Mushtaq Yusufi and Asif Farrukhi’s writing style lauded

Published September 18, 2021
THE online session under way.—White Star
THE online session under way.—White Star

KARACHI: A group of eminent writers and poets shed light on the salient features of writing styles (uslub) of distinguished authors, the late Mushtaq Ahmed Yusufi and Asif Farrukhi on Thursday evening at an online event held by the Arts Council of Pakistan, Karachi.

The programme was organised to celebrate birthdays (Yusufi — Sept 4; Farrukhi — Sept 16) of the two men of letters.

Poet Iftikhar Arif, who presided over the event from Islamabad, said there were many good writers, but a few of them can be called sahib-i-uslub (having their own distinct styles). For example, individuals such as Mir Amman, Mohammad Husain Azad and Ghalib are sahib-i-uslub prose writers (Ghalib because of his letter writing). Not that their contemporaries were writers of a lesser stature, but they did not have their distinct styles.

Mr Yusufi was a sahib-i-uslub prose writer. In his time, individuals such as Shafiqur Rehman, Col Mohammad Khan, Mohammad Khalid Akhtar and Ibn-i-Insha were also good writers. However, they didn’t have their own uslub. It was Yusufi who first merged humour with intellect in Urdu literature. There’s no doubt in the statement that we’re living in the prose writing era of Mushtaq Ahmed Yusufi.

Mr Arif, on Asif Farrukhi, said he had known the writer for a long time. His father Aslam Farrukhi had a particular association with tasawwuf and wrote wonderful sketches. Asif’s mother Taj Begum belonged to Deputy Nazir Ahmed’s family. This meant that Asif Farrukhi hailed from the Delhi school of prose that wrote simple language which came right from the heart. Asif Farrukhi’s writings fall in the same category. He was a multidimensional man: founder of literary festivals, publisher, translator, short-story writer.

Indian writer Javed Siddiqui said he met Asif Farrukhi just once in 2016 when the late author had come to take part in Jashn-i-Rekhta in India. There, Siddiqui requested him to publish his book Langarkhana to which he agreed. That one meeting left an indelible impression on him.

Mr Siddiqui said he was first introduced to Mr Yusufi in 1995 when someone gave him his book Charagh Taley to read. He started reading the book with reluctance because of the oft-used phrase in the title. However, once he began reading the book, he finished it in one go. It dawned on him that it was not just humour; the writer was trying to communicate something — it had strange wisdom. Every sentence was quotable.

Writer Aamer Hussein, who joined via video link from London and whose book Restless has just come out, said he met Asif Farrukhi for the last time a month before the pandemic hit the world. Both had no idea that it was their last meeting. Two weeks before Farrukhi’s death, they had a telephonic conversation. At the time he [Hussein] had become aware of Mr Farrukhi’s illness. During the chitchat the subject of death came up. Mr Farrukhi said to Mr Hussein, “I will die before you.” It startled Mr Hussein. And two weeks later he left the world.

Mr Hussein said he used to urge Farrukhi to write an autobiography. His piece written on Abul Fazl Siddiqui’s book had glimpses of his life. But that didn’t happen. He also recalled the time when Mr Farrukhi came to London with Intizar Husain to attend the International Booker Prize event. There, Mr Hussein introduced him to writers such as A.S. Byatt. Mr Farrukhi pleasantly surprised Byatt by discussing with her all her books. He was a voracious reader and kept himself familiar with contemporary world literature.

Prof Shahida Hasan (Canada) said creative ability is often equated with fire. Reading something recently made her realise that creativity and fire have a strong connection. Fire is not just used to provide warmth or fuel; it’s also used for lighting a path and for providing security. The two writers being discussed (Yusufi and Farrukhi) for sure spent their lives in the creative fireplaces of their souls (takhleeqi roohun ke aatishkadey).

Critic Nasir Abbas Nayyar said the most important aspect in having an uslub is signature or individuality. Having your own signature depends on the kind of diction that a writer chooses for himself, the way he uses it, the kind of sentences that he constructs, whether he breaks the traditional syntactical structures, and how he employs in his language symbolic or metaphoric references, etc.

Every genre has its own uslub. And three aspects influence writers’ style. One, what do they think about literature? Two, what’s their perception of the world? Three, what do they think about the world? Against that yardstick, both Yusufi and Farrukhi were tall figures in literature.

Dr Fatema Hassan and Ahmed Shah moderated the programme.

Published in Dawn, September 18th, 2021

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