IRFAN Javed has named his new book Aadmi and not insaan. Aadmi is a word that has many connotations in Urdu. Though sometimes it is used to say ‘man’ or ‘male’, the word ‘aadmi’ is derived from ‘aadam’ (Adam) and it implies that both men and women are ‘aadmi’ since both are ‘children of Adam’, so to speak, or ‘Ben Adam’, an idea very much existent in some eastern languages, too, as ‘bani aadam’ is used in Persian and Urdu.
‘Insaan’, on the contrary, is a word that signifies a higher human being, as Ghalib says: ‘Aadmi ko bhi muyassar nahin insaan hona’, (even mankind cannot be humankind). So ‘aadmi’ is somewhat imperfect, fallible and prone to err, far from being ‘insaan’, or the perfect human being.
Urdu’s classical poet Nazeer Akberabadi in one of his famous poems has counted different kinds of ‘aadmi’ or forms that mankind is capable of assuming: pious or sinful, callous or kind, prince or pauper, idle or industrious, you name it. The theme is: people are unpredictable, not only you would find angel-like souls and Satan-like creatures among them, but the good and the evil do exist in the same person and you never know when would an angel could turn into a Satan — or the other way round.
Therefore, the title Aadmi is quite apt as the writer wants to prove that people may be far from being perfect yet among them there are some weird but lovable figures; strange to the point of being idiosyncratic but kind and gifted; nonconformist but talented and consummate. With pen sketches of people who were unusually talented and strange at the same time, Aadmi, a collection of six pen sketches by Irfan Javed, just published by Lahore’s Sang-i-Meel, does prove that fact is much stranger than fiction as we come across some very interesting, bohemian and idiosyncratic yet hugely talented and lovable personalities in these sketches.
Irfan Javed is a fiction writer and is always in search of interesting characters that could fit in to a drama or short story of his, giving it a fillip. But he is a restless, globe tottering soul. His job, too, often forces him to pack a bag and leave for another city. During his stays in different Pakistani cities and travels abroad he came across some really peculiar, mystifying, eccentric and wise persons, some of them were undoubtedly genius and, as they often say, genius does not come without a touch of crankiness.
At the same time Irfan Javed seeks wisdom and the tips for the art of living a fruitful and content life. So these pieces are not without insight into the mystery that we call life. Some of the sketches in the book read like excerpts from some short story or novel.
But it is not only because of writer’s style — descriptive and full of imageries and analogies — it is also because these personalities themselves are so interesting, even to the point of being eccentric, that make the a page turner. Of these personalities, one is a writer: Asif Farrukhi, famous and successful but gloomy and lone at heart. Two are practitioners of occult knowledge: Ishaq Noor and Muti’ur Rahman, reading people’s destiny but not knowing much about their own fate. One is a foreigner, Gabriel (an assumed named to protect the privacy), whom the writer met in Istanbul and could never forget him because of Gabriel’s unusually charming characteristics. Another is Buddy Maamoon, a person who one night quietly left his wife and infant son in Austria and never went back, living a life in US that sounds like a perpetual party.
And the last one — and perhaps the best of them all — is a sketch of Baba Iqbal, termed as ‘Baansri Baba’ or the flute-playing old man, a domestic servant who had a heart of gold and would weep when a bird died. But the very same soft-hearted, Sufi-like person, though not without minor human weaknesses, had been a soldier in the Second World War and had to kill an enemy soldier to save his own life. Such strange are the ways of fate and such unpredictable is ‘aadmi’.
Some of these personalities had lived life to its full, tasting every drop of it and seeing every aspect of the face of life: the good and the bad and downright ugly, so their wisdom and insight is at times startling. These lovable characters are not out of a movie or a work of fiction, neither the events have been imagined. These are based on facts.
Mark Twain once quipped: “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities, truth isn’t”. And some of the truths narrated in this book are surely way stranger than imagination.
Published in Dawn, January 30th, 2023
Dear visitor, the comments section is undergoing an overhaul and will return soon.