Urdu conference begins with glowing tribute to Yousufi

Updated October 17, 2014

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MUSHTAQ Ahmed Yousufi presents his book to Zahra Nigah at the launch of Sham-i-Shaer-i-Yaraan at the Arts Council on Thursday.—White Star
MUSHTAQ Ahmed Yousufi presents his book to Zahra Nigah at the launch of Sham-i-Shaer-i-Yaraan at the Arts Council on Thursday.—White Star

KARACHI: It was quite humid as evening set in on Thursday. But once celebrated humour writer Mushtaq Ahmed Yousufi entered the semi-verdant lawn of the Arts Council, those who had packed the arena in no time did not mind the humidity at all. So, they patiently let the four-day 7th International Urdu Conference begin with the launch of Yousufi’s book Shaam-i-Shaer-i-Yaraan.

Poet Zehra Nigah presided over the programme. She said it’s only a couple of days back that she received a copy of the book. It put her in a quandary because she knew that if she started reading it she would be immersed in the book and might forget that she needed to write an essay on it. She could also have spoken about it at the conference without going through the book, as some people tended to do, but she couldn’t lie to herself. Then someone suggested to her that she should talk about the writer’s earlier four books and termed them old. This made her respond that none of Yosufi’s books could age, nor Yousufi sahib (who is 96 years old) — they’re timeless.

Ms Nigah said we shouldn’t talk about someone’s age who spent all of his life making others feel happy. When the readers went through his books not only did their eyes twinkle but their faces also glowed. Shaam-i-Shaer-i-Yaraan, she said, contained delightful sketches and memoirs, penned in his inimitable style of writing.

Ms Nigah said of all the literary genres humour was the one in which the writer’s personality got exposed relatively quickly. It’s like balancing oneself on a tight rope. The humourist had to be very cautious about where the fine line lay between quality humour and indecent joke-making. Yousufi had always been careful about his diction. She argued that it’s a rarity when the subtle element of surprise was added to humour, something that Yousufi was very good at.

Iftikhar Arif said Yousufi’s previous four books were published after a gap of 10 years; Shaam-i-Shaer-i-Yaraan was the one (whose title was inspired by and a variant of a Faiz Ahmed Faiz book Shaam-i-Shehr-i-Yaraan) saw the light of day after 25 years. He said Yousufi had once told him that he’d written two travelogues and had penned 700 pages each. Later on when he asked the writer about them, he replied he wouldn’t find it worthy enough to publish them. He had also started working on a novel of which he’d written 400 pages. The novel too was abandoned by Yousufi, saying that it’s only after writing 400 pages that the novel’s hero was born. Arif requested Yousufi’s sons, present on the occasion, to retrieve those manuscripts.

Arif said he had never seen anyone so meticulous about the usage and application of words as Yousufi. “He is an extremely well-read man. He is not just a great humourist; he is a great prose writer,” he remarked and added that he (Arif) in his life had learnt a lot from three men: Salim Ahmed, Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Mushtaq Yousufi.

Anwar Maqsood in his trademark lighthearted manner told the audience that before coming to the programme he was with (the late) Mir Taqi Mir. Upon knowing that Yousufi’s new book was out, the great poet expressed his desire to meet the writer because he was his admirer. Quoting the famous assertion that we’re living in the age of Yousufi, Maqsood commented that while we were living in the age of Yousufi, he was living in the age of Muslim League-N.

Artist Zia Mohyeddin took the launch ceremony to its worthy climax with his masterful reading of a Yousufi piece which was on the Urdu theatre run by the Parsis a little after partition. It had the entire crowd, including a long list of literary luminaries on stage, in stitches.

Prior to reading out the excerpt, Mohyeddin said while we enjoyed Yousufi’s writings immensely it’s his learnedness that’s no less astounding. There would be hardly any writer in the world which he hadn’t read or not known about. He articulated that humour stemmed from human weaknesses; however, reading Yousufi’s characters made the reader laugh at them as well become fond of them.

Dr Fatima Hasan talked about how she and Rubina Shaheen worked hard to publish the book. Painter Shahid Rassam shared with the audience the time he had spent with Yousufi and how the writer had influenced his life.

In the end the author was given a standing ovation.

Published in Dawn, October 17th, 2014