KARACHI, Dec 5: Our literary stalwarts in the past failed to provide us with the proper definitions of modernity and tradition with the result Urdu literature suffered a severe crisis the effects of which could be sensed to date. This was the gist of the arguments presented by Indian scholar Prof Shamim Hanafi while delivering the keynote address at the sixth Prof Mumtaz Husain memorial lecture titled ‘Literary trends and the colonial mindset’ at the Arts Council on Wednesday.

Dr Aslam Farrukhi presided over the event. Eminent writer Intizar Husain was the chief guest.

Prof Hanafi began his speech by touching on the effects of European Renaissance in terms of enlightenment and reasoning (roshan khayal, ta’aqqul) which in his view did not make any impact on the sub-continental mind since it was an imported concept and did not have any connection with the voice of the soul (rooh ki awaz) at the time.

This created a kind of imbalance that carried on till the 20th century. He criticised Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, Maulana Hali and Azad for being intellectually influenced by the West and in some instances found them a step ahead of Lord Macaulay.

He commented that the colonial mind was devoid of independent thought (colonial zahn azaad fikr se khaali hota hai).

Prof Hanafi formally commenced his address by speaking about Prof Mumtaz Husain and his teacher, Prof Ajaz Husain, who taught at Allahabad University. He said Prof Mumtaz Husain did not prefer western thoughts to eastern ideas. He told the audience that Prof Ajaz Husain was of the opinion (quoting from one of his papers) that Urdu literature lacked quality criticism (tanqeed-i-aalia) and direction.

He then reverted to his subject and remarked that in the 19th century Sir Syed, Hali and Azad had focused on the situation at hand and suffered from cultural amnesia. He argued that their thoughts were not tied to historical wisdom (tareekhi baseerat), which resulted in a chaotic era (hawas bakhta ahd). He emphasised that new grounds should be found without losing sight of historical wisdom. He said they overlooked the traditions established by Muslims and ignored the fact that our part of the world had been experience renaissance of sorts intermittently (for example, the Bhagti movement).

Prof Hanafi quoted from G.N. Devy’s book ‘After Amnesia’ saying that literature was a form of knowledge and that colonial rule in India painted a false picture of the West as superior culture, causing a state of cultural amnesia. “In a way it made us ashamed of our past.” He said our elders were unable to properly define tradition and modernity, consequently what we witnessed was artificial modernism. He pointed out that we should have rather chosen our paths on our own. We did not do that therefore we deprived ourselves of collective memory (ijtimaee yadasht se mehroomi). On the other hand, he mentioned, our artists such as classical musicians and painters, stuck to their traditional values.

Prof Hanafi lauded Prof Mumtaz Husain for opposing T.S. Eliot’s dictum that poetry was an escape from personality, since according to Prof Husain it was an anti-personality or anti-individual (shakhsiat kush) concept. He claimed that after 1936, when the Progressive Writers Movement had come into being, the same mistake was repeated and ideas borrowed from the West were applied to our local milieu. To support his point, he gave the example of how the movement was split into two groups and how people like Manto were treated by some progressives. He said on the one hand, they accepted Karl Marx’s concept of dialectical materialism and on the hand rejected his literary ideologies. On that topic he, in a lighter vein, said that attempts were made to clothe Kalidas’ Shakuntala in a skirt. He claimed that eastern poetry had influenced western poetry, a sign of which could be detected in the fact that the year 2007 was declared Rumi’s year.

Intizar Husain said he wouldn’t like to speak in favour or against the keynote address, because the occasion didn’t warrant it. He shared a few memories of Prof Mumtaz Husain with the audience. He said Prof Husain was a serious kind of a person and seldom reacted to situations. He added that once when poet Ahmed Mushtaq said to him that the progressive movement had produced only one great poet, Safdar Mir, it elicited a smile from Prof Husain.

Dr Aslam Farrukhi also talked about Prof Mumtaz Husain and informed the audience that apart from being one of the best critics of the 20th century, he was also a short story writer and poet. He lamented that society did not hold him in esteem that he richly deserved.

Arts Council’s president Ahmed Shah and Prof Husain’s son, Shahid Mumtaz, also spoke.

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