A legend paying tribute to another legend: this was the thought that materialised, beautifully at that, in the shape of distinguished artist Zia Mohyeddin reading excerpts from writer Mushtaq Ahmed Yousufi’s selected works on Sunday afternoon at the Arts Council of Karachi.
Despite the fact that it was a Sunday, the council’s auditorium was packed to capacity by the time the show began. There were many who could no enter the hall so they had to listen to him from the foyer.
Before the artist, who is also president of the National Academy of Performing Arts (Napa), took the stage, musician Arshad Mahmud came to the podium and read out a piece that Yousufi wrote for/on Zia Mohyeddin.
As soon as Mohyeddin came to the podium, the audience gave him a standing ovation. A gentle gesture from him was his nice little way of thanking them. He said most of the pieces that he was going to read had not been read before.
He also suggested that Yousufi was not merely a satirist, but his writings had depth and wisdom. He was right on both counts because the first excerpt that he presented was about the art of translation. One felt that it’s something that literary critics and those who are interested in translating works of fiction and poetry from one language to another must read.
Yousufi makes a convincing case for the nearly impossible practice of translation, using phrases such as “if it’s faithful it’s not good, and if it’s good it’s not faithful”. To flesh out the argument, the writer gives examples from Shakespeare’s plays. One of them is the dazzling passage from Antony and Cleopatra: “Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety. Other women cloy the appetites they feed, but she makes hungry where most she satisfies.”
Of course, Mohyeddin read Yousufi’s argument with such linguistic panache and understanding of the text that even those who are not avid readers of books understood what the writer meant to say.
Then there were some humour-filled passages that had the audience in stitches. For example, the one about feeding chickens. It belonged to that category of prose in which Yousufi’s ability to visually enhance a scene by merely being witty is at its best. Mohyeddin knows well how to treat such lingua-visual works of writing. He read it with a great deal of flair, so much so that both the visual and the textual became seamlessly indistinguishable.
Another excerpt was to do with Yousufis’s take on the art of dancing as shown by modern-day television channels. While the writer makes fun of contemporary artists (some of the lines are extremely funny), the essay also underlines how well he knew about performing arts. Again, Mohyeddin did, as he always does, full justice to that aspect of the great writer’s oeuvre as well.
Yousufi passed away on June 20 this year. It has to be said that the tribute that was paid to him on Sunday was so far the most worthy of his stature.
Published in Dawn, September 10th, 2018