Aprominent feature of Pakistani Urdu literature published in 2017 was that both veterans and writers from the new generation shared the accolades almost equally.
Several comparatively new and young writers had works published in the year that ends today. A good omen indeed, as it is young blood that makes literature vibrant and gives hope for the future. Interestingly — and contrary to common perception — the younger generation is displaying the same enthusiasm for research and criticism as for creative works.
But first we must mention two books that broke sales records this year and proved wrong those pessimists who believe Urdu literature is on its deathbed because — so they presume — people do not read anymore: Mukhtar Masood’s Harf-i-Shauq and Agha Nasir’s Agha Se Agha Nasir Tak, both of which ran into second editions within a few months of release. Sadly, both were published posthumously and their authors were simply not there to enjoy the popularity of their works.
Although Urdu literature’s death was announced some 60 years ago, this year’s output, by writers old and new, proves that it is not only breathing but in good health
Masood was steeped in Aligarh and its memories. So was his last book. An alumnus of the educational institute at Aligarh, he relished his years as a student, from primary classes to Masters, and tells us in his usual stylish prose how and why Sir Syed Ahmed Khan established the famous college. Nasir’s book is more than a memoir; it recounts not only his lifelong association with Radio Pakistan and PTV, but also the early days when he, having migrated from India as a young boy, lived in Karachi’s Martin Quarters. It highlights the social and economic atmosphere of the times, such as how the overjoyed residents of the Quarters stayed awake all night when the area got electricity a few years after independence.
2017 also saw fiction with some fresh ideas. Fahmida Riaz’s novella Qila-i-Faramoshi, for instance, was a tale woven around Mazdak, the Zoroastrian mobad [cleric or priest] considered one of the earliest socialists in history. Set in fourth and fifth century Iran, the historical fiction at times read a bit salaciously, though it claimed to be a chapter from the historic struggle of the working classes.
Razia Fasih Ahmad published Khwaabon Ka Jazeera, a collection of short stories. Two collections — compiled by Asif Farrukhi and published as part of the series by Oxford University Press on the Urdu short story — gathered select tales by Khalida Husain and Masood Asher. Bori Mein Band Aadmi was Najmul Hasan Rizvi’s last collection; sadly, he passed away on Nov 17 this year. Jahan-i-Gumgashta collected six short stories and three novellas by Nighat Saleem. Critic and researcher Nasir Abbas Nayyar has turned to writing fiction as well; Farishta Nahin Aaya was his second collection of short stories. Among younger writers, Usman Alam (Post-mortem) and Irfan Ahmed Urfi (Control Room) chose English titles for their collections. Critic and fiction writer Muhammad Hameed Shahid mentioned several new fiction writers in one of his newspaper pieces recently, citing the works of Jawad Hasnain Bashar, Saira Iqbal, Seemi Kiran, Maryam Tasleem Kayani, Javed Anwer, Memoona Sadaf, Usman Ghani Raad and some others — it was heartening to see veteran critics welcoming new entrants.
The theme of Khalid Fateh Muhammad’s novel Koh-i-Giraan and Syed Saeed Naqvi’s Baarish Se Pehle was the looming global water crisis that may end, as some experts say, in the Third World War. Add to this list novels by Neelam Ahmed Basheer (Taoos Faqat Rang) and Akhter Raza Saleemi (Jandar) and you know that the Urdu novel is making a comeback.
As usual, a large number of poetry collections appeared, but constrained by space, we can mention only a few. Notable were Anwar Shaoor’s Aatey Hain Ghaib Se, Fahmida Riaz’s Tum Kabeer and Naseer Turabi’s Laraib. Iqbal Azeem (Zaboor-i-Haram) and Liaqat Ali Aasim (Yak Jaan) were the latest additions to the collected works of senior poets and Ali Akber Abbas’s collection of songs, Gun Gian, merits special mention.
RESEARCH AND CRITICISM
A good number of books of research and critique by senior and not-so-senior scholars made the year bountiful. Nasir Abbas Nayyar’s Uss Ko Aik Shakhs Samajhna To Munasib Hi Nahin evaluated poet Miraji’s critical acumen. Khalid Nadeem’s Shibli Shikni Ki Rivayat traced the history of what can be termed ‘Shibli bashing’, or the trend of severely criticising Shibli Nomani that continues till today. Qasim Yaqoob, a young researcher and critic who has profoundly studied modern poetics and critical theories, compiled and published two books: Urdu Mein Usloobiyat Aur Usloobiyat Ke Mabahis looked at stylistics, while Adabi Theory discussed literary theory. Aftab Muztar published Aam Aroozi Mughalte that cleared some misconceptions and fallacies about Urdu prosody, while Qamar Abbas’s Adab Ke Chaand Taare was a collection of articles on prominent Urdu authors. Khurram Sohail, yet another young chap, penned Novel Ka Naya Janam on the history and technique of writing a novel, while Muhammad Naeem’s Urdu Novel Mein Istemaariyet was a postcolonial study of 19th century Urdu novels.
Some critical and research works published recently give one hope and assurance that our new generation of scholars is ready to take on issues related to our language and literature. Dr Sumaira Ijaz, a young researcher teaching at the University of Sargodha, collected the scattered and unpublished prose writings of the late poet in Kulliyat-i-Nasr-i-Muneer Niazi. Yasmeen Sultana Farooqi compiled Aslam Farrukhi’s articles on the rare books at Anjuman Taraqqi-i-Urdu’s library in Navadir-i-Anjuman. Sikandar Hayat Maiken evaluated the research carried out in Pakistan on Urdu fiction in Afsanvi Nasr Par Tehqeeq. His other work, Jamiaati Tehqeeq, examined research done on Urdu literature at our universities. Syed Sikandar Abbas Zaidi translated Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi’s Persian letters into Urdu, with a glossary and explanatory notes at the end of every letter, making the book all the more useful. Baghi Marwat from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa published Sarshar Ke Novelon Mein Mizah Ke Harbe, his doctoral dissertation evaluating humour in novels by Ratan Nath Dhar Sarshar. From Zubaida Jabeen in Lahore came her dissertation, Doctor Ibn-i-Fareed: Ilmi-o-Adabi Khidmaat.
Allama Muhammad Iqbal and Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib are two towering literary figures on whom new books are written every year. 2017 was no exception. Renowned scholar Rafiuddin Hashmi’s Allama Muhammad Iqbal: Mohsin-i-Zaban-o-Adab-i-Urdu was a succinct study of Iqbal’s life and works, whereas Khalid Nadeem rearranged and compiled Abdul Jabbar Shakir’s MPhil dissertation on Iqbal’s prose in Allama Iqbal Ki Urdu Nasr.
Rang-i-Adab, a literary magazine published from Karachi, brought out a special issue on Ghalib. Dr Muhammad Baqar’s commentary Bayan-i-Ghalib was reprinted. Abdul Aziz Sahir compiled and annotated veteran poet and scholar Abdul Aziz Khalid’s letters and Arshad Mahmood Nashad came out with Ashlok, a versified Urdu translation of Baba Fareed’s poetry.
The Pakistan Academy of Letters (PAL) published new titles and Urdu translations of literary works written elsewhere in the world and its magazine Adabiyat published a voluminous special issue on Intizar Husain. The National Book Foundation (NBF), another government-run organisation, published a large number of new and old titles, playing a vital role in promoting reading habits in the country. A notable feature of PAL and NBF publications is that they are priced sensibly and hence affordable for the common reader. Unlike them, the Urdu Dictionary Board increased the price of the complete set of its 22-volume dictionary to a level that most readers and students cannot afford: the set now costs a ridiculous Rs 50,400. It is a move that will leave these volumes to rot in storage, turning into food for termites, rats and literal bookworms as there would be virtually no buyers. Our bureaucracy must realise that these literary bodies were not created to earn profits or even break even, but to educate the nation by providing it with low-cost books.
*This writer expresses his regret at being unable to mention several other titles because of lack of space.
The writer is a former chief editor of the Urdu Dictionary Board and now teaches Urdu at the University of Karachi
Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, December 31st, 2017