‘Urdu Conference has become Pakistan’s identity all over the world’

Published December 1, 2023
Caretaker CM Maqbool Baqar speaks at the Urdu Conference on Thursday.
—Fahim Siddiqi / White Star
Caretaker CM Maqbool Baqar speaks at the Urdu Conference on Thursday. —Fahim Siddiqi / White Star

KARACHI: The four-day 16th International Urdu Conference organised by the Arts Council of Pakistan began here on Thursday.

Speaking on the occasion, caretaker Sindh Chief Minister retired Justice Maqbool Baqar said the conference has become Pakistan’s identity and a brand all over the world.

“Nature has bestowed man with aesthetic and moral senses and the ability to create. These blessings distinguish him from other living beings. Reading quality literature has always been a way for nations to be socially aware, balanced, humanitarian, sympathetic and elegant. Literature and culture play a positive role in societies.

“Today, the nations who did that have a distinct position and are called civilised. And the individuals who contributed to the progress of literature and culture have become immortal,” he told the audience which packed the council’s main auditorium in no time.

Arts Council’s mega event kicks off with keynote address by Ghazi Salahuddin; CM inducts Ahmed Shah as caretaker minister

He said he’s happy that like always all languages are represented at the conference.

“We are enlightened and peaceful people, and yet we’re accused of certain things that need to be responded to. We need to keep our reputation positive. Through such activities [Urdu conference] we can tell the world we’re not how everybody perceives us to be. We are a peaceful people. I want to especially tell the youngsters that literature is an important part of society,” he added.

The chief minister also announced that he’s making Arts Council’s president Ahmed Shah a minister in the caretaker cabinet.

‘We don’t know how to think and dream’

The conference began with an extremely thought-provoking keynote address by journalist and scholar Ghazi Salahuddin.

He lamented the dwindling reading habits of the nation, particularly of the country’s youth, and pointed out that reading fiction enables us to think and dream.

He focused his attention on fiction during his talk. He said fiction keeps a society alive only if a big number of the educated lot reads it. “Pakistan is lagging behind in South Asia. This may have other reasons but I think staying away from books is a major reason. This decline manifests in the fact that we don’t know how to think and dream. We should be proud of our literature. How can things improve if there are very few readers of literature?”

At that point he mentioned Ilya Ehrenburg who used to represent the Soviet Union at literary conferences. Someone once asked him whether his country had produced a great writer such as Chekov after the revolution, to which Ehrenburg replied that although it hadn’t produced such an individual, what needed to be taken into account is that if earlier a few thousand people used to read Tolstoy, now hundreds of thousands read him.

Mr Salahuddin said, “If the writers can change the world, so can the readers. I have observed that the writers who are appreciated in their homeland get recognised globally. Ismail Kadare is an Albanian author. Albania has a distinct language. I think five million people speak that language. Someone first translated his novel into the French language, and for the last 10 years he is considered one of the contenders for the Nobel Prize. In 2014, one million copies of Japanese writer Haruki Murakami’s novel were sold in the first week alone. People wait in long queues to get their hands to his books.”

Highlighting the importance of dreams, the scholar said some time back China held a convention on science fiction and fantasy. The reason for holding it was that while China could manufacture goods, it didn’t boast of inventions like the US. They [Chinese] sent some of their experts to the US to visit the offices of Microsoft and Apple. They found out that almost everyone that worked there had read science fiction and other novels in their younger days.

“Einstein has beautifully illustrated the relationship between stories and dreams. He had once famously said, ’Imagination is more important than knowledge,” he added.

Mr Salahuddin told the audience that last year 78 million books were sold in the US. He rounded off his speech by saying books are like Aladdin’s lamp.

Earlier, the council’s president Ahmed Shah said the moot started 16 years back in the presence of literary stalwarts such as Dr Aslam Farrukhi, Dr Nabi Bakhsh Baloch and Intizar Husain.

Six awards were also given to books that have come out recently.

They were Khafif Makhfi Ki Khwab Beeti (Urdu) by Mirza Athar Baig, Pashtun Danish (Pashtu) by Noorul Amin Yousufzai, Mendel Da Qanoon (Punjabi) by Jamil Ahmed Pal, Yaram Pyaram (Sindhi) by Zubeida Maitlo, Marda Jeevan Di (Seraeki) by M Hafeez Khan and Man Qissa Nihaan (Balochi) by Ghafoor Shad.

The first formal session lined up for the day was on the three centuries of Mir Taqi Mir.

It was presided over by Zehra Nigah and Iftikhar Arif.

A qawwali performance by Farid Ayaz and Abu Muhammad was on the programme list as well.

Published in Dawn, December 1st, 2023

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