ONE of the sessions under way on Friday.—White Star
ONE of the sessions under way on Friday.—White Star

KARACHI: Two important pre-lunch sessions on the second day of the 13th International Urdu Conference at the Arts Council on Friday provided a great deal of food for thought for readers of Urdu literature.

The first session, moderated by Rukhsana Saba, was on the 100 years of the Urdu nazm.

Dr Noman Ul Haq, who spoke via audio link from Lahore, said it was both easy and difficult for him to speak on the topic. Easy, because he is fond of the subject and can recite verses; difficult because the last century changed the world of Urdu nazm. A stellar line-up of poets emerged in the period, beginning with Allama Iqbal. Then there were Miraji, N.M. Rashid and Faiz Ahmed Faiz. Talking about a single one of them, he said, would consume a lot of time.

‘Urdu nazm has linked man to the universe’

Dr Haq pointed out that the new nazm (written in the last 100 years) has linked man to the universe. The other thing is that because of the genre Urdu poetry has come out beyond the realm of mushairas. This means it’s a movement from oral tradition to a literate culture. For example, Faiz and Rashid were not the poets of mushairas.

Panellists share their views on 100 years of Urdu poetry and novel at the second day of Urdu Conference

The third aspect that the scholar mentioned was that the genre has brought together nature and creativity, myth and history, perception and reality, uncertainty and belief.

Dr Najiba Arif presented online from Islamabad a paper on the Urdu poetry written against the backdrop of the events of 9/11.

She said her research revolved around two questions. One, how does the 21st century Urdu poetry see the post-9/11 situation? Two, how do contemporary social and internal circumstances impact an individual and influence his/her poetry?

She argued that after 9/11 Urdu poetry can be divided at least into three strands (lehrein). The first strand relates to the voice raised against an imperialist power (the US). The second is to do with a new sensibility in which there’s awareness of contemporary political and social issues with a new diction and style. And the third is about those poets who have written on such subjects with consistency and firmness. The prominent names among them include Aftab Iqbal Shamim, Kiswhar Naheed and Zeeshan Sahil.

Dr Fatema Hassan’s paper was on women’s nazm nigari from 1920 to 2020.

In her detailed analysis she started off by taking the name of Zahida Khatoon Sherwanian and went on to discuss a number of poets, rounding off her talk by mentioning the likes of Parveen Shakir, Azra Abbas and Shahida Hasan.

Tanveer Anjum’s research work was on young prose poets (nasri nazm) who, she said, think globally and act locally.

100 years of Urdu novel

The second session of the day was about 100 years of the Urdu novel moderated by Syed Kashif Raza.

Qazi Javed was the first speaker. He shed light on the civilisational aspects in the Urdu novel. In the context he highlighted in front of the audience one novel London Ki Ek Raat by Sajjad Zaheer and two novelists Quratulain Hyder and Intizar Husain to put his point across.

He was of the view that Zaheer had good potential for fiction writing but he didn’t fulfil it. His novel is about young people in pre-independent India and raises the big question of freedom. Hyder and Husain in their books look for roots in search of identity. But unlike Hyder’s characters, Husain’s protagonists are taken from the masses, he added.

Ziaul Hasan spoke via video link from Lahore. His was arguably the most provocative paper of the day thus far.

He said Urdu novelists couldn’t crack the secret to writing great novels as their western counterparts had. In the West, the genre of the novel came into being after it moved from a feudal to a capitalist system. Prior to that family was at the heart of the stories but after the transformation individual and his existence became the focus of writers’ attention — individual grappling with the vast world of existence. This is something he was of the view which Urdu novelists are missing out on.

M. Hameed Shahid before presenting his paper referred to the debate sparked off by a critic about meaning and meaningfulness in literature. He said meaning is like a seed which, when it grows, assumes a different shape — meaningfulness can be found within that.

Published in Dawn, December 5th, 2020

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