We can say that the topics which Allama Iqbal had made the target of satire in poetry are seen to be discussed in a slightly different yet delightful manner by Muhammad Khalid Akhtar. Allama Iqbal had been educated in Western institutions; he announces Western civilization committing suicide with its own dagger. Akhtar, too, had closely studied their culture and society through Western literature. He also had the chance to visit Europe, therefore he adopted the style of fantasy to narrate his point of view about Western society. His skill lies in the fact that the metaphorical style which he adopted at the beginning of the book is maintained with great success till the end.
According to Akhtar’s own point of view regarding literature, he seems to be convinced of literature for life at all times and he is of the opinion that literature which misses the razzle-dazzle of life is of no use. It is also a reality that despite all his purposiveness in literature, Akhtar is romantic by disposition; and this romanticism is reflected in nearly all his writings. In this book too, his romantic style can be clearly felt in that when the world is destroyed on a large scale in the struggle for firearms, he feels the greatest regret for the destruction of France, because that country is famous throughout the world for culture, civilization and art. Vide an extract:
“The destruction of France was truly the biggest tragedy, the culture and morals of the French, their literature and art were unique in the world. They had made the worship of beauty and woman a ‘cult’ and in my opinion it was the sole nation which knew how to love women.”
He praises the people of Africa in that they know how to preserve their literature, music and culture. In addition to 2011, Muhammad Khalid Akhtar also attempted to write pure romantic novels because on the last page of 2011 there is an advertisement for a novel named Shahanshah Ka Ghulam (The Emperor’s Slave), about which it can be opined that this novel will be helpful in removing literary suffocation and darkness to a great extent. Akhtar is convinced of bringing back the romantic period in Urdu literature.
But with the passage of time, his worldview changed, so he destroyed the manuscript of this novel even before publishing it. When Ahmad Nadeem Qasmi dedicated his maiden short-story collection Chaupal to Akhtar, he also included a few extracts of his letters alongwith it, which too indicate Akhtar’s ideology of writing. One of these extracts goes:
“Literature should be a mirror of life but life is bitter and some colour in it is needed. If sugar is coated over a quinine tablet, even children swallow it.”
Akhtar has in this fantasy, too, presented the various quininic aspects of life; and also attempted to coat it with the sugar of imagination, style and comedy; but because of his outspoken style of a raging mood and expression of intent, at many places the bitterness and pungency of the quinine is seen to be biting clearly.
In this book, the writer has also made the struggle of black people against white supremacy a topic of discussion. Noticing the bigotry against black people, especially in South Africa, Akhtar developed a vengeful manner against white supremacy. This is the reason that in this book, the writer has shown black people ruling over white people in an imaginative manner; and who have made a law in their land that when a white man sees a black man coming before him, the former should immediately “take the oath of allegiance” by kneeling on the ground.
Within the same imaginary state, at the front of many top hotels, is also fixed this vengeful board that white people cannot enter without colouring their face black.
Noticing the bigotry against black people, especially in South Africa, Akhtar developed a vengeful manner against white supremacy
One also finds progressive tendencies of Akhtar in this work, as well as a romantic point of view, but his manner is greatly balanced. In this novel, he has made the poets and writers who display extremism in the two aforementioned tendencies a target of satire. For example here are his view on the romantic movement:
“The advent of the existing literature happened because there were women in Maznine. A few women, whose glimpse they could sometimes see in their quarter would make them crazy and captivated, and they would think many a night the things they would do with them should they obtain them. Therefore they started writing short-stories. In these stories, they fearlessly began to write all those things which to practically perform they neither had opportunities nor ability.”
At some places, his manner has become quite harsh due to the negative effects of this movement; and a manner of rage and hatred has emerged in his satire.
“A few short-stories of that period like Behind the Brassiere, etc created an excitement among young Mazninians and many writers became famous like renowned prostitutes.”
Though Khalid Akhtar seems closer to the Progressives than romanticism, but here too he does not tolerate extremism, because of which literature becomes all but mere propaganda. He writes about such people,
“Many writers of this school are truly sincere, but most of them are those who wish to be accepted. These last in my opinion are some third-class drummers.”
(to be continued)
All translations from the Urdu are by the writer.
Raza Naeem is a Pakistani social scientist, activist, book critic, award-winning translator and dramatic reader currently based in Lahore, where is the President of the Progressive Writers Association (Anjuman Taraqqi Pasand Musannifeen). He is currently translating Muhammad Khalid Akhtar’s ‘Bees Sau Gayara’ into English and may be reached at: email@example.com
Raza Naeem is a Pakistani social scientist, book critic and award-winning translator and dramatic reader based in Lahore, where he is also the president of the Progressive Writers Association. He is currently working on a book, Sahir Ludhianvi’s Lahore, Lahore’s Sahir Ludhianvi, forthcoming in 2022. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter: @raza_naeem1979