CONTEMPORARY Urdu criticism has not only become clichéd but it is also divorced from reality. Critics don’t care what our cultural mores and societal norms are and base their epistemological ideas on Western literary theories.
Our modern-day critics are least bothered about the validity and scope of their borrowed ideas. They don’t care if post-modernist theories can be practically applied to our literature or not. There are, however, some critics who are not critics in a limited, pedagogical sense. They are really concerned about literature, literature’s effects on society and societal trends that reflect in Pakistani Urdu literature. Literature is their passion not profession and though they may teach, it is not intended to earn bread and butter, their intent is to impart
knowledge and nurture the young minds. With their original thinking, they are critics in true sense of the word. Among such intellectuals is Yasmeen Hameed.
Having earned name and respect through her Urdu poetry some three decades ago, Ms Hameed slowly but surely has emerged also as a critic who is hugely well-read and writes in English with similar ease. But, unlike some well-known critics, her critical ideas are neither based on borrowed notions nor are purely theoretical. She is deeply rooted in local soil and analyses literary works with our cultural norms and societal trends in mind.
In her new book, Aik Aur Rukh, she has come up as a critic who is at home with modern critical theories but refrains from referring to them unnecessarily and wherever she has to talk about modernism, post-modernism or post-structuralism, she does not sound phoney or shallow as her intention is not to impress the reader.
In his intro to the book, Mubeen Mirza, while appreciating Ms Hameed’s cultural concerns, stresses this point in a slightly different way. Taking our so-called critics to task, he opines that our critics have formulated some theories and use them as cure-all. “Add to this their hysterical inclination towards half-cooked and stinking terminologies and their work is done” says Mirza.
One feels that the term-laden modern critical narrative of some critics is merely a way of covering up one’s inability to say something original in a comprehensible and intelligible way. On the contrary, Ms Hameed proffers in these essays her critical thoughts is a crystal-clear way, avoiding useless terms and hackneyed lingo. As Abul Kalam Qasmi, a renowned critic from India who left us two years ago, is quoted in a blurb as saying the most prominent aspect of Ms Hameed’s criticism is her steering clear of clichés and being able to present her own and original ideas with absolute clarity and lucidness.
The book discusses such significant topics as sensibility in modern poem, Urdu’s popular poetry and social behaviour, panoramic view of today’s Urdu poetry, women writers and society and 70 years of Pakistani English literature. The book also critically evaluates some contemporary writers and poets — such as, Shamsur Rahman Farooqi, Fehmida Riaz, Zahra Nigah, Bano Qudsiya, Tanveer Anjum and Anees Ashfaq.
Yasmeen Hameed’s approach is basically curious, she embarks upon a journey of understanding, posing questions at herself and readers and finally shares her discoveries and conclusions with the reader. For instance, in an article included in the book, she discusses our social behaviours and Urdu’s popular poetry and says there are, generally speaking, two types of popular poetry in Urdu these days. The first one is plain, artless and with a single layer of meaning, written with familiar environ and avoiding obscurantism and unfamiliar metaphors to evoke immediate response.
The other type is, says she, one created by famous poets, such as Ghalib and Iqbal. Written much before you were born, it is familiar and is oft-quoted even if it is commonly not comprehensible. It is even misquoted and rendered out of metre on Facebook, but your personal opinion about this famous poetry does not have any weightage because it is popular. She refers to Bob Dylan whose popular poetry was not published until he was awarded a Nobel Prize in 2016. Then she asks some thought-provoking questions: Should creators listen to their inner voice or concentrate on things that sell well and become popular? Why unlike past the tastes of those who write poetry and those who read poetry have become quite different? Do we need to revive the arts and humanities in formal education? These and some other questions are in fact commentary on our society and its preferences.
Published by Karachi’s Academy Bazyaft, the book carries some other pensive pieces as well. Ms Hameed is a poet, critic and translator. She has been associated with LUMS as professor and editor of its research journal Bunyaad. She has also been editor of Pakistani Literature, published by Pakistan Academy of Letters.
Published in Dawn, August 7th, 2023