Let’s talk about Urdu

Published April 24, 2016

The first session following the inauguration ceremony of ILF was a conversation between Zehra Nigah and Saif Mahmood, a New Delhi-based literary critic, translator, and lawyer. This session was beautifully named ‘Ruk Ja Hujoom-i-Gul’. Described by ILF management as “one of the foremost Urdu poets of Pakistan”, in the introduction which was screened to the audience, Mahmood aptly pointed out that while Nigah may be a poet from Pakistan, her literary legacy should not be restricted to describing her as a poet of only Pakistan.

The conversation began with a question from Mahmood on whether a poet’s identity is based on gender, to which Nigah replied in the negative. She explained that when she first started writing poetry during the early days of Pakistan, it was not considered appropriate for female poets to participate in mushairas, yet she continued to do so. Today, everyone is writing poetry, irrespective of their gender. Mahmood noted Nigah’s use of soft and sweet language in her poetry, even as she narrates brutal acts committed by society, such as in her poem ‘Bhejo Nabi Jee Rehmatain’. Nigah explained that her method of employing easy diction was to widen her audience base to reach the masses, particularly the younger generations who do not have a deeper understanding of the language.

Zambeel Dramatic Readings paid tribute to Ismat Chughtai and Qurratulain Hyder through the recitation of their short stories, Pom Pom Darling and Lady Changez Khan respectively, by Asma Mundrawala, Mahvash Faruqi, and Fawad Khan. The performance of these three artists captivated the interest of their audience.


The sessions based around Pakistan’s qaumi zubaan introduced a variety of thoughts


The session entitled ‘Nayee Purani Urdu Nazm’ was moderated by Saeed Ahmad, with panellists Kishwar Naheed, Fahmida Riaz, and Ravish Nadim. The session was initiated with a brief history of the evolution of the Urdu nazm, given by Nadeem. He further stated that the contemporary nazm is free from the structural limitations present in the ghazal form. Riaz elaborated, informing the audience of the evolution of the nazm and how it assumed a particular form during General Zia’s regime. Naheed shared her personal experience of writing nasri nazm. The reason why she chose this particular form was that the contemporary issues which she wanted to address in her work could not be described as effectively within the ghazal or the traditional nazm, as they could be in nasri nazm. The audience appreciated the poems narrated by Riaz and Naheed, in particular Riaz’s poem ‘Huzoor, Mein Iss Siyaah Chaadar ka Kya Karoongi’.


The problem that Urdu faces today is that local colleges and universities do not teach and promote much Urdu literature. Academics do not familiarise their students with the classics, nor do they introduce them to worthwhile contemporary writing.


Contemporary trends in Urdu short story writing were discussed in the session ‘Nayee Kahani Nayay Log’ by Irfan Urfi, Ali Akbar Natiq, and Hameed Shahid. Shahid, moderator of the panel, prompted conversation by raising the question of how to categorise stories being written in our times; should they be called “new”, “modern”, or “postmodern”? Urfi suggested calling them “contemporary” writings, to avoid the philosophical connotations of other terminologies. In response to another question, Natiq stated that he writes his short stories to share personal observations with his reader. Urfi suggested that story writing in Urdu tends to become mired in symbolism and abstraction, which creates difficulties for the readers. Shahid concluded the session by summarising a short story’s three components; it should have artistic expression; it should be comprehensible to its readers; it should have a message. Urfi, however, raised concerns that writers need not be reformers — their purpose is to express and not to reform. While readers or critics may draw certain conclusions from their writings, writers are not obliged to provide a social message. Shahid also noted that contemporary writers do not compete with each other. Usually, there is diversity in their creativity; they have their own following.

The session ‘Urdu Hai Jis ka Naam’, was a conversation between Ali Akbar Natiq and Saif Mahmood, discussing modern Urdu literature in both India and Pakistan. Natiq opened the discussion by stating that without having a sound understanding of the classics, contemporary writers cannot create literature worth reading. To answer a question posed by Mahmood regarding inclusiveness, Natiq explained that any language that does not have the ability to absorb foreign terms and cultural expressions cannot evolve, and hence, cannot survive. While there are good writers in every era, he stated, their numbers are always limited. The problem that Urdu faces today is that local colleges and universities do not teach and promote much Urdu literature. Academics do not familiarise their students with the classics, nor do they introduce them to worthwhile contemporary writing. He further lamented the lack of informed media outlets. According to him, the intellectual degradation of society can be attributed to the media promotion of a particular type of literature at the expense of others, such that of Bano Qudsia or Ashfaq Ahmad. The session ‘Aik Sham Anwar Masood ke Naam’ had a large audience turnout. Masood’s enchanting humour delighted, as he shared witty anecdotes with his audience.

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