Qurrat-ul-Ain Hyder and independence

August 19, 2012

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Qurrat-ul-Ain Hyder (1927-2007), one of Urdu’s greatest novelists and short story writers, was affectionately and deferentially called ‘Aini Aapa’. Also known as ‘the Grande Dame of Urdu literature’, she had earned many literary awards and a huge following through her distinct style and depiction of human feelings.

Though she had caught the eye of the critics quite early in her literary career, the attention she received was not necessarily positive. Her early works ‘Sitaron se aage’ and ‘Mere bhi sanam khane’, marked by a style and point of view hitherto unheard of in Urdu, earned her such remarks as ‘maghrib zada’ (impressed by the west) and ‘romanticised’. Critics with Marxist leanings rejected her as a bourgeoisie who depicted a tiny ‘decadent’ and ‘capitalist’ class of sub-continental society. They said her themes and milieu had nothing to do with the hard facts of life faced by ordinary people. She remained a constant challenge for critics long after she had passed through the early phase of her literary career.

The second phase of her literary career, beginning with the publication of ‘Aag ka darya’ (1959), was more stormy as it sent waves across the sub-continent’s literary scene. As Shamim Hanafi has said, until ‘Aag ka darya’ was published, she was accused of being impressed with the west but as soon as her magnum opus appeared she was declared a supporter of Hindu philosophy.

Not only that, she was dubbed “a Buddhist, a Hindu and pro-Israeli”. Rumour had it that the then martial law authorities had censored the novel ruthlessly. In fact Hyder had herself deleted certain portions from the calligraphic script just before it went to press. In India many believed in the myth that the novel was banned in Pakistan. Many mistakenly believed the reason for her going back to India and resettling there was the result of her persecution in Pakistan. Hyder herself has described the tumultuous situation in the aftermath of the publication of ‘Aag ka darya’ in her autobiographical work ‘Kaar-i-jahan daraaz hai’.

And she wrote that many in India “still believe that the novel was banned in Pakistan”. Another myth that she busts in ‘Kaar-i-jahan’ is that she had made a fortune through royalties of the novel on both sides of the border. She bitterly points out that despite several editions published in both countries, publishers paid her not even a single penny. After failing to damage her work, her literary rivals began copying Hyder’s style. She accuses the author of another popular novel, ‘Udaas naslen’, of gross plagiarism, citing the chapters and page numbers of ‘Udaas naslen’ for comparison with ‘Aag ka darya’.

The reason for her going back to India for good was neither criticism of ‘Aag ka darya’ nor the reason given by an Indian newspaper article. The newspaper wrote that when she heard a young child asking his mother “Amma, basant kya hoti hai?”(What is basant, Mom?), she realised “the profound loss of culture that partition could create and the deep pain that it had unleashed”. The article goes on to say that partition, the feeling of dismemberment of one’s motherland and the idea of an inclusive, composite culture found all the more place in her subsequent works. Well, it may be so. But this proves that Aini Aapa had not given enough thought to partition before migrating to Pakistan and in Pakistan one fine morning it dawned on her what ‘evils’ the independence (which they almost invariably refer to as ‘Partition’, with a capita ‘P’) had unleashed. As Javed Jabbar has recently deliberated this issue in Dawn, I am not going to discuss here why calling independence ‘partition’ amounts to refusing to see the historic struggle of millions of Muslims for a separate homeland.

I would here only ask my readers to recall Aini Aapa’s early works. Look, for instance, at ‘Mere bhi sanam khane’, her first novel completed in December 1947. Though this novel laments the decadence of Avadh culture and depicts mostly the lives of high society, independence is one of its themes. The feeling of loss of cultural phenomenon is at its heart. Her second novel ‘Safeena-i-gham-i-dil’ (1952), with her first novel, is considered a prelude to ‘Aag ka darya’. In both her early novels she presented a family saga, which was later to become the sub-continent’s historical saga spread over centuries. A deep sense of historical, anthropological and cultural realities and how they change is at the very heart of ‘Aag ka darya’. And people knew in Pakistan what basant was and many celebrate it even today. Secondly, her father, Syed Sajjad Hyder Yildarim, one of Urdu’s well-known writers, was a zealous supporter of the Muslim League and its cause. If seen from the point of view of our friends from across the border, the problem is that ‘Aag ka darya’ was written with the point of view of those who believed in Pakistan and its philosophy. Also, Hyder was not oblivious of what problems independence had brought to many millions. She was herself among those. She wrote ‘Aag ka darya’ in the government quarters of Karachi’s Mauripur area in the mid-1950s. The last portion of the novel quite beautifully captures the cultural and economic problems of those Muslims who had migrated to Pakistan. When she resettled back in India and translated ‘Aag ka darya’ into English, she had to purge many portions that depicted peculiar Muslim sensitivities and their exclusive culture. Yet, as Shamim Hanafi has said, it would not be true to think that Hyder’s conscious or subconscious is related only to the collective memory of Muslims.

She admitted in the introduction to ‘Kaar-i-jahan’ that most of her writings are concerned with “the search of the lost epochs”.

Many critics, especially those who have not read a major portion of Urdu’s classical literature and poets such as Iqbal and Ghalib, cannot fully understand what she is trying to say.

As she has mentioned, due to a general apathy towards symbols and allusions, strange interpretations of ‘Aag ka darya’ were offered by many. The same goes to those who have not read what she derives her symbols and allusions from. For example, she often uses phrases from Iqbal’s poetry. Even the names of her books are taken from his works: Sitaron se aage, Mere bhi sanam khane, Kaar-i-jahan daraaz hai. Her novel ‘Gardish-i-rang-i-chaman’ owes its name to a line from Ghalib. Those evaluating Hyder and her works on the basis of her English works or translations would do themselves a favour by reading her works in Urdu as well as reading a bit of Iqbal.

Qurrat-ul-Ain Hyder died in Noida, India, on Aug 21, 2007.

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