted, officials of the Sialkot district government and TMAs of the two cities held responsible each other for their slackness.