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DAWN - Features; October 09, 2008

October 09, 2008

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Literature is losing adherents — Jazib Qureshi

By Naseer Ahmad


With eight poetry collections and half a dozen books of criticism as well as an autobiography to his credit, Prof Jazib Qureshi stands out among the scores of his contemporaries in the world of Urdu literature. Enjoying a good health at the age of 67, with the emeraldish eyes gleaming as ever, he continues to enrich Urdu literature with his valuable contribution to it.

The question whether he is a better poet or a better critic was solved decades ago by Raees Amrohvi, who said in his trademark impish (as we learn from people who had been close to him) style: “Shairi Jazib ki mehbooba hai, aur tanqeed us ki mankooha (Poetry is Jazib’s love but he has tied a nuptial knot with criticism).” Jazib says: “Poetry is my basic medium of expression. It is my love, but I have worked harder on criticism. For instance, while writing on noted poet Zafar Iqbal I was looking for his book Ratb-i-Yabas. It was not available anywhere in Pakistan and I did not want to finish my essay on the poet without seeing that book. After a lot of efforts, I got it sent from India,” says Jazib Qureshi in an interview with Dawn at his Gulshan-i-Kaneez Fatima residence, behind the Karachi University campus.

He says he has strengthened the tradition of writing on newcomers to encourage young writers. “My writings have prompted others also to write on young poets and writers, some of whom have earned a name for themselves now. Earlier critics were shy of writing on living people.”

Jazib says he is lucky that he was able to pay undivided attention to his writings as he got the opportunity to read and write Urdu literature, both as a journalist or as a teacher. “This enabled me over the last 30 years to write as much as nobody else in Karachi has done.”

Asked if there was a criterion to judge who stands the tallest among a whole lot of poets , he says most of the time it is a matter of personal liking or disliking because there is no criterion to determine a poet’s right place among his peers. “Generally the one who is liked the most, both by experts and common readers, is better than those whose poetry has fewer followers. Just see whose verses are memorised and often quoted by people to express their thoughts and you will be able to judge the importance of the poet.” Critics have named different poets as ‘greats’ but there is no consensus on most except for a couple of names. “A great poet is born in a century or so. Others, such as Faiz Ahmed Faiz, may be described as good or important poets.”

He laments that literature has always had fewer adherents among the masses, but “this ratio too is dwindling further”.

His early life was marked by struggle for a living. He was six or seven years old when his father died in Lucknow. He was in class II when he had to drop out of school to toil in foundries. Dreaming of getting education and living a better life in Pakistan, he with his mother and younger brother took a train to Lahore in 1950. There he worked in a press and began studying in the evening and reading and composing poetry at night. He also began attending literary gatherings and reciting his poetry at poetry recitals. “The first mushaira I recited at was held in the Shahi Qila. It was presided over by Ehsan Danish, the poet of the workers.”

He was encouraged to write poetry by Shakir Dehlavi, a disciple of Sail Dehlavi, who was in turn a pupil of Dagh Dehlavi. “Once I showed a ghazal to Shakir sahib and he made some changes in it. But I saw that his alterations had changed the meanings also. So I never sought editing of my verses again.”

He admits he does not know the rules of poesy. “But no one has ever pointed out that even a line of mine is out of meter.”

Jazib arrived in Karachi in 1962, worked in various magazines and did his Master’s from Karachi University. He got a job as a lecturer in a college, but his teaching career was disrupted as he was producing Pathar kay sanam, a feature film that sank with his six years of hard work and life-long savings. Thanks to G. Allana, he again got a lecturer’s job, though it was in the interior of Sindh.

He also worked with an Urdu-language newspaper as the head of its literary magazine for a few years. Based on his journalistic writings, he has published a book titled Meri tehriren. His first book of critical essays was published in 1982, a year ahead of his first collection of poetry written in the previous 30 years.

He has published a selection of his critical essays under the title of Takhliqui awaz, and the selection of his poetry — ghazals, poems, geets, naats — is titled Meri shairi, meri musawwiri. It includes the articles written about him by stalwarts such as Saleem Ahmed, Dr Wazir Agha, Dr Ahsan Farooqui, Asad Mohammad Khan and Ahmed Hamdani. Gwahi meray ehd ki, which is in the process of being printed, is a collection of articles written on him by critics over the years.

He was born in Calcutta on August 3, 1940. He, however, prefers to identify himself with Lucknow, where his parents lived and he spent his childhood.

He has two sons and six daughters, all married except a son, who is studying abroad, and a daughter. His wife died about 13 years ago and he has to cope with family matters and managed to marry off five of the six daughters.

Jazib Qureshi has been a popular figure at mushairas. His fans have been inviting him to poetry recitals from within the country and abroad. He has been to the United States four times during the last five years, visiting as many as 35 cities of the States. He returned from his last visit in early September. “This one was my private visit, but friends in three cities organized programmes to honour me.”

Besides, he has visited most countries of the Middle East - Bahrain, Qatar, Dubai, Sharjah and Abu Dhabi - several times. He is, however, eager to visit India, which he hasn’t seen for the past half a century. “I just today (Tuesday) applied for a visa as I have been invited by Mr R. G. Gupta to attend a Jashn (festival) of Urdu in India. But I’m not much optimistic about the grant of visa after the rejection of visa applications of Prof Sahar Ansari and his daughter Ambreen by the Indian authorities.” He is a staunch supporter of the institution of mushaira and says it has played an important role in the promotion of Urdu poetry over the centuries.