He remembers the early days of his childhood, riding a scooter with his father and reading the signboards of shops in the narrow lanes of the Walled City of Lahore. An eccentric Punjabi poet and a Left-leaning political activist, Irfan Malik, was born to a family living in the walled city for generations.
“My father was a literary person, an activist of Pakistan People’s Party. He would send me door-to-door in the area to train women voters in casting their votes.”
All of his siblings were into reading. The regular supply of various literary magazines at home introduced him to various genres of literature at a tender age.
“Viewing the images of paintings in pictorial magazines from China and Soviet Union was one of the thrilling experiences of my childhood that made a lasting impression on my mind. That’s why I have had more painter friends than writers in my whole life,” he says.
He started writing short stories when he was in high school. The works got printed regularly in Dhanak, a famous magazine of that era. He was into reading magazines and papers only, and left the academic studies because of his poor performances.
“I used to go to see my school fellows in the then Government College Lahore, and befriended a group of literary people there, including Shahid Jamal, Ahmad Khalil, Ikramul Haque and Siraj Munir Junior.
“All of us, including Zubair Ahmad, used to attend the sessions of Halqa Arbab-e-Zouq at the Pak Tea House regularly. We would go there and come back after sitting there like a pack of monkeys and idiots, because no one was ready to listen to or accommodate us.
“We created Nae Uffaq, a literary forum of our own, and started weekly sessions, dedicated to Punjabi and Urdu literary works in Cafe Green at Rattigan Road. Because of young participants, it became more popular than the old school Halqa,” he claims.
“In the meantime, we came across Leftists. After attending a few boring study circles, I was impressed by Basit Mir of Communist Party, who was very wise and well-read.
“In 1977, when Zia imposed martial law, I realised that it is time for political not literary activism and called a meeting of Nae Uffaq to discuss the situation. Except for Arif Jamal, no one was convinced on any kind of activism,” he recalls.
He worked as a whole-timer for Communist Party for a few years and became part of political activists from Lahore, who were resisting Zia regime.
“I left the party over differences with some people. After being harassed by the police and other forces frequently, who would raid my house, one night I silently fled to Sweden with my Swedish wife, in 1984.
“That was a tough time; change of locale, an unfamiliar language and financial hardships. Above all, I had a breakup with my wife.
“I was unable to continue short story writing, created only three after I left Lahore,” he relates his ordeal.
He studied Anthropology, Indology and indigenous languages, including Hindi, Sant Bhasha, Braj and Awadhi in a university in Sweden, but left studies without writing final thesis, and permanently moved to US in 1995 to settle there.
To make a living, he studied IT in Boston and worked for Howard University as an IT professional for almost two decades and retired from there last year.
His first collection of poetry, Vitch Jagratey Sutti Tang, was printed in 1992, that became his hallmark. It was followed by three other books of poetry, Akath, Noon Ghunna and Douji Aurat. He is currently working on a novel.
“Because of health issues and my carefree style of working, I have managed to write only three chapters so far,” he says.
Going through the thick and thin of life, Irfan Malik keeps the flare of hope alive. Despite being inspired by and staying close to the literary giants of his times, his poetic expressions looks free of any influence. His poetry carries the skills of a short story writer lost in the mist of time. The detailed rendering of the rustic aura of walled city, makes it a firsthand experience for the readers.
The subjects ranging from subjective experiences to the collective agony narrate the intense feelings of a sensitive person, who looks at the life around him with a sharp eye and a brave heart.
Published in Dawn, December 24th, 2017