The lost traditions, civilisation of Lucknow

February 26, 2018

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Nasir Abbas Nayyar, Anis Ashfaq and Masood Ashar. — White Star
Nasir Abbas Nayyar, Anis Ashfaq and Masood Ashar. — White Star

One of the interesting sessions of the second and final day of the Lahore Literary Festival (LLF) was about Lucknow, a symbol of Ganga-Yamuna civilisation steeped in history of Urdu language, with Lucknow-based novelist Anis Ashfaq and Masood Ashar. The session, moderated by critic and short story writer Nasir Abbas Nayyar, was titled ‘Khaab Saraab, Lucknow Ki Tareekh’.

“Old buildings and historical architecture are being replaced by big plazas and apartments whose residents have no idea of civilisation, language and art which is very painful,” said Anis whose novel Khawab Saraab was the topic of discussion.

Mirza Hadi Ruswa had reportedly written two manuscripts of Umrao Jaan Ada and the second one was lost. The main character of Anis’s novel goes in search of that manuscript and the plot revolves around the fictionalised marriage of Umrao, and lives of her daughter and granddaughter.

“The novel was written as a reaction to the writers, including foreigners and English language writers, who have no connection with Lucknow, but they write on it and become bestsellers. The initial history of the city is in Persian, Arabic or Persianised Urdu and these writers don’t know these languages, which are necessary for writing about history of Lucknow,” Anis said and he rued that even trash literature in English sold while the best writing in Urdu went unnoticed.

Masood Ashar said all big cities of the world had changed or were changing, including Lucknow and Lahore, and fictionalising this process was laudable.

Anis said dance, especially Kathak, and most of Ragas were products of Lucknow and it was true that sons of the affluent were sent to brothels of the city to learn manners, as the city’s prostitutes used to be the most civilised members of society.

The novelist said a novel should not have only philosophy and intellectualism. “I consider it a big flaw. A novel should tell a story with a narrative technique,” he suggested.

Sindhi Resistance

a session, ‘Wadiye Mehran Ke Adab Ka Husn’, had two prominent Sindhi writers, Attiya Dawood and Amar Sindhu who mainly focused on resistance in Sindhi literature and feminism.

Sindhi literature was not of good quality right after Partition until it changed during Gen Ayub’s dictatorship, and the best literature started appearing during that era, Attiya said. She highlighted Sindhi writers’ works against pirs, feudalism as well as on feminism by women.

After the 1970s, Sindhi literature took up bold topics like same-sex relationships among women. “One such writer who wrote on this is Zareena Baloch.”

Sindhu said that like any other society Sindh had its problems like pir worship, feudalism, caste system and farmers’ plight, and the writers highlighting these social evils, taking up resistance for a social change.

“Sindhi literature was greatly influenced by progressive writers. When the Communist Party and progressive writers were banned in Pakistan, Sindhi writers continued their activities under Sindhi Adabi Sangat.”

Sindhu said Attiya was the first Sindhi poet who got the title of feminist. Attiya replied she was not the first feminist, but the first woman who owned feminism.

“I was targeted for being a feminist by both men and women writers and I suffered from depression. I had stopped attending literary events. I recovered from depression with the help of my husband and friends,” she added.

Parveen Shakir

The LLF remembered Urdu legend Parveen Shakir in a session with Amjad Islam Amjad, Aitzaz Ahsan and Rakhshanda Naveed on the panel, moderated by Mujahid Barelvi. It was titled ‘Parveen Shakir and the Marsh Marigold’.

Reminiscing about Parveen, Amjad said she had never left learning as a student despite getting popularity at an early age. He narrated an incident where she had got his help regarding history of Urdu poetry despite being a big name in her own right.

“Parveen’s book Mah-i-Tamam remained a bestseller for about 12 years,” he said.

Rakhshanda said Parveen’s popularity was partly due to the time she lived in. “There was only one TV channel and she had a chance to host a literary programme on it. Her ghazals were sung by Mehdi Hasan and Noor Jahan and telecast on TV. Besides that, her early death also contributed to her popularity,” she said and added that Parveen had a unique mildness in her poetry unlike Kishwar Naheed and Fahmida Riaz.

Aitzaz Ahsan pointed out that themes Parveen wrote on were repressed Pakistan woman struggling in a patriarchal society. He narrated incidents in the life of Parveen when she was targeted by government agencies and departments.

Published in Dawn, February 26th, 2018