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COLUMN: The offerings of a literary journal

By Intizar Husain

The latest issue of Savaira offers readable material in abundance. This journal has taken care not to compromise on its literary standards.

Even after the publication of Professor Khurshid Rizwi’s research work on the pre-Islamic period of Arabic literature under the title Arabi Adab Qabl-az-Islam, new installments have continued to appear in the issues of Savaira. I have been reading them with interest and am impressed with the scholar’s in-depth study of the period. Now I wait for the second volume of this work.

But what has attracted me the most in the present issue is Najma Suhail’s remembrances of her life with her late husband, Suhail Ahmad Khan. Najma did not survive long after Suhail’s death and this is perhaps her last piece of writing. She had been writing short stories, and also wrote a novel, Andhera Honay Sai Pahlay, in her last years. She had also written a number of character sketches in which she fared far better than in her stories. And now comes the last piece of the kind of writing in which she excels: the art of portraying people. We see Suhail from her perspective, when she first met him during their years at OrientalCollege. What a truthful portrayal of the man who, in his personal relationships too, behaved in a dignified way in tune with his approach as a critic. It was perhaps due to his influence that Najma was emotionally restraint in her writings.

Along with this character sketch is also a long short story by Suhail. Other than literary criticism, Suhail had also been writing poetry. He has to his credit two collections of poems, which stand witness to his poetic talent. But the poet in him was overshadowed by the critic. As for his interest in fiction, he had written a few short stories, but the best piece of fiction from him is this long short story. He was, however, hesitant to come out as a fiction writer. The few short stories, and more particularly this long short story, speak of him as a promising fiction writer. But his own doubts about his talent for fiction did not allow him to concentrate on writing stories, so the promise in him remained unfulfilled.

Mustansar Husain Tarar, who enjoys the reputation of being a best selling Urdu novelist, has contributed to the issue two chapters from his unpublished novel. They narrate the story of two Pakistanis wandering aimlessly in the dreary land of Russia, which once used to be the dreamland of the revolutionary youth of Asia. Along with the romance of revolution they fell in love with Russian women, married and settled there. But with the disintegration of the USSR, they found themselves lost in an unfamiliar world and estranged from their own land.

Tarar has finely portrayed these two sad souls, once ambitious young revolutionaries now nostalgically looking back on their childhood. The depiction of the changed world is fine, but the language is a bit faulty.

From among the short stories in the volume, Mahmood Gilani’s “Gehry Nili Ankhain” attracted my attention. The story carries us to Yemen in a crisis. A sense of doom prevails in the atmosphere. People are in a hurry to get out of the country and are fleeing towards the airport. But at the same time, there is a sense of romance. Gilani has depicted the places and people very well. That is what the story had aimed at.