‘There are no public intellectuals in our society’

Published December 5, 2022
Anwar Maqsood speaks at the concluding session of Urdu Conference on Sunday.—Shakil Adil / White Star
Anwar Maqsood speaks at the concluding session of Urdu Conference on Sunday.—Shakil Adil / White Star

KARACHI: The fourth and last day of the 15th International Urdu Conference began with a scholarly discussion on ‘Urdu criticism in the 21st century’.

The session, moderated by Iqbal Khursheed, was presided over by Rauf Parekh and Tehseen Firaqi.

Critic Nasir Abbas Nayyar said from 1980 to the beginning of the 21st century discourses on Urdu criticism focused on the notion that it’s been influenced by the West or its origin is western.

While giving an opinion on that notion, examples that are often given are taken from the ‘best’ that there is. Our relation with the West has always been in binaries — of love-hate, for instance. The fact is, “Criticism is an intellectual activity. In our part of the world, logical reasoning (mantiq) is not liked very much, which is why we don’t have any public intellectual who can look at things with a balanced approach. Instead, we have groups who propagate their ideas. The 21st century homes in on the philosophy of literature.”

Sukhan-i-Iftikhar launched at last day of Urdu Conference

Qasim Yaqoob said foundational approach is important in literary criticism vis-à-vis fiction. He also touched upon the ontological and epistemological aspects of the discipline.

Najma Usman talked about feminist criticism and argued that it’s a progressive progress. The present cannot be viewed without looking at the past. Feminism means to look at the world with women’s eyes. But not much has been written with that approach.

Dr Ziaul Hasan spoke on the Urdu ghazal in the 21st century. He said it’s often complained that not much criticism has been directed at the Urdu ghazal, whereas it’s been going on for a little more than 100 years when Maulana Hali wrote Muqaddama-i-Sher-o-Shairi. Hali knew that the disposition of the Indian people is more inclined towards the ghazal. “More than a dozen books have come out on ghazal in the 21st century, and the most important of which is penned by Prof Shamim Hanfi.”

Mr Parekh said that among the four theses that were presented in the session he liked Mr Nayyar’s the most, although he has a different opinion on a few points.

Mr Firaqi said the creative process is a mysterious one which is why it’s difficult to undertake it. The basic element in criticism is the text (matn). In order to analyse texts, it’s important to understand their cultural backgrounds and the linguistic wealth that they carry within.

Complete works of Iftikhar Arif launched

One of the well-attended post-lunch sessions was the launch of poet Iftikhar Arif’s complete works Sukhan-i-Iftikhar.

Ambareen Haseeb Amber moderated the session. Highlighting the salient features of the book, Zafar Masud said it’s an honour for him to get the opportunity to publish the book. “Arif is our cultural asset and the dilemma of society is that we don’t value our assets. The messages that Arif gives through his poetry are unmatched. They are difficult messages.”

Dr Ziaul Hasan said when we examine Urdu literature, we see that every era is influenced by a big literary name. The era we are part of is associated with Arif. Sometimes, a man of letters appears in a phase in history which is between two time periods, that is, when one of them is beginning and the other is ending; and the poet is entrusted with the duty to bridge the two.

He said in the beginning of his creative journey there were the effects of the first martial law. When he started out, a dream was fading away. He saved that dream from fading away and brightened it up. After the second martial law there was despondency in the air, which needed a new metaphor enliven the atmosphere. That metaphor was the metaphor of the dua (prayer). Similarly, the metaphor of Karbala is used in his poetry in a variety of senses.

Dr Hasan also underlined the distinctness that’s found in Arif’s ghazals and nazms.

Dr Noman Ul Haq said he in his paper on the poet has touched upon three aspects of his life and work. The first is his journeys, including his migration. The second are personal traits; and the third is his poetics.

Pointing out the poet’s craft, the use of different metrical patterns, Dr Haq remarked that Arif has an enormous creative ability. He added in his poetry there’s a chain of symbols, metaphors and allusions.

Published in Dawn, December 5th, 2022

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