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‘Literature is a lost cause’

October 10, 2015
Iftikhar Arif speaks at the Arts Council on Friday evening.—White Star
Iftikhar Arif speaks at the Arts Council on Friday evening.—White Star

KARACHI: A combination of top-notch poetry, amusing personal anecdotes and a bleak description of the contemporary global literary scenario kept literature lovers glued to their seats till the end of an event held to honour distinguished poet Iftikhar Arif at the Arts Council’s Manzar Akbar Hall on Friday evening.

Arif, who lives in Iran and is in Karachi to take part in a mushaira, said he was 72 years old but whenever he landed in Karachi he felt like a 22-year-old man. He acknowledged his friends who were present in the hall. He lamented how nowadays people had stopped taking pleasure in minor differences leave alone learning the art of making lasting friendships.

Arif said though he lived in Iran, he read Pakistani journals and magazines. With a tinge of sadness in his voice he remarked literature in the world was a lost cause (hari huee baazi) as the written word was losing its efficacy. Carrying on with the argument he said those who dreamed and those who valued memories were not looked at favourably anymore. The tradition of respect was losing ground and it seemed that things were unlikely to look up, he bemoaned. He said the role the media was playing too was disappointing, and those who are associated with it were responsible for it.

Arif pointed out that as he grew older a sense of futility (that all’s an exercise in futility) was settling in (him). This happened to all generations, but perhaps these days the feeling was more acute, he said. He told the audience that prior to coming to the programme he was discussing with two other men that no one knew who the woman that won the Nobel Prize for Literature on Thursday was. He mentioned that the number of books getting published was on the decline, and contrary to the time when poetry collections adorned the top shelves in book stores, today books on fashion and glamour had replaced them.

Arif recognised the fact that literary magazines were being published in Pakistan but complained they were not accessible to the common man. This led him to speak about Iran where he is currently based. He said great importance was attached to culture in Iran, and no other country had managed to strike the kind of balance between religion and culture the way Iran had. The reason for it, he commented, was that Iranians took pride in their traditions, their language and their culture. A great many books were published in the country, although not many people in the rest of the world were aware of Iranian writers, he informed the audience who listened to him with rapt attention.

After his address, Arif recited many ghazals and nazms which were thoroughly enjoyed by the audience. He began with the following verses:

Aankh ki nami bhi raigaan

Dil ki roshni bhi raigaan

Karobar-i-ishq bhi fuzool

Khabt-i-aagahi bhi raigaan

(Worthless is the welled-up eye

As is the luminous heart

The pursuit of love, futile

As is the obsession with wisdom)

Another couplet from a ghazal:

Falak pe chaand sitare, zameen pe laala-o-gul

Yeh aik main hun ke mera nishaan koi nahin hai

(The moon and the stars adorn the sky, tulips and roses the earth

O me, only me, who has vanished without a trace)

Two lines from another ghazal:

Shehr-i-aashob ke likhne ko jigar chahyey hai

Main hi likhun to likhun koi nahin likhe ga

(It takes courage to write the story of an ailing city

It’s me who could pen it, no one else)

Another:

Sitaron se bhara ye aasman kaisa lage ga

Hamare baad tum ko yeh jahan kaisa lage ga

(How will you appreciate the starry firmament?

How will you appreciate this world, when I’m gone?)

When Arif thought he was done with his bit, the host of the programme Ahmed Shah asked him to read out more poems. Arif obliged and referring to an earlier speaker Hasina Moin’s disclosure about his romantic experiences when he was working for Pakistan Television, said now that he had learned to use Facebook it was a little awkward to know that his grandchildren could read what people wrote about him in Roman Urdu.

Expanding on his view that a man could fall in love more than once, he said the moment one felt something special towards someone, that’s the truth of the moment (lamhe ki sachchaee) which one should accept. He asserted that those who didn’t have the guts to be prepared to get devastated in the pursuit of love shouldn’t attempt it.

After that Arif read some of his famous nazms ‘Abhi kuch din lagein ge’, ‘Badshagooni’ and ‘Aik raat ki kahani’. He also recited the ghazal which the legendary Madame Noor Jehan had sung. The first two lines of the ghazal were:

Dayar-i-noor mein teera shabon ka sathi ho

Koi to ho jo meri wahshaton ka sathi ho

(Need a companion who could accompany me in dark nights

There has to be someone to share my fears and revulsions)

Earlier Mobin Mirza shed light on Arif’s poetic prowess. He said people were envious of him because he had progressed in life due to his diligence and hard work.

Published in Dawn, October 10th, 2015

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