Unlike popular perception, 2013 saw a plethora of Urdu writings, particularly in non-fiction, including memoir, reminiscences, sketches and anecdotes. An increasing number of civil & military bureaucrats and members of the social elite have reverted to Urdu as medium of expression. It reminds one of the times when literary and journalistic icons like Faiz, the Bukhari brothers, Sajjad Zaheer and Z. A. Suleri had an equally enviable command over Urdu and English.
[quote]An autobiographical account by Lt. Gen. (R) Shahid Aziz – a close aide of General Musharraf – generated quite a controversy and became an instant bestseller[/quote]
“Yeh Khamoshi Kahan Tak”, a controversial yet interesting autobiographical account by Lt. Gen. (R) Shahid Aziz, who was a close aide of General Musharraf during the 1999 coup generated quite a controversy and became an instant bestseller. Political commentators dismissed it as an attempt to defend the author’s role in the overthrow of an elected civilian government. Irrespective of some of the debatable portions of the book, its readability, elegant prose and rare insights into military life outweigh its controversial aspecta.
A lesser noticed yet candid, motivational and touching autobiography, “Teesra Janam” by Sitara-e-Imtiaz winning Dr. Khalid Jamil Akhtar is a rare combination of high literary quality and objectivity. It is an inspiring story of a cadet from Cadet College Petaro – a high achiever in both studies and sports. He made it to King Edwards Medical College, Lahore where he topped the sports list and was an academic star. The happy part of the story ends here. A road accident rendered him physically disabled and he was informed that there are bleak chances of his ever walking again. By sheer will power he overcame his disability and gradually started walking again. During this turmoil his beloved abandoned him for a physically fit, better suited match. Even then he held fast to hope and completed his studies, ultimately to dedicate his life to physically and mentally challenged special people. He initiated a program for special people on PTV in the 1980s. Meanwhile he married a colleague from PTV and had three wonderful children. He also took his mission to promote the cause of special people to many relevant fora. During his endeavors, General Zia ul Haq, owing to his own daughter who was a special child, extended the utmost support. He attended several workshops in various countries to gain expertise. Presently he is still partially handicapped, but has lived his life to the full. The llast quarter of his biography is full of objective and candid observations. Fortunately, it is devoid of the emotional melodrama that unnecessarily creeps into such Urdu writings. It is the story of a real hero. It would have made it to the list of best autobiographies in Urdu had the scissors of an astute editor trimmed its unessential and repetitive details.
‘Zindagi Kay Sou Roop’– a montage of anecdotes, reminiscences, first hand observations and popular hearsay by retired civil servant Syyed Meeno Chehar (son of famous Scholar poet Syed Abid Ali Abid) makes for interesting reading and can be a good travel companion.
‘Jharnon say kirnain’ – a compilation of reflections, sketches and essays on literary figures like Faraz, Nadeem, Zamir Jaffery etc. by retired civil servant, Masud Mufti, a seasoned writer, fails to come up to the superior quality of his earlier works. Its dull content and insipid diction demands a complete revision for the next edition.
The autobiography of S. Farrukh, a female activist and writer, aptly titled “Jeenay ka Jurm”, and sketches of poets and prose writers by Razia Fasih Ahmed compiled in a book named “Gul Dastay aur Gul dairay” seem scribbled in haste. Patience is the keyword here for authors as well as readers. However, ex-civil servant, Uxi Mufti (son of Mumtaz Mufti) in his memoir ‘Aik Din ki Baat’ has painted eloquently his days spent with Qudrat-ullah Shahab, his strained marital life, a fluctuating emotional bond with his father and interesting anecdotes about his father’s contemporaries and foreign travels as head of Lok Virsa which makes it a pretty decent book.
An amazing yet ignored autobiography ‘Mein Aur Mera Gaoon’ by Fayyaz Ahmed Qadri, an account of a menial laborer turned electrician born to a poor father, is a straight forward first hand insight in the wretched yet often fictionally romanticized lives of common villagers and basic workers. In his plain, captivating and honest narrative the author distills and presents the tough life of a common Pakistani. Born in 1943 in Sialkot the author attained his Master’s degree in Urdu in 2000 (Aged 57 years). It took him more than a decade to write this slim (200 page) memoir. It smells of fresh fodder and bursts stereotypical myths so popularized by Urdu fiction writers.
Javed Siddiqui is a creative superstar in India. Hitting the road to stardom in India as a screenwriter, dialogue writer and playwright, he was initially trained by Satyajit Ray and Shyam Benegal. Later he wrote for classic movies like Umrao Jaan, Zubeidaa, Tehzeeb and commercial hits such as Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, Baazigar, Kismet etc. He has written outstanding sketches in Urdu which appeared in literary magazine ‘Aaj’ and were later compiled into a book titled ‘Roshandan’. He has written sketches of cinema legends as well as of common street vendors. Two of his fresh, exceptionally well-written sketches have appeared in the November issue of “Aaj”. However there is a factual error in the sketch ‘Bi Hazoor’ which somewhat marred the reading experience for me. The story paints the picture of his paternal grandmother – a headstrong and religious woman. In the 1950s young Javed went to a local fair where he was fascinated by a film projector costing Rs. 1000. He had once seen a thousand rupee note in the hands of his aunt from Pakistan and was desperate to buy that projector. He pleaded with his grandmother for some amount to add to his savings for buying that machine. Ultimately she gave in and affectionately handed him over the money saved for her pilgrimage to Ajmer. The focal point of the story is that one thousand Pakistani Currency note he once saw in the hands of a visiting aunt from Pakistan. Unfortunately, the most valuable currency note of the time in Pakistan was Rs. 500 note. Prima facie, the writer’s memory has erred here.
There has been a surge in Urdu novels in the last couple of decades. Mustansar Hussain Tarar has presented us with half a dozen stupendous novels – the latest being “Aay Ghazal-e-Shab” (2013), Mirza Athar Baig and Muhammad Asim Butt have also come out with a couple of interesting novels each. Muhammad Ilyas has four impressive novels to his credit – the latest of which is ‘Purva’ (2013). Khalid Toor, Shams ur Rehman Farooqi, Hassan Manzar, Ahmad Bashir (with an immortal autobiographical novel) and Ashraf Shad have explored the possibilities in Urdu novel writing. Hashim Nadeem and Umaira Ahmed have also written a number of popular novels. Urdu novelists have treaded new territories of experimentation and narrative. In this light it is pertinent to claim that we are living in a renaissance age of Urdu novels.
[quote]It has taken an Urdu fiction writer more than half a century since Manto to garner enough courage to express human sexuality in a popular idiom[/quote]
The most conspicuous and ground breaking novel appeared at the end of 2013 in literary magazine “Aaj”. Canada based writer Tahir Aslam Gora’s “Rung Mahal” is a riveting account of the lives of the Pakistani diaspora in Canada. Its diction is original, eloquent, absorbing and innovative. It has taken an Urdu fiction writer more than half a century, after Manto, to garner enough courage to express human sexuality in a popular idiom. It portrays the lives and psychological conflicts of Pakistanis based in Canada, with a rare insight into revealing glimpses of personal experiences. The story shuttles between the past and the present, bringing to life characters that follow their adopted country’s life style alongside those whose insecurity in an alien world pushes them to seek refuge in extreme versions of religion. Unfortunately the story ends rather abruptly but leaves enough room for a sequel. At times I felt that the excessive dose of sensuality laced with out-of-place sexual content was unnecessary and extraneous. It is a blessing that religious zealots don’t read literary novels any more, otherwise by now its publisher would have sought refuge in Canada along with Mr. Gora.
[quote]It was a lean year for short fiction[/quote]
It was a lean year for short fiction. Muhammad Ilyas’s short story collection “Andher Nagri Kay Jugnu” and dispersed short stories published in literary magazines by various writers were overshadowed by other genres. Generally short stories were unimpressive, stale, lacked readability and innovation, were crushed under needless and vague symbolism and were repetitive in subject and content. There were exceptions in stories by Hassan Manzar, Tahira Iqbal, Nilofer Iqbal, Neelum and Ahmed Bashir who came up with impressive additions to the coterie of Urdu short fiction.
Resumption of literary magazines Funoon and Mua’sir, regular publication of outstanding Aaj, Dunyazad and Savera and emergence of Ijra, Collage, Tasteer, Niqat and Tanazur gave a great boost to Urdu fiction in general.
One thing still severely lacking in the Urdu publishing world is literary consultants and professional editors. Urdu publications need proper trimming and review by professionals as is the common practice around the globe.
There is a dire need to initiate an annual award coupled with an attractive monetary reward for various literary genres, akin to Adamjee Award of yore, to encourage youngsters to contribute to Urdu literature and to develop healthy competition. Unfortunately, there are merely few young prose writers left. An efficient translation project funded by the government to introduce local talent to an international readership is also strongly recommended.
Irfan Javed can be reached at email@example.com