After reading his book, in all sincerity I came to the conclusion that Dr Izhar Hashmi himself is a Sufi in disguise, just like many characters of the stories in his debut short stories book Naish Ishq. You feel that strongly as you read his book: in one story after another, you will find a strange common thread where his very practical protagonists confront a different way of life or a life-altering event and they start reflecting on life’s bigger realities, slow down, think deeply and often change course.
Most of his characters have a degree of selflessness and have either sacrificed or have decided to rise above the mundane and commit to a life of a service. A pilot in his story Shehteer going for a rescue mission, saves someone whose entire life journey was spent first in sacrificing for their new homeland in 1947 and then living a modest life but keeping their dream alive with Pakistani flag and a Shehteer they had saved from their past home. These heroes are unlike a traditional character that we find in mainstream Urdu literature who is often very bitter in every respect – probably because Manto have such a major influence on writers his and subsequent generations.
In Eiteraaf, a legendary teacher at the end of his life laments in front of an august gathering of the city that while his students became successful people of the society, they could not become great, that most of them blindly follow material success even with unfair means, all because our education and value do not promote greatness, they promote success and both are not same things.
A few of the stories are just playful narration of events, like Punhchi waheen pay khak or Wisaal Hijar basically discussing men and women in and out of love; or how relationships are put to test in challenging circumstances like Sakandar in Mudafiat confessing infidelity impacting his family so deeply. But there are others which are deeper and thought-provoking, where he returns to his favorite themes like the Bachary ki Mohabat, where Izhar dissects the public role of a politician, a religious scholar and or a lecturer who privately were concerned with their own success using people as a tool to go up in their societal ladder and were deeply narcissistic.
Title: Naish Ishq (2021)
Author: Dr. Izhar Hashmi
Publishers: Zahid Publications Lahore
I read many books, and it is very easy for me to read some part of a book and decide very early whether to pursue it or not. The books which make me finish them are often well written prose wise with a deeper sense of a very distinct voice, which then is enabled by the writers’ craft – effectively forcing you to finish it. In Izhar’s case, it is the strength of his voice alone which did not let me drop the book.
It stayed in my current set of books on the table and while other kept changing, this one stayed there for over a year. It made me think and question as to how our old South Asian souls confront modernity as we move from small towns to cities, meet new loves or leave them, or decide at the end of life to take a new course and try to understand life beyond how it seems – all in modern day-to-day idiom. Then you meet Izhar and his set of friends who are consumed in social welfare projects in what is almost a state of forgetfulness, and you come to see a different way of life, whose glimpses he could show in his stories which classical Urdu language critics would approve with a pinch of salt. But Dr. Tariq Aziz endorsed them (before me) on his book jacket. Tariq picked up on his “Jazbay ki Sadaqat” (the truth of his passionate soul) as a reason which makes it difficult to ignore the book. And that is exactly what I felt reading and thinking about his book – and thinking of him as an author and as a man that now I know better.
That is why call him a Sufi(-like) person in disguise, because you would not detect that easily from his ever-busy routine in managing half a dozen projects and schemes that he keeps managing in the arena of social welfare. But his book reveals it all, or at least shows us the make-up of men living their lives in selfless missions.