Amjad Islam Amjad speaks at the Arts Council.—White Star
Amjad Islam Amjad speaks at the Arts Council.—White Star

KARACHI: The Arts Council of Pakistan Karachi paid tribute to renowned poet, playwright and columnist Amjad Islam Amjad on Tuesday evening by hosting a programme in his honour.

Poet Ambreen Haseeb Ambar moderated the event. She, during the conversation, put questions to Mr Amjad and requested him to recite his poetry for the literature-savvy audience.

The first question was about how Mr Amjad finds time to do a great deal of work (taking part in mushairas, publishing books, writing columns, etc) simultaneously. He, referencing a film titled 25th Hour, replied that if one tries there’s always the 25th hour [in a day] in everybody’s life. We need to look for it. He has always tried to find the 25th hour in his life and give every piece of work the amount of time that it deserves.

On the subject of the difference between generations of writers that have come after him and the one he’s a contemporary of, Mr Amjad said in the last 50 years the difference that has come about is nothing new.

Recorded history tells us that never has life changed with such great pace as it has in the last half a century. Obviously, when that happens, relationships change. In the past, things such sartorial fashion, would last for 10 to 15 years. Today, it’s rapid; so much so that sometimes we’re trying to come to terms with one alteration, and the very next moment another change hits us. This has also impacted on fine arts and literature. For instance, in his time there was a tendency to read (parhney ka riwaj tha) books, but these days youngsters, despite being talented, don’t do the kind of homework that they should. They keep to their mobile phones checking the number of their followers; they don’t realise who are their followers.

Arts Council pays tribute to Amjad Islam Amjad

Encounter with Roshan Ara Begum

Mr Amjad narrated an interesting story in that context. He said he met, for the first time, the legendary classical singer Roshan Ara Begum prior to the start of a TV show. She came across as a very unassuming, elderly woman. He took her non-seriously. Then the concert began. Five minutes into the show when she sang the alaap of the raga that she was supposed to present, it seemed to him that he hadn’t seen a more beautiful woman in his life. Her art overshadowed everything.

Another thing that he learned from her was that she did riyaz (practice) for six hours on a daily basis. When he pointed out to her that there’s no one like her in her field and yet she practised for six hours every day, she answered that that’s precisely the reason she needed to do it for.

Mr Amjad said he is an optimist by nature. He taught for 25 years. Teaching enables you to interact with new people every year. This is why he did not find it difficult to negotiate with the younger generation. When he was a young man, he too had his share of irresponsible acts. To illustrate the point, he read one of his verses:

Kiya hai ab jo nasl-i-nau ne hum ko hans ker taal dia
Hum bhi kab us daur-i-junoon mein samjhey thay samjhaney se
[So what if the present generation has ignored us with a smile
We, too, in our salad days didn’t accept many a norm]

Began writing dramas due to Jedi

Mr Amjad said the phase in his life in which he wrote poetry has been the longest. No other activity hampered it. He finds himself ‘at ease’ with poetry.

He told the moderator that it was the late poet and playwright Athar Shah Khan Jedi who advised him to write plays [Amjad is the writer of famous TV plays such as Waris and Dahleez]. Back then, he was chief editor of Punjab University’s literary magazine. Athar sahib was studying journalism and was also writing for radio and TV. They became friends. In those days, Athar sahib’s play Lakhon Mein Teen was on the air. He [Amjad] used to talk about the finer points of the play with him. One day the late writer said to Amjad that he should also start writing dramas because the points that he often raised about his plays were valid.

Published in Dawn, October 15th, 2020