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‘Istaara’ – emanating discussions on idyllic concepts

SalahuddinParvez, an Indian Muslim poet and filmmaker, used to publish a magazine named Istaara in 1990s. It stopped being published after his death. But two intellectuals from Lahore, Dr AmjadTufail and Riaz Ahmad, now publish a magazine by the same name. This magazine aims not only to present the contributions of the seniors in a portion titled TazaKaar o PukhtaKaar (fresh and seasoned), but also gives space to newbie writers in a portion titled NayaQalam (new pen writer). It aims at initiating emanating discussions on fresh schools of thought and idyllic concepts. The magazine also includes other popular formats like short stories, sketches, travelogues, fiction and poetry.
I personally found two submissions very interesting. These were a dialogue with Dr Khawaja Muhammad Zakariya on the present state of literary affairs and an essay by famous fiction writer Abdullah Hussain. The latter was originally meant for presentation in one of HalqaArbab-e-Zauq’s sessions. Unfortunately, that was not meant to be as he died a day before the scheduled date of the session. In an essay on Abdullah Hussain, writer Muhammad Abbas observed that Abdullah Hussain’s novel UdaasNasalain (gloomy generations) concentrates more on the impact of occupiers on the locals emphasising more on the JalianwalaBagh, QissaKhwani Bazar carnage (1930) and Masjid Shaheed Gunj (1935) episodes rather than on the World War II itself or on the independence movement.
He emphasised more on the carnage and Qehet-e-Bangal (Bengal drought). He has discussed the story of two family directly affected by these happenings. Naeem loses fifty squares of land due to his anti-government policies and has to be content with being the son of the soil only. On the other hand, the inhabitants of Roshan Mahal live the life of upper echelon of the society. Abbas says that there are many powerful characters like those of Niaz Beg, Muhinder Singh, Joginder Singh, Kuldip Kaur and Thakur Das in this novel but the main character of Naeem is little subdued. For instance, Naeem is devoid of emotions when he watches several soldiers die. He is without emotions when he comes across a woman. Critics claim this novel as the best written Urdu novel in the twentieth century despite that other great novels had been written such as AisiBulandiAisiPasti, TerhiLakeer. AagKaDariya, Khuda Ki Basti, Dasht-e-Sawas, Ali PurKaAiliandBasti. Abdullah Hussain wrote NadaarLoug (helpless people) as his second novel in 1996. Had this novel been written by someone else, it too would have enjoyed the status of the first novel.
The memories that perhaps Abdullah wanted to share have been printed in the form of a submission titled Beete Din YaadAate Hain (Remembering old days) – Page 257 published for the first time. It connects two episodes related to a personality he encountered in his life twice – one of them was good, and the other one unpleasant. He hailed from Punjab’s Gujrat (thank goodness he did not hail from Modi’s Gujarat, says Abdullah). As a child, he used to pass through ‘ShaeeshianWaalaDarwaza’ (Mirrors’ Gate) to buy some candies on his way home. Once he saw a man wearing a Jinnah cap watching an old building owned by Hindus. That man forced the child to buy toffees but the child ran away scared. The second time he met that man was in the office of Pakistan Times, the Lahore-based English daily. Abdullah had written his novel UdaasNaslain by that time. That person’s name was Chaudhry ZahoorEllahi, noted politician. He directed him to Safdar Mir, who used to write a column by his assumed name Zeeno. He happened to be also his former teacher in Zamindara College Gujrat. Zeeno wrote an excellent column on Abdullah’s novel and he became famous by virtue of these two people.
Writing short stories is an art. The corner on this domain of literature has short stories by Rasheed Amjad, Mazaharuz Zaman Khan, Ahmad Sagheer, Shuaib Khaliq, AasirAjmal, Tahir Aslam Gora, Abdul Waheed, Muhammad Babar Riaz and AmjadTufail. Reading AmjadTufail’s short story on boat rower reminded me of my student life when a group of friends used to hire a boat on River Ravi and enjoy riding in it. Unfortunately, with India having stopped its water, the river has almost gone dry and that enjoyment has been taken away. One watched songs pictured on river boats in the river Ravi made in 1950s and 1960s. The story Safar AbhiBaaqi Hai (the journey is not yet over) is about a boatman who earns his living through boat riding. He is described as a handsome young lad with polite mannerism that attracted the customers – much to the annoyance of his fellow boatmen. If some visitors forgot some of their articles in his boat, he used to collect them and thought that when he made a house, he shall put these things there. Then one day eyes of a woman captivated him who sat in his boat. He started imagining what sort of lips, cheeks and forehead would suit those eyes. Now he started concentrating on feet; small, big, white? In this process, he started collecting various body parts to suit the face. The climax comes when he suspects that he may not be able to create a masterpiece. He was in anguish on just the thought of the possibility that the body may not match the face he had created. Dr AmjadTufail left it to the reader whether the boatman was a maniac and had collected the body parts of various people who came for the ride or were just a product of his imagination.
About the status of education in the country’s institutes, he was disappointed by the standard of research dissertations. Several programmes were being offered in the same subject. This, he thought, was tantamount to being just a show piece. Dr Zakaraiya mentioned the downfall in the other areas of the society and lack of priorities set by the government to education in real sense. For example last year, a local daily had reported that total public debt stood at Rs13.48tr at the end of fiscal year 2012-13. The major contribution to the increase in net public debt came from an almost 40 per cent rise in domestic debt, which rose from Rs. 8.686tr at the end of 2013 to Rs12.14tr at the end of the first quarter of the fiscal year (FY 2016-17). Many other honest and frank opinions on many burning issues pertaining to education and literature make this interview pertinent to the present day scenario.