NUQOOSH is among Urdu’s those few literary magazines that began appearing after the independence and left their ‘nuqoosh’, or marks, on the history of Urdu’s literary journalism.

Nuqoosh was launched by Muhammad Tufail, who later became its editor too. As editor and publisher, Muhammad Tufail worked really hard to make Nuqoosh a success. In fact, he devoted his life to Nuqoosh and at one stage it became Urdu’s most read, most talked-about literary journal. Almost every well-known Urdu writer and poet of the subcontinent wanted to be published in Nuqoosh. Being published in Nuqoosh was a sign that you had made it as an author and had been recognised. “If someone did not get published in Nuqoosh, his or her being an author was considered doubtful,” wrote Dr Anwer Sadeed. Nuqoosh, too, gave Muhammad Tufail great fame and he became a well-known personality in the literary circles of the subcontinent. Many writers and poets became his personal friends. Slowly but surely, Nuqoosh and Muhammad Tufail became one; and both were lovingly referred to be mentioned in one breath. Finally they both got just one name: ‘Muhammad Nuqoosh’. It was Moulvi Abdul Haq who for the first time addressed him by the title ‘Muhammad Nuqoosh’ in one of his letters and the title just got stuck.

Muhammad Tufail was born in Lahore on Aug 14, 1923. He learned calligraphy and became a pupil of Taj Zarreen Raqam, a renowned calligrapher. The art of calligraphy introduced Tufail to the world of learning and literature. In 1938, he established in Lahore ‘Maktaba-i-shear-o-adab’, a publishing house, in partnership with Lateef Farooqi. In 1948, Tufail established ‘Idara-i-farogh-i-Urdu’, his own publishing house, in a small shop at Lahore’s Aibak Road, Anarkali. From here he began publishing and the earliest literary works that he published included Umrao Jan Ada and some humorous novels by Shaukat Thanvi. At the same time he launched Nuqoosh.

The first issue of Nuqoosh came out in March 1948 from Lahore with Ahmed Nadeem Qasimi’s and Hajra Masroor’s names appearing as editors. The first issue consisted of 84 pages. In the third issue of Nuqoosh a short story by Manto, titled ‘Khol do’, appeared and the government stopped its publication. Six months after the closure, it was relaunched but had to stop publication. In May 1950, Nuqoosh began its publication again with Prof Vaqar Azeem as editor. In April 1951, Muhammad Tufail himself took over as editor and thus began an era of special issues that have today become a part of Urdu literature’s history. The special issues were referred to as ‘number’ and some special issues truly made waves that have not really ended hitting the shores even today. On the crest of those waves Tufail rose to the pinnacle of renown and respect. Some of the special issues included Afsana Number (1952), Punj Sala Number (1953), Afsana Number (second volume) (1954), Ghazal Number (1953), Shakhsiyaat Number (1955), Manto Number (1955), Shakhsiyaat Number (second volume) (1957), Makateeb Number (1957), Tanz-o-mizah Number (1959), Pitras Number (1957), Lahore Number (1963), Shaukat (Thanvi) Number (1963), Aap Beeti Number (two volumes)(1964), Ghalib Number (three volumes) (1969), Mir Taqi Mir Number (three volumes) (1980), Mir Anees Number, Iqbal Number (two volumes), Adabi maarke Number (two volumes) (1981), Rasool Number (15 volumes) and Quran Number.

Some of these issues are worth more than doctoral dissertations written on the related topics.

Nuqoosh has the unique distinction of having published the second and even third editions of many of its special issues. Some reprinting of the ‘Numbers’ had to be done even in the 1970s and 1980s. This is a real success story in the field of editing and publishing in a society where most of the authors can only dream of publishing second edition of their works.

Muhammad Tufail published in Nuqoosh some writings that were truly landmarks in the history of Urdu literature. For instance, when Ghalib’s divan purportedly written in Ghalib’s own handwriting was discovered in India, Muhammad Tufail somehow got it and published it in 1969, to coincide with Ghalib’s 100th death anniversary. It took the subcontinent by storm and till today it is debated whether it is actually in Ghalib’s handwriting. The issue reverberated across the border when on the floor of the Indian parliament a question was raised that how divan of Ghalib’s rare manuscript discovered in India was smuggled out to Pakistan.

Muhammad Tufail’s editorials that he wrote for Nuqoosh were thought-provoking and, albeit brief, samples of good Urdu prose. He had a knack for writing good Urdu prose and ultimately found his niche in sketch-writing.

Today Muhammad Tufail is considered one of the noted sketch-writers of Urdu and is, perhaps, the only one in the field who devoted himself to the genre and did not write anything else, except, of course, the editorials. The collections of Tufail’s sketches published are Janaab, Aap, Sahib, Muhibbi, Makhdoomi, Muhatram, Mukarram and Muazzam. One of the characteristics of Tufail’s sketch-writing is its readability. His flowing prose with a slight touch of humour makes it absorbing. Another aspect is Tufail’s ability to see both the positive and negative sides of the personality whose sketch is being written otherwise many sketch-writers paint only rosy pictures of their subjects, which, according to Manto, is something like “sending the character of the dead to the dry-cleaners before writing a sketch of theirs”.

Muhammad Tufail died in Islamabad on July 5, 1986. He was buried in Lahore’s Miani Sahib graveyard.

Published in Dawn, June 29th, 2015

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