ILF: Searching for identity

Published May 3, 2015
‘Adhoori Kulliyat’ participants Kishwar Naheed, Intizar Husain and Asghar Nadeem Syed at the session .	

— Tanveer Shahzad/White Star
‘Adhoori Kulliyat’ participants Kishwar Naheed, Intizar Husain and Asghar Nadeem Syed at the session . — Tanveer Shahzad/White Star

PAKISTAN’S creation and Partition are critical parts of the identity of a nation that is still trying to configure a post-Partition national philosophy. The Partition generation of literary figures lives on and new authors continue to look back into time and draw from those themes. This was manifest in sessions held at the ILF.

During the launching ceremony of her book Kahan Kahan se Guzar Gaye Hamra Khalique spoke about why she chose to write a personal narrative of those tumultuous years. She provides a very human aspect of Partition and chooses to stick to her own cross-border journey. While in the session ‘1947: The Blood-stained Dawn’, renowned writer Intizar Husain stressed on the need for an impassionate retrospection on Partition.

To some extent, that is what Khalique’s autobiography achieves by providing an individual’s experiences of the times and the shifts — cultural, historical, temporal — that she had to undergo as a result. In so doing, the author also becomes the historian, not so much of facts but of human passions and suffering. One of the panellists in the session aptly remarked, “in formal history, everything other than facts is fiction. In literature, everything other than facts is a form of truth.”

The session titled ‘From Flaubert to Faiz’ examined to what extent Pakistani literature has been inspired by French literature. One of the panellists, David Waterman, stressed on the tendency of Pakistani literature to go back in time, all the way to Partition. Academic Framji Minwalla, on the other hand, pointed out the similarities between the realist themes in French literature at the turn of the last century, and present-day Pakistani prose. Bilal Tanweer, author of The Scatter Here Is Too Great, however, contested this observation, pointing out how hard it is to observe literature’s progress with a teleological lens. He further stated that while the lack of experimentation in the form and aesthetic of Pakistan literature is a valid point, we have to account for circumstances of present-day life, which can put certain constraints on the usefulness of certain forms.

The themes of Partition, of a historical uprooting that it entailed, are also visible in the poetry of Asghar Nadeem Syed. In a session about his book ‘Adhoori Kulliyat’, Syed sums up this confusion aptly in one of his poems:

He experiments with a modern lingual simplicity in his poetry which Husain observed comes at the cost of thematic ambiguity. This ambiguity is resolved when the poet takes the mike and decides to read his own lines. The thematic ambiguity may also be a result of translating the techniques of Western modernism into Urdu literature, Husain added. But the resounding applause Syed received on his recitals opposes the analysis, depicting how simpler prose is more relatable for an audience which is more entrenched in the colloquial dialect.

A prominent feature of Pakistani English poetry is its recitative and rhetorical aspect, which seems more pronounced than the English prose being written here. This shows that whether or not poets draw from the tradition of Urdu culture, they certainly tend to draw from its social, specifically public, influences. This also explains the colloquial flow of most of these poems which want to, and do, relate to the common person. Husain pointed out this very aspect in Syed’s poetry. “Modern in nature, is more recital than classical, and thus better understood when recited by the poet himself, but leaves one in an uncertain position while reading it off the paper,” he said.

Artists are sensitive souls who find it hard to ignore the prevalent realities of their world. And the realities of our times today are more bitter than consolatory. It is no surprise, then, to see their anguish reflected in the poems on the Army Public School terrorist attack, and short stories about suicide bombs. Clichéd as it may sound, these are the only definite truths in an unjust world.

The literary muse of contemporary Pakistani literature is dazed by a loss of identity and a reality that is fraught with violence, bombs and injustice. It has, for its subjects, the search for this identity, both in the individual and as a Pakistani, in seeking refuge from the mayhem, sometimes in protest, and sometimes out of love for humanity. It is understandable, then, that although a ground-breaking piece of literature in either English or Urdu was not the highlight of the ILF, there is promise and hope just around the corner.

Artists are sensitive souls who find it hard to ignore the prevalent realities of their world. And the realities of our times today are more bitter than consolatory. It is no surprise, then, to see their anguish reflected in the poems on the Army Public School terrorist attack, and short stories about suicide bombs. Clichéd as it may sound, these are the only definite truths in an unjust world.

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