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ISLAMABAD: Decline in readership worries writers

January 30, 2004

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ISLAMABAD, Jan 29: A galaxy of short story writers, gathered in the federal capital to discuss the origin, evolution and journey of Afsana through the last one century, expressed concern over the diminishing readership of literature.

Some of the speakers at a seminar on "Urdu afsana: aik saadi ka qissa" (the story of 100 years of Urdu short stories), organized by the Pakistan Academy of Letters here on Thursday, attributed high prices of books, economic hardships and internet to the receding interest of readers in literature. The first session of the seminar was presided over by Masood Mufti whereas Younas Javed and Khalida Hussain were chief guests on the occasion.

The PAL chairman, Iftikhar Arif, in his keynote speech, shed light on the journey of Afsana and said Urdu short stories had a distinct identity though they were distinguishable from early dastan forms.

He said it would be impossible to render full account of past developments that Urdu short story writing might have gone during the last 100 years. But the task could be attempted by naming some prominent writers like Rashidul Khairi, Prem Chand, Sajjad Haidar Yeldrum and the contemporary writers such as Saadat Hassan Minto, Rajinder Singh Bedi, Krishan Chandar, Om Prakash, Abul Fazl Siddiqui, Masud Mufti, Asad Muhammad Khan, Yunus Javed, Khalida Hussain, Mansha Yad, Mumtaz Mufti, Ahmad Dawood, Shaiqur Rahman, Zahida Hina, Rashid Amjad, Fahmida Akhtar, Razia Sajjad Zaheer, Khwaja Ahmad Abbas, Ashfaq Ahmad, Bano Qudsia, Hameed Shahid, Mazharul Islam etc.

He considered Rashidul Khairi as the pioneer of Urdu short story, who portrayed Muslim society of that time. He said his story was published in a magazine Makhzan published from Lahore in December 1903. This marked the year 2004 as the century of short stories, which would be celebrated by in Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar and Quetta.

However, Dr Aslam Farrukhi caused a commotion in the seminar by raising questions about the bad patch that the Urdu short story was going through. He said there was a period when Urdu short stories came on top of the world but now they are lost in the labyrinths of various ideologies and in the process it had lost readership because the felicity of language was missing from short stories of today.

"You could not write short stories in hybrid languages and when short story writers have lost touch with reality". He narrated the experience of Iran where Gulsheri had been conducting workshops in writing modern short stories and suggested the PAL should follow suit. "You could not conceive of modern literature without short stories," he maintained.

The seminar was addressed by a number of short story writers including Khalida Hussain, Yunus Javed, Mansha Yad, Hameed Shahid, Iqbal Afaqi, and Mahmud Ahmad Qazi.

Mansha Yad narrated the events behind the organization of the present seminar. He said that the readership has now been transferred to internet, and people are reading Urdu short stories posted these days on the web.

Khalida Hussain said it was a fact that short stories have been borrowed from and influenced by Western writers and yet it was usual since civilizations have known to borrow from each other. Western writers are still under the spell of our famous dastans and romances.

Hameed Shahid commented that Urdu short story writers were bridging understanding among different people as well as different hemispheres and Urdu fiction today enjoyed international recognition.

Masud Mufti while summing up the seminar said Urdu short stories may have progressed during the last century, and a number of them were indeed among the world's best, yet this genre of writing could be losing support of its readers.