LAHORE: Professor of Urdu and South Asian literature Mehr Afshan Farooqi says Ghalib considered Urdu as a regional language spoken only in the northern part of the united India while he gave more importance to Persian thinking it had a wider outreach. He also thought that the classical tradition of Persian language was deeper compared to Urdu.

She was in conversation with Urdu poet Yasmeen Hameed during the launch of her book, Ghalib, a Wilderness at My Doorstep: A Critical Biography in a session of the Lahore Literary Festival on Friday.

Mehr thinks that Ghalib was following a classic style in his Persian works though his bent was towards ‘taza goi’. She says the poet’s Urdu poetry was more experimental as compared to his Persian works that were rich in classicism.

“I think he used to think in Persian and to even write in Urdu. He invented a language for himself to stretch the possibilities of the language.”

Mehr disclosed how she had found the rare lost 1821 Nuskha-i-Hameedia of Ghalib by chance as a reader of his columns published in newspapers, including Dawn, emailed her, telling her about the book. He travelled to the US and showed her the rare divan that had corrections and changes by the Urdu Bard himself.

About her new book, Mehr explained that she had no intention to work on the life of Ghalib as many great writers had done work on it. She remembered that once her father, Shamsur Rahman Faruqi, had told me about a ghazal that was among the works rejected by Ghalib and that she late came to know that he had rejected more than half of his works and Divan-i-Ghalib had only selected works.

During 10 years of work on the book, she tried to find out the answers to the questions that were raised during her research on Ghalib’s rejected works.

Talking about the travel of Ghalib to Calcutta and how it changed his views, Mehr said the poet lived in Calcutta for 1.5 years to get the issue of his pension resolved and the stay changed his mind.

“He saw many bookshops there and was introduced to the printed word. There were mushairas in Persian and when Ghalib recited his Persian ghazals. The scathing criticism that he received for his Persian poetry offended him. On his return, Ghalib wrote only in Persian for many years.”

On his return from Calcutta, she said, he was not as popular in Urdu as was Momin in his life so he gave more importance to Persian because he had an open field in that language.

AAG KA DARYA: Playwright Asghar Nadeem Syed says Qurratulain Hyder’s magnum opus, Aag Ka Darya, is relevant even in the current world because it deals with many aspects of society of India.

He was speaking during a session, Aag Ka Darya, in the LLF. Asghar said India had suffered from the Partition and Hyder had an advantage that she migrated to Pakistan and had observed the impacts of the Partition on life here too besides India. He added that her return to India, she said she felt suffocated in Pakistan that’s why she left for India and wondered how she would have felt in India of today and whether she would have felt the same suffocation there now.

Critic and author Shamim Hanfi from India said he had read the novel 60 years back when it was published. Calling the novel the story of a long grief, he termed Hyder the poet of history. After publication of the novel, Muzaffar Ali Syed had made fun of her migration back to India, which offended Hyder and she termed him ‘commander-in-chief’. Hanfi said now the meanings of the novel had widened in the present age. He called Aag Ka Darya such a novel in which we could see our reflection. He said the novel was an example of metahistory.

Fatima Hasan said time was also a theme of Hyder’s novel and through it she travelled across two and a half millennia of human life. She said whatever was happening in India today she had hinted at in the novel at the time of writing it. She could foresee what was in the future, Fatima added.

SHAHID HAMID: Former governor of Punjab Barrister Shahid Hamid says that during a stand-off between judiciary and the elected government of Benazir Bhutto, he, in his capacity as adviser to the then president Farooq Leghari to convey the reservations of the prime minister to Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah that had offended the then CJ.

When Leghari dissolved the assemblies, he wrote the presidential order, Hamid told historian F.S Aijazuddin during the launch of memoirs in an LLF session titled, Treasured Memories.

Shahid Hamid was later made the defence minister of the country in the caretaker set-up after dissolution of the Benazir government before the new election.

Talking about the book, he said he initially wrote his memoirs for his grandchildren and it also included a series of stories that he remembered from his childhood. He shared with the audience his memories of Cambridge University and the friends he made there, a world different from Pakistani universities.

Hamid’s father was diplomat and he had reminiscences of his stay in various countries with his parents. Talking about his own career in bureaucracy, he said he joined the civil services in 1964 and his batch included Farooq Leghari, Dr Ishrat Husain and other prominent men who rose to high offices.

One of his first postings was in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) from 67 to 69 where he met Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

“They (the Bengalis) were very patriotic and they did not want a separate country,” he said and added that they had legitimate grievances against West Pakistan.

Hamid also shared memories with the audience as the governor of Punjab when he hosted Indian PM Atal Bihari Vajpaee and Queen Elizabeth. He avoided the question of civil military relationships and how well he went along the armed forces.

Published in Dawn, February 20th, 2021

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