Pakistan Academy of Letters (PAL) turned 40 this month.
PAL was established in July 1976 as an autonomous body under the federal ministry of education. But its basic objectives and functions were not determined until 1978 when the then government formed a board of governors and appointed Dr Ishtiaq Hussain Qureshi as its first chairman. The members of the first board of governors of PAL were: Ishtiaq Hussain Qureshi, Ashfaq Ahmed, Abul Khair Kashfi, Pareeshan Khattak, Syed Mujtaba Hussain, federal secretary education, two other representatives from the ministry of education, Shaikh Niaz Ahmed (to represent booksellers and publishers), a member of University Grants Commission (now replaced with a representative from Higher Education Commission), and Maseehuddin Siddiqi, the then director general of PAL.
In recognition of their services to Pakistani languages and literature, 11 intellectuals and authors were nominated as the founding members of PAL. They were: Ishtiaq Hussain Qureshi (history), AK Brohi (philosophy), Hafeez Jallundhri (Urdu), Syed Abdullah (Urdu), Ehsan Danish (Urdu), Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi (Urdu), Shareef Kunjahi (Punjabi), Nabi Bakhsh Baloch (Sindhi), Syed Rasool Rasa (Pashto), Sardar Khan Gashkori (Balochi), and Prof Ahmed Ali (English).
Now working under the aegis of ministry of information, broadcasting and national heritage, PAL is chiefly responsible for the promotion of Pakistani literature and Pakistani languages. The other aims of establishing PAL included encouraging and supporting literary activities and literary organisations in the country. It was also entrusted with the responsibility of helping and supporting Pakistani authors — writing in any Pakistani language — especially the aged and ailing writers, poets and intellectuals.
Over the last four decades PAL has done a commendable job. An important contribution of the PAL is secretly extending financial support to hundreds of Pakistani writers and intellectuals in a manner that does not hurt their egos. Some authors get a monthly stipend, and others are offered one-off grants. The entire process, names of writers and the amount of money disbursed is kept strictly confidential. Many Pakistani writers, from all over the country, are still enjoying this confidential financial support programme, with no strings attached.
Aside from holding writers’ conferences, PAL announces literary prizes in different categories for the writers of different Pakistani languages. PAL also runs a ‘Writers’ House’ on its premises in Islamabad, providing visiting writers with a decent accommodation at reasonable charges.
Another commendable aspect of PAL’s working is its publishing. It has published almost 100 titles under a series named ‘Pakistani Adab ke maimaar’ (The makers of Pakistani literature), highlighting the lives and works of poets and writers of different Pakistani languages who have helped shape Pakistani literature. In addition, it has got translated a large number of literary works of Pakistani languages into Urdu and English. Work on the translation of literary masterpieces of different Pakistani languages is still on. PAL has also published the bibliographies of Pakistani literature and selections from Pakistani literature.
PAL publishes two literary magazines: quarterly Adabiyaat in Urdu, launched in 1987, and quarterly Pakistani Literature in English, launched in 1992. Recently, the latest issues of both magazines have been published under the supervision of Prof Dr Muhammad Qasim Bughio, the chairman of PAL. Assisted by a host of efficient lieutenants such as Dr Rashid Hameed, Nighat Saleem, Zahida Parveen, Akhter Raza Saleemi, Tariq Shahid, Ali Yasir and Mir Nawaz Solangi, Bughio sahib has been able to make an impact. Not only has he been running the affairs of PAL smoothly ever since he assumed the charge as chairman, Dr Bughio has been able to win the trust of most of the writers and intellectuals in the country.
The 336-page, new issue of Adabiyaat has the literary pieces with the usual mood and colour: poems, ghazals, short stories and articles. But what is different, though now a hallmark of PAL, is the translations from world literatures and translations from Pakistani literatures. Writings of Naguib Mahfouz (Arabic), Svetlána Alexiévich (Russian), Octavio Paz (Spanish), and Nâzım Hikmet (Turkish) have been rendered into Urdu. Also, Urdu renderings from Pakistani languages, Brahvi, Balochi, Pashto, Pothohari, Punjabi, Seraiki, Sindhi, Gujari and Hindko, adorn the issue.
The issue of Pakistani Literature, too, has much to offer to the serious reader who wants to read literature of Pakistani languages in English. It includes English translations from Balochi, Brahvi, Gilgiti/Baltistani, Hindko, Kashmiri, Punjabi, Pashto, Seraiki, Sindhi and Urdu literatures. Mushir Anwar, the guest editor, has rightly mentioned in his brief editorial note that what we have so far produced as English translations of Pakistani literature is “not the very best representative, as it should be, of our current or contemporary poetry and prose. And this is mainly because we do not have very many good translators, particularly for literature being produced in our regional languages which is not only considerable but should be more interesting to the foreign reader because of its closeness to life.”
Literary and critical works, bibliographies and Pakistani writers’ directories published by PAL need some more publicity. Many readers are simply not aware that they exist as they are not easily available at bookstalls. PAL can join hands with National Book Foundation for promoting its publications. What PAL should do is to publish a complete and detailed list of its publications. Such a list can also be included in its bulletin, titled ‘Khabarnama-e-academy’, and the two literary magazines it publishes.
Published in Dawn, July 18th, 2016