ASAD Muhammad Khan, who turned 91 on Sept 26 this year, is an eminent short story writer, playwright, translator and poet. To pay tribute to this veteran author, Ijra, a literary Urdu magazine published from Karachi, has just brought out a special issue.

Known for his experimentation, narrative style and fascinating diction, Asad Muhammad Khan sets his tales in a peculiar cultural background, portraying certain characters with minute details and a unique parlance that perfectly captures the aura. His writings are almost always imbued with a deep sense of distinct local milieu. Some of his characters have striking resemblance with the real life persons and his portraying them, especially some local Baloch, Sindhi and Makarni characters in his Urdu stories — complete with a rich supply of their specific vocabulary — send scintillating vibes. This indeed is a part of his gleanings from his long association with Karachi Port Trust (KPT), as the opportunity enriched his experience since he used to meet myriad types of persons while working with KPT, extracting characteristics and stories from many of them without letting them know.

Though he imbibed the atmosphere of his adopted country quite well, especially Karachi’s local vibration, the unforgettable ambience of his ancestral town, too, remained very much a part of Asad Muhammad Khan’s psyche and some of characters, that he has lent an eternal life to, come from Bhopal’s local background. ‘Mai Dada’, is one such character. This marvellous short story tells the life of a character who was known to be of Pakhtun descent (since Bhopal was a princely state founded by Afghan-Mughal nobles), but he was actually not so. The characters and the environment presented in the story speak a lot about the author and his ancestry as well. In his several other prose and poetic works, Asad Muhammad Khan depicts Bhopal’s culture in a rustic Urdu dialect of Bhopal (Bundelkhandi) with amazing ease and mastery. One can read this peculiarly rustic and sweet-sounding parlance in his songs and some other poetic works.

Rana Muhammad Asif interviewed Asad Muhammad Khan for Ijra. Included in the latest issue, the interview proffers some interesting facts about the celebrated author. For instance, while in Bhopal, a young Asad Muhammad Khan became much impressed with communist ideas and began attending their meetings. Soon he was arrested for sticking a poster on to the wall of a mosque. His elders convinced him with great difficulty to write an apology and get released. Soon after the episode, a major embarrassment for the family, his father sent him to Pakistan to avoid any more such incidents. It was 1950.

Born in Bhopal in 1932, Asad Muhammad Khan did his matriculation from Bhopal’s Shahjahani Model High School in 1949 and took admission to Hameediya College, Bhopal. In Karachi, he did his BA form S. M. College and was enrolled in MA (English) at Karachi University but had to quit after the previous year for financial constraints.

His father had artistic leanings, taught art at school and used to paint portraits. This created a penchant for art in Asad and he joined J.J. School of Art to get a diploma. Having come to Pakistan, Khan lived in Lahore for about a year and a half and then moved to Karachi. The urge to paint would pinch him but he could not afford the paraphernalia in his barely enough salary. Once he wrote about it to his siblings back in Bhopal. His father advised him that creation does not depend on paint and canvas alone, pen is also a medium of expression. Thus began his writing that ultimately won him many awards, including Tamgha-i-Imtiaz (2007) and the coveted Kamal-i-Fan Award (2021).

But the long journey took quite some time, hard work, practice and persistence. Even today he rewrites his works some 16 or 17 times, as he once told Mubeen Mirza. But the first lines of his first song came to his mind while travelling in a bus from PIB Colony to KPT office — quite a long ride. It was 1955 or 1956, as he recalls, and the line was Main Vindhiyachal Ki Aatma. Jameel Jalibi published it in his Naya Daur. He read out his fist short story Basode Ki Maryam to Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi, who took it for publication in Funoon. Then he took about one year to write Mai Dada, also published in Funoon.

His works include Khirki Bhar Aasmaan (1982), Burj-e-Khamoshaan (1990), Ghusse Ki Nai Fasl (1997), Ruke Hue Saavan (poetry, 1997), Narbada Aur Doosri Kahaniyaan (2003), Teesre Pehar Ki Kahaniyaan (2006), Tukron Mein Kahi Gai Kahani (2006), Yaaden (2015), Aik Tukra Dhoop Ka (2015), not to mention numerous songs, TV plays and the script of Javed Jabbar’s movie Beyond the Last Mountains.

Ijra’s special issue includes pieces by some prominent critics and scholars who have paid glowing tributes to the author, and deservingly so!

drraufparekh@yahoo.com

Published in Dawn, November 20th, 2023

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