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‘Ghulam Abbas was a shy but deep person’

May 29, 2014


Ghulam Abbas’s daughter Mariam Shera speaks at the event on Wednesday.—White Star
Ghulam Abbas’s daughter Mariam Shera speaks at the event on Wednesday.—White Star

KARACHI: Very seldom does one get to hear about the personal and professional life of a writer with such genuine affection as one heard at a talk on writer Ghulam Abbas with reference to the publication of his novella ‘Jazeera-i-Sukhanwaran’ and collection of stories ‘Intikhab: Ghulam Abbas’ compiled by Asif Farrukhi on Wednesday evening.

Abbas’s daughter Mariam Shera set the tone of the event by sharing the memories of her father. She said he was a shy but deep man with a wealth of knowledge. He never told people about what he knew; they had to dig for it. She said when she took her intermediate exams he helped her out with the sher-o-shaeri. He enjoyed sharing his stories, though in bits and pieces, with his children. If an idea struck him, he would get under a dulai (quilt) and remain under it until he was done with the story. According to her brother, Abbas’s son, the writer was like a well, not like a spring — one had to dig deep to know what’s in it. He was a large-hearted person who kept his children and two wives happy. He was proud of all of his children.

Ms Shera said Abbas was interested in all kinds of subjects — music, history, art history, etc — and had 20,000 books. He wouldn’t keep his books in alphabetical order but kept them as per their sizes. His wife, her mother (an English woman) was an organised person, although going into her room wouldn’t give that impression. If someone needed something around the house she would instantly tell them where they could find it. Abbas, Ms Shera said, liked musical instruments a lot. He had a guitar, a violin, and a flute that would help him feel relaxed. He was a passionate chess player, too, and played with the likes of Commander Anwar and N.M. Rashid. He didn’t look for glory, but when glory came his way, he felt proud of it, she remarked. She told the audience that one memory of her father that stood out for her was when he used to go to Bunder Road (now M.A. Jinnah Road) with his children to buy desirable second-hand books. Like all Pakistanis, she said, he liked to bargain. The book vendors called him Chachaji.

Critic Rauf Parekh briefly shed light on three of Abbas’s well known stories ‘Anandi’, ‘Overcoat’ and ‘Katba’ saying he would pick tiny things from life and like a painter make stories out of them with minute details. Sometimes he thought of a story for as long as 10 years. He wouldn’t employ a single extra or additional (faltu) word to spin a yarn. The above-mentioned three pieces were taken from real life events. ‘Anandi’, for example, was a result of what he saw in Delhi where a brothel house was situated in the centre of the city and people wanted to move it to somewhere else so that society could be ‘saved’ from its influence. Similarly, once he was in his house clad in banyaan (vest) and pajamas when some friends came over. In a hurry he put on an overcoat over the banyaan, which was how the idea of ‘Overcoat’ came about. Dr Parekh said the writer was a realist and irony (he called it ramz) in his tales was the main literary tool.

Speaking on ‘Jazeera-e-Sukhanwaran: Tanzia Novelette’, Mr Parekh said it was inspired by French writer Andre Maurois’ story and was first published in 1937 serial-wise in a magazine and then in the book form in 1941. In 1980, it was published from India. The story is about an island where only two kinds of people reside: poets and their admirers. The former is the ruling class and the latter the ruled. Plagiarism is the biggest crime on the island after which comes the wrong use of language. Poetry is state religion.

Asif Farrukhi said he found the novelette satirical as well as tragic (alamnaak). He argued that Abbas had a prophetic vision. Anandi should be read by town planners because what happened in the story happened in Karachi during Gen Ziaul Haq’s rule. Abbas didn’t write much, but whatever he wrote was penned with great care and meticulousness. His style was subtle and cultured. He was gentle even in his humour. He used to say that he lived in the stories that he liked (D.H. Lawrence’s ‘The Man who Died’, J.P. Sartre’s ‘The Wall’). He liked reading Russian and French stories instead of the English ones because he termed them ‘phissaddi’ (worthless).

Mr Farrukhi also touched upon Abbas’s story ‘Reengney Waale’ that he said was inspired by the Jalianwala Bagh incident — the writer hailed from Amritsar. Quoting writer Intizar Husain with regard to Abbas’s another tale ‘Dhanak’, he said when he first read it at a Halqa-i-Arbab-i-Zoq (literary circle) meeting in Lahore people objected to its content. Later that story, too, proved the writer could see what shape society would take.

Published in Dawn, May 29th, 2014