We know that writers and poets are a restless lot, at least intellectually if not physically. They simply cannot stop their inner creative process and come up with something new every so often. The pandemic that forced people to stay indoors over the past two years or so was, perhaps, a chance for many to catch up on their writing, too.

During lockdowns, writers and poets had ample time to put on paper their thoughts and the creative or critical works they had been planning all along, at least this is what one gathers when we look at the output during the year 2021: a large number of Urdu books and literary magazines began to pour in as soon as coronavirus subsided and restrictions were relaxed.

The number of books published during the last year is so high that it is simply not possible to mention here them all. So what we can do is to mention some important or impressive works here and regret that the limited space does not allow us to dig deep.

First the prose: as for fiction, still the most popular genre in Urdu, a large number of new novels and collections of short stories appeared. Among the veterans, Asgher Nadeem Syed’s new novel Dasht-e-Imkaan was received well. Sang-e-Meel published Muhammad Hameed Shahid’s Hairat Ka Baagh, a collection of his novellas and short stories. Ander Ka Aadmi is a collection of Hameed Shahid’s selected short stories compiled by Irfan Javed. Kitni Barsaaton Ke Ba’ad is a novel by Shehnaz Parveen and is written against the backdrop of former East Pakistan. Muhammad Hafeez Khan is writing novels with persistence and last year his novel Mantaara appeared.

Coming to criticism and research, we got some good titles this year, too. Fateh Muhammad Malik is a veteran scholar and critic. His latest is Pakistani Adab Aur Vardaat-e-Ishq-o-Junoon, highlighting the mystic background of Pakistani literature along with political milieu. Nasir Abbas Nayyar has been writing on post-modernist and postcolonial issues and his new work Jadeediyet Aur Nau Abadiyaat was published by Oxford.

Humour writing in Urdu has suffered a tangible decline ever since the senior humorists, such as Mushtaq Ahmed Yousufi, left for their heavenly abode. Ashfaq Ahmed Virk, however, is among new humorists who have now made their mark. His new book Khaka Zani is a collection of humorous pen-sketches of some of the well-known literary figures. A selection of Mirza Azeem Baig Chughtai’s humorous essays was compiled by Dr Muhammad Tahir Qureshi. Published by Oxford, it is a fine selection, representative of Chughtai’s playful humour.

Memoirs and autobiographies have become quite a rage these days and a very large number of autobiographies have appeared over the last few years. This year too was no exception and many new books hit the shelves. When Kishwer Naheed’s Buri Aurat Ki Katha appeared some 28 years ago, it made ripples. Now she has published a kind of sequel: Buri Aurat Ki Doosri Katha and it is, as expected, a vociferous protest against our male-dominated society.

Pakistan Academy of Letters has been publishing a series on prominent writers and poets who have helped shape Pakistani literature. Latest in the series is Dr Tehseen Firaqi: Shakhsiyet-o-Fan. It is penned by Tariq Hashmi and succinctly captures the intellectual and creative aspects of literary works by Dr Firaqi while paying him tributes that he so much deserves.

Let us have a quick look at the poetry. It is heartening to note that poetry still strikes a chord among the literati. Quite a few kulliyaat or collected works of popular poets were published in 2021: collection of Mohsin Kakorvi’s na’at poetry was compiled by Riaz Nadeem Niazi. Collected poetic works of Firaq Gorakhpuri were compiled by Taqi A’abedi. Kulliyaat-e-Habib Jalib (by Amar Shahid), collected works of Qamar Jalalvi (by Shaer Ali Shaer), collected works of Akber Ma’asoom and collected works of Qamar Raza Shehzad were published. Hameed Shahid published a selection of Mir Taqi Mir’s poetry. A glossary at the end makes it more attractive for the new generation. A collection of popular humorist Anwar Masood’s qit’aat was also published.

Dr Mehboob Kashmiri has come up with a surprising work: an Urdu translation of Fareeduddin Attar’s famous Masnavi Mantiq-ut-Tair. Consisting of over 4,000 couplets, adorned by illustrations and the original Persian text, this is simply a labour of love. Arifa Sameen Mateen’s Nazm Kahani is an appreciable effort to revive children’s Urdu poetry.

Veteran poet Iftikhar Arif’s new collection of poetry Baagh-e-Gul-e-Surkh appeared and reminded readers of his peculiar sensibility and vocabulary, beautifully blending the inner world with harsh realities around us.

Creative and critical works published in 2021 by our writers, scholars and poets are so great in numbers that only a few glimpses can be presented here. But the message is loud and clear: in 2021, Urdu literature was well and alive and kicking!

drraufparekh@yahoo.com

Published in Dawn, January 3rd, 2022

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