INTIZAR Hussain is a novelist, short-story writer, columnist, travel writer, biographer, playwright, critic, translator and what not. Critics even call him a philosopher, a reformer and readily issue him a certificate of Sufism. But he refuses to be called anything else but a fiction writer. His illustrious journey began with the collection of his short stories, Gali koochay, published in 1952 and continues uninterrupted.
In January this year the Arts Council in Karachi held a reception to honour the distinguished Lahore-based writer. At the event, almost all the prominent writers of the metropolis were present to pay tribute to Intizar Hussain, who said he was overwhelmed by the exuberance of affection and the use of superlatives for him by Karachi's literati. But he was categorical when he said “I'm a man of fiction only and have nothing to do with Sufism or philosophy. If somebody has discovered philosophy in my writings, I'm not to blame for it.”
He said what critics saw as Sufism was the reflection of the folk stories in his works. And since he had related Hindu mythology in some of his writings, readers called it Vedic philosophy.
Answering a question in an interview with Dawn, he says “I do not care if I'm not contributing to national development in the popular sense. I'm a story writer and not a reformer. Those writers who think they are reforming society, I wish them good luck in their efforts. I write stories and do not care what impact they will have on the readers.”
In reply to a question, he says “I do not write for economic gains. Nobody can create good literature purely for money. However, in appreciation of what one does, if something good comes one's way, one should welcome it.”
In reply to a related question, he says “Compromises may be permissible to some degree, but they shouldn't be to the extent that they become a burden on one's conscience.”
Intizar sahib is lucky to have had prominent writers and poets across the country as his friends. “There is no bigger prize for you in this world than to have sincere friends and admirers.”
Answering a question, he says “One shouldn't rewrite one's own works published long, long ago even if they have some flaws. Our writings are like our children. When they become mature, we have no right to modify them. I'm not in favour of translating one's own works. Quratul Ain Hyder translated her own novel Aag ka darya and it was not liked by many as she had digressed from its original text.”
He says the list of his favourite writers has grown with age. But Anton Chekhov, whom Leo Tolstoy called “an incomparable artist of life”, is one of the writers whose appeal has not waned over the decades. Another such writer is James Joyce, a “notorious writer though”, who has only one collection of stories to his credit which he says has had enduring interest and sustained the Irish writer's popularity.
Intizar sahib's stream of creations flows as smoothly as ever, but he doesn't disclose the nature of the book he is writing these days. He only says it will be a long piece of writing.
In this connection, he mentions Mushtaq Yousufi, who never discloses what he is working on. He even avoids giving interviews to the media. “I cannot follow him, but I really like this policy of his.”
Although he is increasingly getting conscious of his age, Intizar Hussain is enjoying life to the fullest. When I called him at 10.35pm, I feared he might be asleep. Kishwar Naheed, who is far younger than him, told Dawn last week that she didn't want to be disturbed after 10.30pm even by her own sons living abroad. The man who answered the telephone said Intizar sahib was out for dinner and might be back in an hour or so. An hour later, too, he was not home.
“No matter what time I go to bed, I get up early in the morning,” he says when asked about his daily activities. “I take my breakfast and begin reading and writing. In the evening a few friends arrive and together we chat about different things. This is how I spend the final phase of my life,” he says, adding
Subh hoti hei shaam hoti hei/ Umr younhi tamam hoti hei
“Long life has both positive and negative aspects to it,” he continues. “It is good as long as your limbs move and you have the capacity to work and enjoy doing things. But after 80, you never know when your faculties will desert you. And that is the fear that may haunt any aged person.”
He says he doesn't think it is time he stopped working and started relaxing. “Reading a good book and trying to write a good piece is my recreation. This is both my rest and 'unrest'.
“Without doing something positive, life seems meaningless. No serious writer may think that he has done enough and there is no need to write more.”
He doesn't use the internet and even computers and writes his weekly columns for Dawn in long hand. He doesn't even carry a cellphone. “The only modern gadget I use for my writing is the landline telephone.”
Intizar Hussain was born at Dibai in Bulandshahr district. His date of birth is mired in controversy and may be any of the following December 21, 1922, December 21, 1923 or December 21, 1925. He did his intermediate in 1942, BA in 1944 and MA (Urdu) in 1946 from the Meerut College.
He migrated to Lahore in 1947. Here he served various newspapers, retired from Mashriq daily in 1988 and began working as a freelance journalist and writer.
His books include Gali koochay, Kankari, Din aur dastan, Shehr-i-afsos, Kachhuay, Khaimay say door, Khali pinjra, Morenama and Sheharzad kay naam.
Among the awards he won are Sitara-i-Imtiaz, Pride of Performance, Adamjee literary award, Kamal-i-Fun award and Anjuman Farogh-i-Adab Doha's award.