From 1970 to 1990, Enver Sajjad kept shining on the horizon of Lahore’s cultural, political and social scene
From 1970 to 1990, Enver Sajjad kept shining on the horizon of Lahore’s cultural, political and social scene

While attending Dr Enver Sajjad’s funeral, lines from a poem by Iftikhar Arif kept haunting me:

جس روز ہمارا کوُچ ہو گا
پھوُلوں کی دکانیں بند ہوں گی

The day I pass away,
Flowers shops will be closed down

It was the second day of Eid; everyone was in a mood of celebration and all marketplaces, including the flowers shops, were closed. A vivid memory of an evening flashed through my mind: I was sitting beside Sajjad in his car and we were driving on Lahore’s Mall Road when Sajjad spotted a teenager selling jasmine garlands. He stopped the car and bought some garlands. Hanging them from the rear-view mirror, he turned to me and said, “Only jasmine flowers have the unique quality of continuing to emit fragrance even long after they have withered away.”

Anis Nagi, our common friend, used to call him ‘doctor’; so did I. Doctor took his last breath in a five marla house which the owner of a private TV channel had rented out for him in Lahore. This evoked the memory of a four kanal bungalow owned by doctor which was situated on Hali Road, Gulberg, just behind Hafeez Centre. That house had a lush green lawn where the literati, including this writer, would gather for evening congregations. While strolling down memory lane — reminiscing nostalgically about 40 years of our friendship — a sense of regret assails me. I couldn’t do anything to save my friend. What a tragedy!

Undoubtedly, he was one of the greatest creative minds Pakistan and the world of Urdu literature ever produced, yet he quit writing some 25 years before his death. And he kept his word till his last breath. However, whatever he produced has become part of our literary history, and that needs to be reflected on critically. But before taking stock of his writings, some facts relating to his personal life need to be mentioned here.

Sajjad’s father, Dr Dilawar Ali, was a renowned person in his field who practiced medicine from a private clinic in Choona Mandi and patients from across Lahore used to consult him. One of Dr Ali’s sons had died in his youth and Sajjad took on the responsibility of supporting his deceased brother’s wife and kids, who continued to live with him in his Hali Road bungalow. His father wanted Sajjad to become a doctor, while the latter wanted to join the Pakistan Air Force or foreign service.

Sajjad didn’t perform well in the Intermediate exams, so he couldn’t get admission in a medical college. But Dr Ali didn’t let his son follow the course he wanted to. He was told to do his Bachelors in Science. Sajjad eventually got admission in Dow Medical College, Karachi, and completed his medical education from King Edward Medical College, Lahore. He started practicing medicine at his father’s clinic, which he used to call hatti, meaning shop. These were the crucial years of his life. He was pressed to do what he disliked. He was struggling against his father’s desire and against his own self, of course. He was on a path of exhaustion and enervation.

He began writing in 1949 — the year of my birth, incidentally. First, he tried his hand at poetry. His debut poem tilted Aaghaz-i-Ehd-i-Nau (Start of a New Era) appeared in Adab-i-Latif, a prestigious literary magazine at the time. He wrote his first short story Hawa Ke Dosh Per (On the Wings of the Wind) in 1953, which was published by Naqoosh, another prominent literary magazine of Urdu. Interestingly, Saadat Hasan Manto’s short story was also included in the same issue. He kept writing short stories. In 1957, he published his novelette Rag-i-Sang (Vein of Stone). The word novelette had just made its way into Urdu in those days. Though Sajjad’s novelette had plenty of romantic sensibilities, one can easily find traces of the author’s interest in painting and the shifting trends that emerged in the 1960s on the international literary landscape.

Undoubtedly, Enver Sajjad was one of the greatest creative minds Pakistan and the world of Urdu literature ever produced, yet he quit writing some 25 years before his death. And he kept his word till his last breath. However, whatever he produced has become part of our literary history, and that needs to be reflected on critically.

Under the influence of new literary movements, the art of the 1960s resorted to experimenting with new techniques and styles such as surrealism, expressionism, existentialism and abstractionism, for instance. Enver Sajjad’s close bond with artist Shakir Ali had ignited a deep interest in art within him. Shakir Ali could be found in the Coffee House, Lahore, regularly in those days. Sajjad took it upon himself to experiment with the modern style of painting in his fiction. Appreciating zealously Sajjad’s innovative style in fiction, Indian critics such as Shams-ur-Rahman Faruqi, Waris Alvi and Ameeq Hanafi went on to count him as one of the two pillars of modern Urdu fiction — the second being Delhi-based short story writer Balraj Manra. Pak Tea House found itself divided into two camps; one belonged to Intizar Hussain and the other to Enver Sajjad. But Sajjad would always have a cup of tea at Hussain’s table before leaving for his clinic, and both would have a pleasant exchange of words.

Sajjad’s collection of short stories Isteaaray (Metaphors) appeared in 1970. It proved to be a trendsetter as Urdu short stories stumbled on to a new dimension under its influence. Aaj (Today) and Chauraha (Crossroads) were published in 1982 and 1985, respectively. Both were, by and large, in continuity of a style that the author himself had introduced in Isteaaray. This was the period of Gen Ziaul Haq’s martial law and Sajjad dared to react against dictatorship, fascism and other antidemocratic tactics of the martial law regime by adopting a metaphorical and symbolic style in his last two books based on short stories.

Interestingly, Sajjad’s art of fiction blossomed under the martial law regime. Under the repression of dictatorship, he produced two novels — Khushion Ka Bagh (Garden of Delight) and Janam Roop (Mode of Life) — which seemed to offer an amalgam of progressive ideas and modern abstract style. These novels presented readers with new trends. In his writings, Sajjad seems to take a position that is usually attributed to political activists. In Khushion Ka Bagh, the author’s interest in painting is not just manifest, it is miraculously evident. Predicating his novel on Hieronymus Bosch’s famous painting, Garden of Earthly Delights, that comprises three panels, Sajjad unveiled the tyrannies of the then fascist, dictatorial and repressive Pakistan government. In his second novel, Janam Roop, the story revolves round a torture cell that is emblematic of the whole country.

From 1970 to 1990, Enver Sajjad kept shining on the horizon of Lahore’s cultural, political and social scene. He remained extremely busy in more than one medium of art, and of course stayed popular and influential. His popularity was not merely confined to fiction; in the fields of acting, drama-writing and doing voice-overs for Radio Pakistan, he was equally well-liked. He ardently did theatre, too. His play Aik Thee Fakhta (Once There Was A Dove), staged at the Alhamra Lahore, was written in the backdrop of Gen Zia’s martial law. During the Bhutto regime, he was the president of Artist Activity and played a central role in establishing institutions for the promotion of arts in the country. This was the period when he also became a close ally of Faiz Ahmad Faiz.

During this period, Sajjad began writing for television as well. He became an earnest social activist and the mainstay of cultural gatherings. He was, perhaps, the first Urdu writer who owned a personal car and a bungalow in the heart of Gulberg in 1960. He had an enviable sense of humour that made him the darling of all evening congregations. He also had a knack for dressing up. But no one could sense that he terribly lacked the art of true love. In an extremely cold winter of 1973, he went to watch the movie Wuthering Heights, which was being screened on a cinema in Gulberg, in the company of a beautiful female TV artist. I was also there watching the film. Sadly, it marked the beginning of a long and downward spiral in matters regarding his personal life. After getting married for a second time in 1990, he sold off his father’s four kanal Gulberg bungalow and bought a house in DHA Lahore, only to sell that off as well and opt for another in a private housing society, which he ultimately lost possession of — to his second wife.

His routine was both hectic and unnerving. He would leave home at the crack of dawn for Radio Pakistan, where he was assigned to do a literary programme. But he never missed out on the opportunity to have a chat with artists such as Amanat Ali Khan, Fateh Ali Khan, Mehdi Hasan and others. Then he would move on to PTV where he engaged in long discussions with Muhammad Nisar Hussain, Yawar Hayat, Sahira Kazmi and Sarmad Sehbai — luminaries of that age — on the art of drama in general, and on his script in particular.

Sajjad was burning the candle of his life at both ends
Sajjad was burning the candle of his life at both ends

Visiting the Pak Tea House was also essentially a part of his daily routine. Whenever he had to participate as an actor in recording a TV drama, he would fix the time just prior to going to his clinic straight from Pak Tea House or after closing his hatti. He would return home by 11pm. Ratti, his first wife, would be desperately waiting for him. He was burning the candle of his life at both ends!

When I was invited by PTV to write drama, some prominent producers such as Kanwar Aftab Ahmad, Muhammad Nisar Hussain, Sahira Kazmi, Qasim Jalal and Nusrat Thakur were associated with PTV. Having received training in film production from the US, Kanwar Aftab taught me how to pen a fine script. Nisar Hussain advised me to go through Ashfaq Ahmed’s scripts, but it was Sahira Kazmi who said that if I wanted to learn how to write a brilliant script, I would have to take a close look at the scripts penned by Enver Sajjad. I closely studied Sajjad’s script of Saba Aur Samandar (Breeze and the Sea) and was amazed by how accomplished my friend was in the art of scriptwriting. He didn’t ignore even the tiniest of details. In brief, he was a perfectionist and pedant as far as his art was concerned, yet in real life he showed a nonchalant and uncaring attitude.

He was not only my close friend but our family doctor, too. I was in London in the year 2000 when my first wife died due to post-surgical complications at the Mayo Hospital in Lahore. At the funeral, he asked me why she was not referred to him. I told him that I was not in Lahore at the time. Now, at Sajjad’s funeral, an answer to his question came to my mind: “Dear doctor, while I was available for you as a devoted friend, why did you not let me help you or take me into confidence when it came to your love life?”

I know very little of his tragic love story. In 2004, Sajjad called me to tell me he was leaving Lahore. Surprised, I asked him how he could leave when Lahore was in his blood. “When you were at the theatre festival in Iran with Intezar Hussain and me, you wore Lahore proudly round your neck,” I reminded him, to which he replied that it had begun to weigh him down. And then he handed over his scriptwriting class at the National College of Arts to me and left. Before his departure, he also handed over the possession of his hatti to someone else and took up a job with a six-figure salary package at a private TV channel. When he returned to Lahore, the same private TV channel owner rented out the five marla house that he breathed his last in.

In the last days of Enver Sajjad’s life, while he was suffering from dementia, it was his wife Ratti, whom he had separated from years ago, who came from Canada to take care of him. When I went to meet him, Sajjad failed to recognise me due to the advanced stage of his illness. When I met Ratti, she too couldn’t recognise me, perhaps she too had acquired symptoms of Sajjad’s illness.

Now, when my friends ask me what really happened to doctor, I have nothing to say to them, although I know a lot about his last days. Pakistan and the subcontinent’s most unique fiction writer passed away more or less unsung, just like any ordinary person.

And the flower shops remained closed that day.

Farewell, Enver Sajjad.

Translated by Nasir Abbas Nayyar

Published in Dawn, ICON, June 23rd, 2019