Zia Mohyeddin speaks at Urdu Bagh on Saturday.—White Star
Zia Mohyeddin speaks at Urdu Bagh on Saturday.—White Star

KARACHI: Lovers of literature gathered to celebrate Urdu translations of Munshi Premchand’s last incomplete novel Mangal Sutra and his wife Shivrani Devi’s book Premchand Ghar Mein by Dr Hasan Manzar at an event organised by the Anjuman Taraqqi-i-Urdu, which has published the books, at Urdu Bagh on Saturday.

Eminent artist and president of the National Academy of Performing Arts (Napa) Zia Mohyeddin was the chief guest on the occasion.

He said when he was a young student he was preoccupied with English (literature). But when renowned scholar Daud Rahbar took him to the literary sessions held by the Halqa-i-Arbab-i-Zauq, he started taking an interest with a fair degree of seriousness in Urdu literature. He read three stories at the time; one of them was Kafan by Premchand. It had such an influence on him that he was taken with Marxism. To date he thinks that it’s important for a young man to be coloured with Marxist ideas.

After that phase, he read Premchand’s novels such as Maidaan-i-Amal, Gosha-i-Aafiyat and Godaan. The protagonist of the last novel is a victim of the feudal system and suffers because of it but like Sisyphus gets up to carry on with his life.

Zia Mohyeddin praises Dr Hasan Manzar’s translation of late writer’s books from Hindi to Urdu

Mr Mohyeddin said it’s been 80 years since Premchand died. During this period a lot has been written and praised about him. Criticism too has been levelled against him.

‘Grip on dramatic attribute’

The marked feature, in his view, of Premchand’s stories is their conversational tone, or dialogic style (guftugu ka andaaz), of his writing. Be it between two men or two women or between a man and a woman, the style stands out. The moment Premchand’s character speaks the reader understands the character’s upbringing and demeanour. Not just that, the reader also gets to know what the character is thinking while speaking. The subtext in his stories is very important — the writer has a firm grip on this dramatic attribute.

To illustrate his point, Mr Mohyeddin read a piece Boodhi Kaki by Premchand, a story of the human condition, which was very well received by the discerning audience.

In the end, he acknowledged the Anjuman for hosting the event and appreciated Dr Manzar’s translation of the books from Hindi to Urdu.

Dr Hasan Manzar in his speech first talked about the time when he was initially introduced to Premchand and then told the audience how he was able to find the two originals of the aforementioned books and their previous publication.

Highlighting the greatness of the late author, he claimed Premchand in his last years had reached Mount Everest [of fiction writing]. But as a human being too he was a man of Everest’s stature. He was devoid of prejudice, didn’t believe in the caste system and never hankered after money. The only thing he cared for was self-esteem.

One night in 1936, when he wasn’t feeling well, he started writing a speech that he was to deliver on Russian writer Maxim Gorky who had just died. His wife asked him why he was doing it because Gorky wasn’t Indian. He replied writers were not looked at like that: they belonged to a common legacy.

Earlier, Anjuman’s General Secretary Zaheda Hina, before introducing the two speakers to the audience, said in the year 2020 an invisible germ has made everyone cautious. The Anjuman has kept working with caution, publishing books. The event for the two books that were being celebrated was to take place on Oct 8 but due to the situation arising out of the pandemic it was delayed.

President of the Anjuman, Wajid Jawad, thanked the guests for attending the programme.

Yasmeen Farooqui conducted the event.

Published in Dawn, November 15th, 2020

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