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Creative voices (Pakistani Literature in the 2oth Century)

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  • Munir Pervaiz <munir.saami@rogers.com>
    A valuable commentary on Pakistani literature included in Dawn s Millenium series. Regards. Munir http://www.dawn.com/events/millennium/14.htm ... Creative
    Message 1 of 2 , Jan 22, 2003
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      A valuable commentary on Pakistani literature included in Dawn's
      Millenium series.
      Regards. Munir


      Creative voices
      By Dr Aftab Ahmed

      In the 40s and 50s the progressive movement came to dominate Urdu
      literature. The writers and poets portrayed the problems of their
      times as they saw them. Faiz, Taseer, Josh and Firaq along with Majaz
      and Ali Sardar Jafri joined them. But they were, in effect,
      reasserting what Iqbal and Hali had done in their time.

      Iqbal, the greatest poet of the twentieth century, appeared on the
      scene at the dawn of the century. He was the first Urdu poet who,
      having equipped himself with the knowledge of our Eastern literary
      tradition, received formal Western education at home and then had the
      full impact of the Western thought and culture when he went to Europe
      for higher studies. As a result, Iqbal's poetry is replete with
      influences of Western philosophy and literature. So are the writings
      of the other twentieth century Urdu writers who have been exposed to
      Western education.

      Iqbal, however, was essentially a poet of the national sentiment as
      Hali, one of his predecessors, was in his time. Hali wrote his famous
      long poem Mussaddas at Sir Syed's instance, portraying the rise and
      fall of Islam, and lamenting the woes and calamities which had
      befallen his people; Iqbal, on the other hand, urged them in their
      hour of despondency and despair to rise above and struggle for a
      brighter future. This was indeed a new phase in Urdu poetry. Our
      classical poets from Mir onwards believed in the philosophy of
      determinism. They accepted things as they were because in their
      belief things were preordained. Iqbal was the first Urdu poet who
      rejected this pessimistic attitude and came up with a message of
      change and hope. He made his poetry a vehicle of communication for
      his activist philosophy.

      Iqbal's participation in the annual jalsas of Anjuman-i-Himayat-i-
      Islam, Lahore, provided him with an excellent opportunity for
      establishing a rapport with the people who were not the literary
      elite of the old Mushairas but the common folk of the Muslim
      community.While Iqbal dominated the scene, there was at the same time
      a group of ghazal poets, such as Hasrat Mohani, Faani, Asghar, and
      Jigar, and later Yagana who, though writing poetry in the traditional
      medium, had distinctly individual characteristics. Later, in this
      category came a truly eminent poet Firaq, gifted with a new mode of
      thought and feeling about love and nature which made his ghazal
      poetry redolent with a freshness of its own. He was greatly
      influenced by the English poet, Wordsworth.

      Josh Malihabadi was one of their eminent contemporaries but he was a
      declared opponent of the ghazal and wrote romantic poems known for
      the glamour and richness of their diction. Actually, in the twenties
      we had the so-called romantic phase in Urdu literature. In addition
      to Josh we had some other lyricists such as Hafeez Julundhri and
      Akhtar Sherani. Hafeez wrote some beautiful geet and ghazal also and
      then moved to his Shahnama-i-Islam. Akhtar Sherani adopted the
      sonnet, a form of English poetry, for his love poems. M. D. Taseer
      wrote geet and ghazal and later some poems on themes which could be
      regarded as precursor of progressivism in Urdu poetry. Angarey, a
      collection of short stories by Sajjad Zaheer, Ahmed Ali and others
      and Akhtar Husain Raipuri's article "Adab aur Inqilab" are regarded
      as its early manifestations.

      Taseer, along with Sajjad Zaheer and others, was one of the founding
      members of the Progressive Writers Association when it was formed in
      London in 1935. Later Sajjad Zaheer and his associates set up an all
      India organization and had its first conference in Lucknow in 1936
      which was presided over by the senior writer Prem Chand, after which
      progressivism became a movement in Urdu literature.

      The progressive writers movement in the world of letters was an
      offshoot of Marxism, the most powerful intellectual movement of the
      twentieth century. The Russian Revolution under Lenin's leadership
      was an achievement of Marxism in the practical field which gave birth
      to the USSR with a new economic, political and social order. Like the
      French Revolution, the Russian Revolution has had a tremendous
      influence on the intellectuals and writers of Europe and particularly
      of the Third World. The progressive writers movement in Urdu was thus
      a part of this worldwide phenomenon. It introduced a new kind of
      realism and gave a new interpretation to the theory of art for life's
      sake. The emphasis now was on the portrayal of the harsh and ugly
      realities of social, economic and political life under the capitalist
      system. It was indeed a revolutionary change.

      In Urdu, however, it was in a way, a re-assertion of what Hali and
      Iqbal had done in their creative works. They had portrayed the
      problems of their times as they saw them. The progressive writers
      were now concentrating on the problems of their contemporary life.
      Josh and Firaq also joined the movement, so did other poets like
      Majaz, Ali Sardar Jafri and Jazbi from UP and Makhdum Mohiuddin from
      Deccan, Taseer and an eminent young poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz and later
      Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi from Punjab.

      Outside the fold of the progressives, there was another eminent young
      poet from Punjab, N. M. Ráshid, and a group of poets from Halqa-i-
      Arbab-i-Zauq, Lahore namely Meeraji, Yusuf Zafar, Qayyum Nazar,
      Mukhtar Siddiqui and Akhtar-ul-Iman from U.P. They were all new
      voices in Urdu poetry and can be categorized as moderns as distinct
      from the progressives. Ráshid and Meeraji were modern also in the
      sense that they both, and Ráshid in particular, discarded the
      traditional forms of Urdu poetry and adopted the English medium of
      free verse. Meeraji did write some beautiful geet also. Ráshid in
      spite of being critical of the progressives was no less a progressive
      in reflecting economic, political and social realities of the period
      in his poetry. His main difference with the progressives was that he
      did not believe in their ideology. Meeraji, of course, was a poet of
      tender but complex feelings; he wrote about love and sex in which he
      was influenced by nineteenth century French poets and Freud as well
      as by Hindi classical poetry.

      The progressives and the moderns held the field in the forties and
      fifties. After independence we in Pakistan were left with Taseer,
      Faiz and Qasmi and Zaheer Kashmiri among the progressives, Hafeez
      Jullundhri from the old school, Ráshid, Hafeez Hoshiarpuri, a ghazal
      poet, and the Halqa poets mentioned above, amongst the moderns. Soon
      after independence, Taseer developed differences with the
      progressives and died in 1950.

      Faiz's forte as a poet was that he did not indulge in slogan
      mongering and always remained a poet par excellence even in his
      progressive poetry. With his creative gift he turned words and
      phrases into things of beauty and endowed traditional symbols and
      images of Urdu poetry with new meaning. This indeed was the secret of
      his popularity as a poet. Ráshid, on the other hand, remained a poet
      of poets, singularly outstanding in his own way, dear to the critics
      rather than to the general public. Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi is still with
      us and has a much wider range as a writer. He has written poems,
      ghazal and short stories. He is also the editor of a literary
      magazine and a columnist.

      Faiz, Ráshid and Qasmi have been the leading lights of Urdu poetry in
      Pakistan for the quarter of the century after independence. In the
      fifties and sixties, however, we had a revival of ghazal poetry when
      Aziz Hamid Madani, Salim Ahmed, Nasir Kazmi and Athar Nafees appeared
      on the scene. They all had their individual style but they also
      showed influences of some eminent ghazal poets of the past.

      We have at present a number of poets writing poems in free verse and
      in regular metres as well as ghazal. The senior-most among them is of
      course Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi. Then there are Ahmed Faraz, Munir Niazi
      and Iftikhar Arif who have made their mark. They all have authentic
      voices of their own and they are all immersed in contemporary
      situation and are conscious of what they see around them. But in
      their orientation they are different from the older generation of the
      progressives. Actually progressivism has now ceased to be a movement
      but its influence on writers continues.

      In the last quarter of the century, we have had an unprecedented
      number of women poets. The senior most among them remains Ada
      Jafarey; then there are Fehmida Riaz, Zehra Nigah, the late Perveen
      Shakir, Kishwar Naheed, Shabnam Shakil and others. They have
      introduced a new mode of thought and feeling and added a new
      dimension to modern Urdu poetry.

      And now something about fiction. A number of writers were attracted
      to writing novels in the first quarter of the century, such as Mirza
      Said, Sharar, Sajjad Hussain and Mirza Ruswa, but it is Prem Chand
      who is undoubtedly the doyen of modern fiction writers. It was he who
      started writing short stories and novels close to real life with a
      deep social content. They set in a new trend in Urdu fiction. He was
      a progressive before progressivism was adopted as a creed.

      Prem Chand was followed by a group of writers of short stories who
      can again be categorized as progressives and moderns. Ahmed Ali,
      Krishan Chandar, Rajinder Singh Bedi, Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi, Ismat
      Chughtai and Khawaja Ahmed Abbas were famous among the progressives
      and Saadat Hasan Manto, Aziz Ahmed, Mumtaz Mufti, Ghulam Abbas,
      Muhammad Hasan Askari and Qurratul Ain Hyder among the moderns. They
      were all realists in their own respective way, only the fields of
      their realism were different. The difference between the progressives
      and the moderns was that the moderns did not follow the progressive
      ideology. They were all influenced by Western and Russian writing in
      their technique and by modern psychology in their treatment of their

      All these writers dominated the scene in the forties and even the
      fifties both in India and Pakistan. Later in Pakistan we had a new
      generation of writers among whom we had Mumtaz Shirin, Hajira
      Masroor, Khadeeja Mastoor, Bano Qudsia and Jamila Hashim among women
      and Ashfaque Ahmed, Shaukat Siddiqui, Intizar Hussain, Abdullah
      Husain, Zaheer Babar, Zaheerudin Ahmed and Mustansar Hussain Tarar
      amongst men. They all have a distinct style of their own. Some of
      them show influence of the progressives and some others of the
      moderns. They all have written short stories and novels, the latter
      becoming more popular with them now than the former.

      Literary criticism really flourished in the twentieth century Urdu
      literature. It started with Hali, Shibli and Azad, at the turn of the
      century and got further impetus with the passage of time when some
      western educated writers appeared on the scene, most of them being
      teachers of English at the college and university level. For reasons
      of space it is not possible here to give an account of their work.
      Suffice it to say that most of it has been concerned with the
      assessment of poets, particularly of Ghalib and Iqbal. Hali's book on
      Ghalib was the first of the countless such studies of the poet which
      have since appeared, as is Khalifa Abdul Hakim's book on Iqbal.

      One can perhaps name some of the most important critics who have
      written on Ghalib and Iqbal and some other classical and contemporary
      poets as well as on subjects relevant to literature. They are Dr.
      Abdur Rahman Bijouri, M.D. Taseer, Hamid Ahmed Khan, S. M. Ikram,
      Niaz Fatehpuri, Firaq, Majnoon Gorakhpuri, Kh. Manzoor Hosain,
      Ahtesham Hussain, Dr. Syed Abdullah, Yusuf Husain Khan, Muhammad
      Hasan Askari, Salim Ahmed, Vaqar Azim and a woman critic, Mumtaz
      Shireen. Firaq, Kh. Manzoor Hosain and Askari in particular have made
      a singularly outstanding contribution to literary criticism. Others
      who are still with us are Al-e- Ahmad Saroor, Shamsur Rehman
      Siddiqui, Asloob Ahmed Ansari, Waris Alavi, Farman Fatehpuri, Dr.
      Wazir Agha, Dr. Jamil Jalibi, Suhail Ahmed Khan and Dr. Salim Akhtar.

      Lastly a few words about the literature of humour and satire. In
      poetry we had in the first quarter of the century, a great master
      Akbar Allahbadi who still stands out unmatched. Later in the forties
      and fifties there was the inimitable Muhammad Jafri and then Zamir
      Jafri who was with us until a few months ago. Both of them made a
      name for themselves in this field as poets. But it is in prose that
      we have had such distinguished humourists as Rasheed Ahmed Siddiqui
      and Patras Bokhari before independence. In Pakistan, we have had
      Shafiqur Rehman, Col. Muhammad Khan and of course Mushtaq Ahmed
      Yusufi who has excelled them all not only in humour, wit and satire
      but also as a writer of prose.
    • Muslim Hasany
      Hello Friends, Writers Forum will hold a special session in memory of Jon Elia as per the following program: Date : Sunday the 2nd of February 2003 Time: 2:30
      Message 2 of 2 , Feb 1, 2003
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        Hello Friends,

        Writers'Forum will hold a special session in memory of Jon Elia as
        per the following program:

        Date : Sunday the 2nd of February 2003
        Time: 2:30 PM
        Place:North York Central Library - Auditorium
        North York Center
        5120-40 Yonge Street - Toronto
        TTC: North York Center


        Dr. Khalid Sohail
        Kaleem Zafar
        Mirza Yasin Baig
        Munir Saami
        Muslim Hasany

        Poetic Tribute:
        Tasleem Elahi Zulfi

        Distinguished artist Javed Yusuf will unveil his work in Jon Elia's

        Other names may also be added. All guests will be able to share their
        thougts. Al those who would like to participate, plese advise ASAP.

        We request you and your friends to attend this very special session
        in memory of Jon Elia, a great poet and a great human being.

        Thanks and regards.
        Muslim Hasany
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