“OUR novelists do not have life experience. They have not lived life as did [Rajinder Singh] Bedi, Krishan [Chandr] and Manto. That’s why their writings do not have force. Though the story maybe complete, it is the forceful emotions that make a story great,” said Mustansar Husain Tarar in an interview to Qurratul Ain Tahira. The interview was included in Silsile Takallum Ke, a book by Ms Tahira, published in 2016.
What Tarar points out is an issue faced by our writers and poets today and many of them may not even know what is lacking in their writing. Our today’s writers, as Tarar expounds, “do not describe a city. In their works it is a city, any city; it could be Sialkot, or Sheikhupura or Turbat. Their characters do not walk on [a specific road such as] Mall Road. Even in realistic fiction our geography is not to be found, although it renders the fiction incomplete. Take the example of writers from abroad. It is evident in their writing what city they are writing about, whether it is Dublin, Moscow, Leningrad, Cairo or Istanbul. But none of our cities is clearly portrayed in our writings. A city is also a character in fiction and without this character no other character can live. Political, cultural and literary life is because of this character called city”.
In other words, it is the specific details that make fiction great and not the commonplace generalities. Now Ms Tahira has quoted Tarar in her article on Khalida Husain (1937-2019), published in the latest issue of Tasteer, an Urdu literary magazine edited by Naseer Ahmed Nasir and published by Book Corner, Jhelum. Tahira has rightly paid glowing tributes to Khalida Husain, one of the towering figures of our time, known for writing symbolic fiction that had specific clues.
But one is surprised at the voluminous contents of this just-published new issue of Tasteer, marked as issue 12. The publication of a literary magazine in these days of doom and gloom is indeed surprising when many have simplified their living to a barest minimum to save money , let alone a 560-page issue of a literary magazine with a price tag of Rs1,200.
The sky-rocketing price of printing paper has begun to take its toll on Pakistan’s feeble publishing industry, posing an existential threat to book publishing. Urdu’s literary magazines have long been moaning and groaning about the falling readership and dwindling revenues. While one must appreciate the publication of literary magazines as they are the earliest harbingers of literary as well as cultural and social changes, it would not be out of place to ask publishers of these magazines to reduce the quantity of content as it would bring the price down. Literary periodicals usually include multiple ghazals by a poet and most of them are drab and dry, a mere repetition of old motifs and hackneyed expressions. Though some of the ghazals published in Tasteer’s new issue are well-written, many deserved an axe. Some of the poems and prose poems, too, appear mechanical, albeit some of them are quite refreshing.
Some of the short stories are simply of journalistic nature and sound like reporting about news. While this is not to say journalism is anything inferior, a writer must remember that literature has to offer some sublime message in a delicate manner with specific milieu rather than reporting the plain facts. But some of the pieces included are really worth it: sections on remembering Shamim Hanafi and Shahid Hameed and some critical pieces by senior writers deserve kudos. Translations, especially English translations of Urdu poetry, are something to reckon with. Translations of Balochi and Sindhi literary pieces open up new vistas from our rural life and tell how our fellow Pakistanis feel about certain social and political issues.
Tasteer’s new issue is quite heartening as life of many Urdu literary magazines hangs by a thread because of many factors including inflation and a visible lapse in reading habits. In such circumstances publication of another literary magazine named Saibaan is nothing short of a pleasant surprise. Edited and published by Husain Majrooh, a poet in his own right, this Lahore-based Urdu literary magazine is a quarterly and its second issue ((Aug-Oct, 2022) appeared a few of months ago.
In this issue, one of the appealing pieces, at least for this writer, is an old interview with legendary fiction writer of Urdu Qurratul Ain Hyder. She has put so many profound ideas in so few words.
A striking feature of Saibaan is its devotion to culture and art: articles discussing cultural issues — Pakistani cinema, music, Lahore’s takiyaas, (abodes for Sufis and their disciples), Lahore’s architectural and cultural heritage — adorn the magazine. This 368-page issue is priced at Rs500 and is a clue to literary magazines’ survival: crisp and affordable.
Published in Dawn, April 17th, 2023
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