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KARACHI: The International Urdu Conference officially got under way at the Arts Council on Thursday evening. And, by local standards, it got under way pretty much on time: just 90 minutes behind schedule. Even when the proceedings began, the audience still had to wait till Gopichand Narang took the podium for the evening to really get going. The visitor from India stole the show with his keynote address on Josh Malihabadi.

After the formal inauguration of the Conference, which was presided over by a presidium comprising leading literary lights from both sides of the border, the first session was dedicated to Maulvi Abdul Haq. Delivering his paper, Dr Khaleeq Anjum recalled the massive effort Baba-e-Urdu had made for the promotion of the language in pre-partition India. The General-Secretary of the Anjuman Taraqqi-e-Urdu in India, who has specially flown in for the conference, cited Maulvi sahib’s key rule in the establishment of the Osmania University in Hyderabad Deccan which he later turned into a centre of excellence for the Urdu language.

Papers on the role of Baba-e-Urdu were also delivered by Dr Shadab Ihsani and Dr Shazia Ambreen who shed light on the physical and financial ways in which he had contributed towards the promotion of the language. The speakers did their best, but at times the session failed to do justice to the great life it was dealing with. At least it didn’t click with the audience. That much is for sure.

The second session was dedicated to Josh Malihabadi which started off with Dr Hilal Naqvi’s paper that focused on the manner in which Josh was treated by some of his contemporaries, especially Shahid Ahmad Dehlavi who had taken out a 600-page edition of his famed literary magazine Saqi to “tarnish the image of Josh.” To the speaker, it was something that should have been avoided. The speaker, however, made no mention of the fact that it was Josh who had initiated the row with Shahid.

To his credit, however, Dr Naqvi did give some life to the proceedings. Unfortunately for the audience, it didn’t last long because the next speaker, Dr Yahya Ahmad, touched nothing new on the poet, confining himself to all the things that have by now become a cliché to describe Josh.

It was against this backdrop that Gopichand Narang was called to the stage and it was then that some members of the audience who were yawning till then actually started to focus on what was being said. With the help of a number of verses, Narang established his assertion that Josh was fascinated by the element of contradiction in life and universe. “It is unique for a poet to be loud enough to talk about revolution with as much grace as he was while dealing with the aesthetics of nature and feminine splendour,” he said.

While he called Josh the most popular poet after Iqbal and Tagore, making no mention of where he would put Faiz in this scheme of things, Narang did concede – though not in so many words – that the fame of Josh had failed to survive the changing times. “That Josh would be forgotten with time was something unthinkable in his prime,” he remarked, stressing that it was probably because the poet never gave much thought to compiling his selected works.

Impressed by the session on Jaun Elia that was part of the soft opening on Wednesday, Narang proposed a day-long “no-holds-barred” session during the conference on the restless soul. The proposal was received by a round of applause from the audience.

Organised by the Arts Council, the seven-day conference will have in all 12 sessions, coming to an end on Dec 3.

Friday’s programme

Session I (10am to 1.30pm) – New Creative and Critical trends in Urdu Literature in the Last Ten years. Papers to be read by Prof Siddiqur Rahman Qidwai, Dr Kulsoom Abul Bashar, Dr Mohammad Ali Siddiqui, Fehmida Riaz, Dr Asif Farrukhi and Dr Fatima Hasan.

Session II (2.30pm to 6pm) – New Trends in Urdu Poetry in the Last Ten Years. Papers to be read by Dr Shamim Hanafi, Shahid Mahli, Iftikhar Arif, Dr Asghar Nadeem Syed, Dr Saleem Yazdani, Rahat Malik and Riaz Haans.