IS Allama Iqbal renowned enough to be discussed at a conference held specifically on the topic of renowned writers and poets of Urdu? Is Allama Iqbal’s century-old Payam-e-Mashriq great enough a book to be discussed during a literary conference?
The answer to both the questions is no, or, at least, this is what one can infer from the four-day Urdu conference organised by Arts Council of Pakistan (ACP), Karachi. The conference ended a week ago.
Every year, the Arts Council organises Aalmi Urdu Conference during the months that offer the attendees a chance to enjoy the mild winters of Karachi: November and/or December. Keeping in line with its tradition, this year ACP held its conference from Nov 30 to Dec 3. To hold a conference at such a grand level and that too regularly for 16 years in a row takes some guts. Even in the days of pandemic, ACP organisers remained determined and the conference took place as usual.
This year, too, like many previous ones, it was a smashing success, let me admit. The well-organised and well-attended conference offered to the citizens of Karachi four lovely days to enjoy cultural and literary activities. It was a chance to rub shoulders with your favourite authors and scholars. With a large number of intellectuals from different parts of the country as well as from abroad attending the conference, some virtually though, it was an excellent opportunity to meet and listen to some of the brightest stars of today’s literary world of ours.
The Urdu conference has become a prominent feature of Karachi’s cultural and literary scene. ACP president Muhammad Ahmed Shah and his team indeed deserve all the kudos for organising the conference successfully and providing the city with the kind of activities that the culturally starved citizens of this tormented city have always been longing for.
The main theme of this year’s conference was Mashaheer, as one can reckon from the brochure and the sessions held, though this had nowhere been mentioned expressly. The word mashaheer is plural of mashhoor and it means renowned, famous. Most of the sessions at the conference discussed the renowned writers and poets of Urdu. Some special sessions were held to acknowledge the works by renowned writers and poets of Punjabi, Balochi, Seraiki, Sindhi and Pashto, too.
As for Urdu, many sessions were devoted to discuss the renowned and great writers and poets with specific reference to genres, such as, novel, poem, naat/ hamd, ghazal, short story, criticism and children’s literature. But Allama Iqbal could not be placed anywhere in these sessions, not even in the session on Urdu poem nor Urdu ghazal. Perhaps Iqbal’s Urdu poems and ghazals are not good enough or he is not renowned enough!
Prof Dr Tehseen Firaqi, former head of Urdu Department at Punjab University who is currently head of Lahore’s Bazm-e-Iqbal and a scholar in his own right, informed this writer that he had asked the organisers, about a week before the conference got underway, to devote a special session on Iqbal’s great poem Payam-e-Mashriq (A Message from the East) as it was first published in 1923, exactly a hundred years ago. It is a collection of Iqbal’s Persian poetry and was inspired by, as acknowledged by Iqbal himself in his intro to Payam-e-Mashriq, West-Oestlicher Divan (West-Eastern Divan) of the German ‘philosopher of life’ Goethe. Firaqi was assured of topic’s inclusion by the organisers, but when he arrived at the venue he found, to his utter disappointment, that it was missing from the schedule.
This writer, while all praise for Ahmed Shah and his team for their untiring efforts to keep Urdu’s flag flying high, personally asked him to include Iqbal in a session as several scholars, including Dr Firaqi, were available and willing to talk on our national poet. Shah Sahib very graciously replied that “it can still be arranged and I will see to it”. But it was not to be!
Aside from that, one must appreciate the seamless arrangements. The overwhelming response extended by the citizens of Karachi was also heartening. Arranging special talks with some writers, such as Mirza Ather Baig, Shakeel Aadilzada, Heeroji Kataoka, Mustansar Husain Tarar and some others, was thoughtful and simply beautiful.
Celebrating the three centuries of Mir Taqi Mir’s poetry was another nice gesture, as Mir deserved it. Book launches and Urdu voices from abroad too enriched the aura. One may miss here mentioning a couple of sessions, but not mushairas, a cultural phenomenon as well as literary.
In a nutshell, ACP’s International Urdu Conference is fast becoming Karachi’s literary and cultural face.
Published in Dawn, December 11th, 2023