LITERARY trends and movements do not come and go with the flip of the calendar. Somehow we tend to gauge literary ideas and trends according to our own sense of time when they have their own natural courses which they must run through.
With the beginning of this year as we consciously or unconsciously took stock of what we gained or lost in literature last year, a few critics and researchers too tried to evaluate last year’s literary works, looking for clues that might help explain certain ideas and trends.
Though some people may not value such exercises, they are useful because the information gleaned at the end of the year becomes very significant a few years later.
You can find out the distinct features of a literary era just by looking at the year-end literature reviews. In fact, such regular works can be called the history of literature written in instalments.
A few veteran scholars such as Dr Syed Abdullah used to review literary trends of a whole decade, enabling a more concrete picture to emerge. Only till a few years ago, Dr Anwer Sadeed and Dr Saleem Akhter used to critically evaluate the previous year’s prominent literary works with remarkable regularity. The two scholars also wrote a history of Urdu literature.
Mushfiq Khwaja published a landmark issue of his literary magazine ‘Takhleeqi adab’ in the 1980s which classified literature of the 1970s in various genres. On Pakistan’s Golden Jubilee in 1997, many journals published articles critically evaluating the past 50 years of Urdu literature in Pakistan.
It has been over a decade since the beginning of the new century and the new millennium and decade-end reviews were well overdue. Luckily, in December 2012, Urdu’s two literary journals, Dunyazaad and Asaleeb, both published from Karachi, carried a few articles analysing and evaluating the peculiarities of Urdu literature written during the past decade and the past century.
‘Dunyazaad’, edited by Asif Farrukhi, published in its latest issue a thought-provoking article on Urdu literature of the 21st century, written by Intizar Husain. The article titled ‘Ikkisveen sadi mein hamara adab’ begins with an overview of the 20th century Urdu literature and goes on to trace the prominent features of literature written in that era. Peppered with Intizar Sahib’s usual aphorisms (which I like to call ‘Intizarism’), the article offers insight into our literature with an eye on the international socio-political scenario. Commenting on globalisation and its impact on languages, Intizar Sahib says that the gossip that days of African and Asian languages are numbered because of the hegemony of English may be music to the ears of those Pakistanis who believe that embracing English meant progress. As for English literature written in India, Intizar Sahib says that the western world wrongly believed that this literature represented Indian literature, just as the term ‘third world literature’ once used to imply ‘English literature written in the third world’.
While discussing the problems being faced by literature in the 21st century, Intizar Sahib feels that one of the problems is that media has conquered our hearts and minds and consequently people use media as a yardstick to analyse literature. This is why novels with issues and problems from a journalistic perspective appeal to us the most and if the novels are in English then it is considered to be yet another feather in the cap.
‘Asaleeb’, edited by poet Amber Haseeb Amber, brought out two new issues simultaneously. One of the issues devoted an entire section to Urdu literature of the 21st century. The contributors included Sahar Ansari (Urdu poem), Mubeen Mirza (short story), Zia-ul-Hasan (Urdu ghazal), Amjad Tufail (Urdu novel / Urdu criticism) and Musharraf Alam Zauqi (Urdu fiction in India).
In his article, Sahar Ansari rightly emphasised on trends rather than counting names of poets who had contributed towards the shaping of modern Urdu poem in the new century. Before deliberating on poetry of the new decade, he also took into account the influences that modern Urdu poets had accepted from national and international events and past trends, seamlessly connecting his account of the 21st century with that of the 20th.
Ansari Sahib says that though different forms of the poem, such as free verse, blank verse, Haiku and some poetic genres continued to flourish, the marked trend is the petering out of writing longer poems in Urdu. He quotes Thomas Mann, who had said “The fate of modern man is written in political terms,” and then gives excerpts from a few modern Urdu poems reflecting our times and trends. To elucidate his point, he quotes from poems by Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi, Aftab Iqbal Shamim, Adeeb Sohail, Amjad Islam Amjad, Hasan Aabdi, Khalid Ahmed, Yasmeen Hameed, Mahmood Shaam, Kavish Abbasi, Zehra Nigah, Kishwer Naheed and many others that have the diction and imagery which depict the horrors of our times.
These overviews are by no means the final word on the past decade’s/ century’s literature, but it does help understand and explain the present-day Urdu literary scene. One hopes that other journals will take a cue and more is written on this topic.