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The era of Yousufi

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By Asif Farrukhi

There was an immediate sense of colossal loss as the news of Mushtaq Ahmed Yousufi passing away hit us all like a shock wave. Much admired in his life, he was mourned far and wide, not only in literary circles but by innumerable readers as well. Such an outpouring of grief had not been seen for a long time. More than an individual, Yousufi’s death seemed to be replete with cultural loss and the decline of a tradition of formal elegance and classical style which he had come to symbolise and which is impossible to retrieve. A newspaper comment placed him next to Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib as a writer and while such comparisons are unnecessary, it does indicate the position of pre-eminence Yousufi had come to occupy as a leading man of letters.
For a writer so hugely admired, Yousufi maintained a relatively small output. His literary career began with the light-hearted ChiraghTalay, humorous essays par excellence, and he continued with KhakumBadahan in the same manner. Moving away from situational comedy, his style was dependent on ready wit, a neat turn of phrase and literary allusions gently tweaked to give a parodic flair. His ready wit turned inwards with ZarGuzasht, an autobiographical account of his early banking days with humour barely covering serious concerns. A medley of unforgettable characters surrounded the narrator who was not spared, as Yousufi was always ready to poke fun at himself before others.
His next book took the literary world with even more surprise.
Aab-i-Gum is really a novel in the best sense of the term — it was not for nothing that he was an admirer of James Joyce and Anthony Burgess. I would go as far as to term it one of the most serious Partition fictions, in a class by itself. With gentle affection he brings up his cast of characters, but at the same time he could be merciless in laying bare their human foibles.
Recognised as a humourist par excellence, to me he was really a stylist with serious concerns, humour being one of the tools in his repertoire. With his first works, he had established his reputation as a humourist and developed a distinguished style which became his hallmark, even though his next books were inclined towards a different direction. I wonder if his reputation held him back? In retrospect, I would regard him as a humourist with a tragic core.
Yousufi was known for being a perfectionist and would spend years polishing each and every phrase meticulously, reluctant to rush into print. There were long gaps between each of the books and he had also mastered the art of evading questions about what he was writing. He would say that he had some material, but it was being kept in the paal — a term used for getting unripe mangoes ready for market.
The last book he published close towards the very end, Shaam-i-Sher-i-Yaaran, was a collection of speeches and articles written for literary occasions. It is quintessential Yousufi, but the book did not go down well with some of his diehard admirers. Unlike the essays of his earlier period, these pieces were meant to be heard rather than provide reading pleasure, and trying to put them together as a book meant they had to shift from one medium to the other, a transition that did not go equally well in all instances.
Many years ago, I had arranged a literary function at the Arts Council to mark the publication of YahanKuchhPhoolRakhay Hain, a collection of Shahida Hassan’s poetry. Contrary to all expectations, Yousufi not only agreed to preside over the function, but confirmed that he would speak about the book. I recall that it was a well-attended function, but it was Yousufi and nothing else. He read out a brilliant piece beginning with a witty put-down of the newly introduced custom of taajposhi [crowning] of poets, remarking in his wry style that if news of such a programme were to spread, then people would think that poets in Karachi get treated the way brides do in Lahore. I remember the audience was in fits of laughter and I could not stop laughing when I read this very article later in book form. Not all articles retain this sense of the original, however, and in some places the book tends to become tiring and repetitive, indicating that there can be too much of even the best.
There are at least two more ‘lost’ or abandoned book-length manuscripts, which I distinctly remember him mentioning to me. He once said that he takes notes of his travels, intending to make a book out of them. He kept working at it, but then one day calmly mentioned that the manuscript was misplaced. In an exclusive conversation about his writing, he mentioned to me that his latest venture was the story of a young boy from the fishing villages on Karachi’s coastline, but he realised that he had covered more than 300-odd pages while the main character had covered only a few stages of his life. I argued that he had a precedence in TristramShandy in which the main character is born a few chapters later. Yousufi did not want to engage in any such debate and later informed me that he had given up on the idea of completing this book. I hope that these and other writings emerge from his papers, which deserve to be preserved and archived in a befitting manner, although this is not customary with our writers. It would be a great tragedy if his papers and memorabilia are allowed to be lost.
Although his style was language-based and dependent on wordplay, Matt Reeck and Aftab Ahmad carried out the implausible, even audacious, act of translating Aab-i-Gum as Mirages of the Mind with a detailed critical introduction. While the translators have laboured hard to preserve the style of the original, the English version highlights the storyline somewhat lost in the embellishments which so marked the Urdu text.
As part of a series of conversations with writers for an English news monthly, Yousufi once agreed to talk to me on formal terms. More than a challenge, this was a great honour for me as Yousufi was known to keep interviewers and journalists at arm’s length. This was September 1989 and the conversation turned out to be memorable because whatever he said was a result of careful consideration. What I did not know then, of course, was that Yousufi’s two distinguished books were yet to come.
Writing was not his full-time job and he had a parallel professional career as a banker. It reminds me of Wallace Stevens who had a day job as an executive in an insurance company while being one of the greatest American poets of the day. Associated with the major banks of the country, Yousufi remained on influential and leading posts and was known for always abiding by the book. There is a story of how a military dictator asked for some words of praise to be bestowed on him, to which Yousufi promptly responded by pulling out a ready-made resignation from his pocket. He spent the next decade working as a banker in London, settling down in Karachi after his retirement. My father, who was privileged to know him on a personal level, called him “the upright man of Urdu literature” when he gave the keynote at Jashn-i-Yousufi — a celebration of Yousufi’s life and works — in 2009.
Yousufi remained very much a private person. He was not a recluse, but he kept much to himself. He enjoyed the company of selected friends, of both sexes, but on his own terms. “I have considered myself a gosha-nasheen [someone who sits in a corner], or even more a purdah-nasheen [someone who takes the veil],” he once remarked to me, enjoying the effect of his own remark.
In spite of my admiration I sometimes wonder: what next? How much of this legacy will be taken up by younger people? Comments have flooded social media as well as quotes with the iconic Yousufi image. The height of our insularity is that, like with Jaun Elia and Ahmed Faraz, some people are simply copying and pasting stale old jokes with Yousufi’s name.
Among my favourite Yousufi pieces is his early article on the cultural value of charpoys and I gleefully added this to the material for an introductory course I was teaching for undergraduates. I realised that younger people do not, and cannot, appreciate Yousufi the way my generation admired him. The language — especially the literary allusions — is lost on them and they feel uncomfortable with the element of misogyny in his humour.
He would have been amused by some of the comments students make about his work. When selections from his works were ‘performed’ in the manner of a daastaan by a group of NAPA graduates, the response was enthusiastic. Will Yousufi become part of a daastaan in the near future? At the time I interviewed him, he said that it felt odd, “like wearing surgical gloves to eat pulao, since more than half of the taste lies in eating it with your hands.” I wonder what he would have made out of all this. He would have half-smiled and said something cutting, but wise, with his characteristic aplomb. Long live Yousufi!

 

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Opinion

Religion and Modernity

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By Amir Suhail Wani

“I have always avoided with horror all error in matters of faith”Eckhart

A voice lost to wilderness or the madman’s rubric, any talk of religion, God, metaphysic, values and reality suffers any of two possible consequences. Giving him the advantage of anonymity, a top notch Jamat I Islami scholar pertinently described modern epistemology with all its offspring as the means and instruments of ensuing and securing a revolt against the God and religion. Never before was civilization so shallow in matters of faith and never before a unanimous and collective onslaught was launched against the sacred, Transcendent and divine. A mere mentions of words like “Divine”, “sacred” or “Transcendent” makes people, experiencing the opiedation of modernism, to rise their eyebrows. Any talk of worlds beyond the sensual is termed as intellectual backlog. World has seen, now and then, people rising, out of their intellectual sincerity or otherwise rising against religion and God. But historically they could never enjoy the status of metanarrative, but were always, by virtue of historical entelechy confined to margins of civilization. In post renaissance era world has succeeded, by and large, in constructing a civilisation and culture with man rather than God as its ontic reference. This man cantered civilization has paved all the possible ways for criticism and demolition of religious meta narrative.

 

Let’s come to philosophy first. Modern philosophy, starting with Descartianskepticism and evolving through the stages of Positivism, Naturalism, Materialism Nihilism and Existentialism, modern philosophy seems to have ultimately ended up at postmodernism. The possibilities of future development can’t be ignored nor can it be claimed that postmodernism is an all pervasive philosophical trend claiming universal adherence. But the broader picture of things has unfolded thus. Postmodernism maintains incredulity towards metanarrative and has brought with it a host of questions. Traditionally and even up to recent past man seemed to be unanimous on ontic and epistemic stability of things. But with postmodernism not only have been the institutions of religious and traditional impotence held under scrutiny but the very fundamentals of human existence like language, society and all other institutions of human importance have been deprived of their ontic reference and have been made to float freely in abyss of uncertainty. The case with science has been no better. Being a victim of excessive and inordinate empiricism, the Modern day science has surrendered its inquisitive and rational spirit to sheer scientism.

Ibn Arabi, a classical theorizer of Islamic mysticism noted that “God is a percept, not a concept”. In this single line, the master has resolved an age old question and the problems associated with it. The notion of “conceptual scheme” as it has been adopted unquestionably alike by scientists and philosophers has brought with it an equal number of goods and ills. Man has turned obsessive to reduce everything to his conceptual categories. The human attitude of dividing a problem into subunits, though it has paid heavily in scientific realm, but has simultaneously brought irreconcilable problems in other affairs of human existence. Modern medicine treats biology disentangled from psychology and this piecemeal approach has landed us in an era where we know more and more about less and less. In a sense we know everything about nothing and nothing about everything. Traditionally things were seen associated and entangled in the cosmic Web. Coming back to human methodology of understanding things by dividing them into subcategories and then understanding things in terms of local mental categories has distorted and ruined our understanding of God, sacred and divine. We need to understand that the laws formulated by human mind are refuted within the physical realm itself. Thus the laws obeyed by matter aren’t obeyed by light and the laws applicable to fermions are completely defied by bosons. So within our physical immediacy are instances to cleave apart our ultimate trust in the laws of physics. The unending quest for unified theory in physics might bring further insights in this direction. Thus we need to be careful and watchful to the fact that the laws of matter do not apply to the realm of spirit. Coming back to God who is neither material nor spiritual, neither defined by material boundaries nor circumscribed by contours of space we need to be all the more careful. While we try to understand God in terms of mental categories derived from our physical realm we need to be very cautious that all these categories do not hold true beyond this material universe. Our conceptual schemes, which in the final analysis rest on the categories of mundane material realm are too coarse and inappropriate to conceptualise and theorise the realm of divine, sacred and godhead. At a point where despite all boasting scientific discoveries man is yet incapable of understanding his basic biology and where despite of conquering the vastness of space man is yet to gain a glimpse of his psychological depths any sweeping statements and miscalculated statements oriented towards reduction of divine to categories of psyche seems but a naive affair. The enlightened theologians, mystics and philosophers of the past have explicitly denounced the access of finite human mind to infinite cosmic intelligence. What God has informed us here and there in sacred texts is to contemplate the nature and our own selves. This unbiased contemplation is sure to bring forth some indirect aspects of divine. Though we shall be fully conscious of the fact that within the physical universe and human civilization there are instances which are heartrending, discouraging and at times they run quite contrary to the notion of divine. But the mystics and enlightened men throughout the history have been able to dissect the veil of appearance and have succeeded in looking at the essence of existence. On having this enlightened vision they bowed their heads and understood the essence of these apparent vagaries of nature. Ibrahim, the father of modern monotheism, Buddha a silent contemplator, Nanak, a socially conscious religious purgator amply demonstrate this state of enlightenment. Modern scientific mind is highly welcome in questioning the authenticity of religion, aspects of divine and the apparent chaos that is witnessed everywhere in physical and social landscape. There can be no proper understanding in absence of questioning. Likewise doubt is an essential ingredient of faith. But while one raises questions in atheist or any such frame one must have patience, tolerance and wide sightedness to understand theistic point of view. To dub religion irrational for its simple disagreement with science seems a rather constricted opinion. Religion has been a great architect in shaping the course of human civilization and to unfasten our knots with this perennial source of wisdom, learning, inspiration and exaltation will amount to gross intellectual injustice. The need of hour is not to posit theists and atheists as antithetical but to encourage each to understand the point of other. Maybe in this collective endeavour humanity discovers a paradigm that has still not been thought of.

(The author is a freelance columnist with bachelors in Electrical Engineering and a student of comparative studies with special interests in Iqbaliyat& mystic thought. He contributes a weekly column for this newspaper that appears every Monday. He can be reached at: [email protected])

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Opinion

Making Kids Sick and Stressed!

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By Dr. Shahid Amin Trali

It is quite obvious that having a happy and thriving child can greatly enhance a parent’s personal happiness and their life satisfaction. But having a low, pessimistic or depressed child will certainly detract from one’s overall happiness. Children are the lovely birds. They are always innocent creatures. Rightly said that God lives there where children live. The smiling faces of our children can be a therapy for any kind of depressions.

Revisiting the past, our childhood was very rich. Life in the past was more social. Children hardly found time in past to be low and depressed. Earlier generations used to spend good time outdoors; playing sports, or engaged in physical activities. But the technology nowadays invites our children and adolescents to sit a lot. Now children are turning more isolated and limited to the world of games and gadgets. The excessive usage of the technology has truly damaged a lot and posing a serious threat to our future. So much so a bigger concern now is that a popular game Player Underground’s Battle Ground (PUBG) is turning more harmful for our youngsters. The Jammu and Kashmir Students Association (JKSA) has rightly demanded to immediately ban the game. The addition to this game has become so serious that our youngsters are unstoppably playing the game and losing a precious time.

 

A good data is available that Interviews with Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and other technology elites consistently reveal that Silicon Valley parents are strict about technology use. A recent research has found children who spend more than two hours a day looking at a screen have worse memory, language skills and attention span. The research, which involved children aged between eight and 11 found that those with higher amounts of recreational screen time on smart phones and playing video games had far worse cognitive skills across a range of functions. One more research has found that an eighth-grader’s risk for depression jumps 27% when he or she frequently uses social media. Children who use their smart phones for at least three hours a day are much more likely to be suicidal.

Using the internet and technology is the need of the time but researchers suggest its safe and proper usage. One study reveals that in 2007, Bill Gates, the former world’s richest and CEO of Microsoft Corporation implemented a cap on screen time when his daughter started developing an unhealthy attachment to a video game. He also didn’t let his kids get cell phones until they turned 14. But the alarming situation today is that the average age for a child getting their first phone is about 10 years. If any kid is alone with the internet, and no one else is around, the technology can be a curse. When our kids use gadgets and access the internet within limits and in safe and public surroundings, the technology can enhance learning and prove a beneficial friend. But a good research is still needed to examine the potential impact of technology on our lovely children. Psychologists need to speed up efforts to show how dangerous modern gadgets and technology can be for our children brains and what limits are there for its right usage.

Today medical sciences have found greater advancements. But it is surprising to mention that the numbers of our children are also found increasing when it comes to anxiety, pressure and conflict among our children. This pressure and conflict is not evolving on its own. As society and parents, we have now become more rigid with our demands. But the life of our children has become more caged and suffocated with those unreal demands. In actual terms we are never doing justice with the upbringing of our lovely kids. There is always a bigger force applied on our kids now. We are forcing our children to get high marks or grades in examinations. We are forcing them to be only the doctors and engineers. We are even forcing a small kid to carry a burden of bags that is even unbearable for an adult. We are forcing them to be locked in a school even when they attain just two years of their age. This pressure on our children to achieve high levels of academic success and being caged is overriding their joys of education and making our kids anxious and depressed.

A study of University of Michigan, published in the Journal of Family Psychology, revealed that children whose parents said they would respond by lecturing, punishing or restricting their child’s social activities actually had lower levels of literacy and achievement by the end of high school. The study offers a useful advice that parents who use punitive parenting practices may unintentionally deny their children the opportunity to learn the very skills and knowledge they require to improve their grades. Even more worse, punitive strategies may increase children’s sense of frustration and aversion to school work.

Societies need to realize the value of development of children in right ways. Why we are that much rigid when we have big flaws in our system. It’s rightly said that we have the brilliant minds joining doctors and engineers at the initial level. Next level with exceptions we have those who do not qualify medical and engineering, they found success in other professions like education, law, management, security, administration etc. Next level with exceptions those who do not fit in these two levels become the politicians and they rule the first two levels. The current scenario proves it right when our youth sensation Dr. Shah Faisal resigned from his prestigious IAS post to and serve big as a politician. Also a good lesson is that we have majority of politicians who are hardly fit for any good post.

It is better to inculcate right values in our children. Parenting is a great and noble task, but it isn’t that easy to bring up happy and a confident child. We must strongly encourage creativity in our children rather than being rigid with them. Our strong focus must be to make our child healthy, happy and productive. We need to be as realistic as possible but don’t thwart the ambitions of our lovely children.

(The author is Assistant Professor, ITM University Gwalior.Educator at Unacademy and Editor in Chief at startupdailytips.com. He can be reached at: [email protected])

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Opinion

BEING AN ALIGARIAN

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By ShabbirAariz

Not so big and not so clean is a city in the state of Uttar Pradesh yet widely known because it is home to an iconic educational institution, the Aligarh Muslim University. Aligarh has some interesting features which get currency and access to places from wherever people come to study in the university. And an Aligarian is the one who is a pass out of the university generally. Generally because there are also some who even after staying for years on the campus, come out as ‘clean’ as while taking the admission. However, being an Aligarian has something of magical and magnetic about it, that can be felt only when one Aligarian comes in touch with another even while being from different socio-cultural backgrounds , having been on rolls of the university at different points of time and different disciplines and yet meet like long lost members of the same family. This may perhaps be true of other educational institutions also but is more expressing in the case AMU. Pass outs from AMU, across the subcontinent on their name plates besides their educational qualification, put a tag as ‘Alig’ with pride. AMU has played host to a cross section of society with means and those without means. AMU continues to remain a less expensive educational institution having benefited unimaginable number of under privileged people across the globe. AMU has shaped the lives of many like academicians, writers, diplomats, soldiers, sports persons, actors and also the leaders who in turn have been able to shape their nation. People with any sense of history consider visiting this university as a pilgrimage also for the reason that the last resting place of its founder, late Sir Syed Ahmad Khan is within the campus. The man who suffered humiliations and resistance from various quarters while establishing it. Some prejudices surface from time to time even now.

Everyone who has the opportunity of putting in time as a student in AMU, has his own stock of impressions and experience to share and plume his memory. I too am not an exception to my share of good and bad experiences while even bad ones with the afflux of time turn to be good too. Some of the features and facts remain common at all times. These include a certain features sounding with alphabet ‘M’, such as Muslim university, Majaz the poet who besides having remained a student in the university, has given an eternal anthem to the university. Also that Asrar-ul-HaqMajaz has remained most south after by the female on campus. And similarly the Maris road in close vicinity of the campus. Matri, a type of crisp biscuit, mosquito with terrible sittings etc form the part of everybody’s memory. Some of the events that are a regular feature, make AMU an institution distinguishable from other institutions. Besides annual Sir Syed day in the month of October, are mushairas and qawalis part of AMU culture. Other than what has been said here-in-above, I have had some memorable experiences of meeting and knowing some legends in their own right. I am sure that if I were not in AMU, I could not have met and known them. To name a few ; a great Urdu critic and satirist , late Rashid Ahmad Sidique, poet Bashir Badar, noted jurist, often consulted by the then prime minister, Mr Misba-ul-hassan, who was our dean in the law faculty.

 

You are never an Aligarian unless you jump from sublime to ridicule. In this line also am reminded of a friend known for playing pranks till this date with whosoever comes his way. Once out of tradition, on return from seeing off a home going friend at the railway station, he pointed to a hotel on our way back and wanted to have a cup of tea with me, to which readily agreed little knowing that the owner ran a brothel too which was revealed to me on his making enquiries of that kind. While negotiating with the owner, my friend sought STUDENTS CONCESSION on the charges for the ignoble act which left the owner furious who in all rage said that the concessions are available in railway and air and not here. My friend shrugged his shoulders and joined me in the street outside.

I will be leaving this write up incomplete unless I mention one AlamBhaie, a student and a class of his own. AlamBhaie was a generous person to my understanding, who always offered to help a fellow student at any level from the vice chancellor down to the level of a bearer least worried about the results of his effort. Alam known to everyone on the campus, was taken lightly and considered an idiot to the extent, the saying about him would go that if idiots had horns, AlamBhaie would be a stag with twelve horns. What an irony! God bless Alam, wherever he is. Yet another area of fascinations and affairs of which some culminating into success while others ending up in a fiasco is an added feature of AMU days and summed up by one poet- student Sabir in his verse;

SABIR ISS ALIGARH NAY QEHQAHOON K SAATH SAATH
KUCH ZAKHAM BHI DIYAY HAIN DILE BAY QARAR KO.

(The author is a senior lawyer and a well known writer and poet. He can be reached at:[email protected])

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