Urdu: Alive and kicking

Aprominent feature of Pakistani Urdu literature published in 2017 was that both veterans and writers from the new generation shared the accolades almost equally.

Several comparatively new and young writers had works published in the year that ends today. A good omen indeed, as it is young blood that makes literature vibrant and gives hope for the future. Interestingly — and contrary to common perception — the younger generation is displaying the same enthusiasm for research and criticism as for creative works.

 

But first we must mention two books that broke sales records this year and proved wrong those pessimists who believe Urdu literature is on its deathbed because — so they presume — people do not read anymore: Mukhtar Masood’s Harf-i-Shauq and Agha Nasir’s Agha Se Agha Nasir Tak, both of which ran into second editions within a few months of release. Sadly, both were published posthumously and their authors were simply not there to enjoy the popularity of their works.

Masood was steeped in Aligarh and its memories. So was his last book. An alumnus of the educational institute at Aligarh, he relished his years as a student, from primary classes to Masters, and tells us in his usual stylish prose how and why Sir Syed Ahmed Khan established the famous college. Nasir’s book is more than a memoir; it recounts not only his lifelong association with Radio Pakistan and PTV, but also the early days when he, having migrated from India as a young boy, lived in Karachi’s Martin Quarters. It highlights the social and economic atmosphere of the times, such as how the overjoyed residents of the Quarters stayed awake all night when the area got electricity a few years after independence.

FICTION

2017 also saw fiction with some fresh ideas. FahmidaRiaz’s novella Qila-i-Faramoshi, for instance, was a tale woven around Mazdak, the Zoroastrian mobad [cleric or priest] considered one of the earliest socialists in history. Set in fourth and fifth century Iran, the historical fiction at times read a bit salaciously, though it claimed to be a chapter from the historic struggle of the working classes.

RaziaFasih Ahmad published KhwaabonKa Jazeera, a collection of short stories. Two collections — compiled by Asif Farrukhi and published as part of the series by Oxford University Press on the Urdu short story — gathered select tales by Khalida Husain and Masood Asher. Bori Mein Band Aadmi was Najmul Hasan Rizvi’s last collection; sadly, he passed away on Nov 17 this year. Jahan-i-Gumgashta collected six short stories and three novellas by NighatSaleem.

Critic and researcher Nasir Abbas Nayyar has turned to writing fiction as well; FarishtaNahinAaya was his second collection of short stories. Among younger writers, Usman Alam (Post-mortem) and Irfan Ahmed Urfi (Control Room) chose English titles for their collections. Critic and fiction writer Muhammad Hameed Shahid mentioned several new fiction writers in one of his newspaper pieces recently, citing the works of Jawad Hasnain Bashar, Saira Iqbal, Seemi Kiran, Maryam TasleemKayani, JavedAnwer, Memoona Sadaf, Usman Ghani Raad and some others — it was heartening to see veteran critics welcoming new entrants.

The theme of Khalid Fateh Muhammad’s novel Koh-i-Giraan and Syed Saeed Naqvi’s Baarish Se Pehle was the looming global water crisis that may end, as some experts say, in the Third World War. Add to this list novels by Neelam Ahmed Basheer (TaoosFaqat Rang) and Akhter Raza Saleemi (Jandar) and you know that the Urdu novel is making a comeback.

POETRY

As usual, a large number of poetry collections appeared, but constrained by space, we can mention only a few. Notable were Anwar Shaoor’sAatey Hain Ghaib Se, FahmidaRiaz’s Tum Kabeer and NaseerTurabi’sLaraib. Iqbal Azeem (Zaboor-i-Haram) and Liaqat Ali Aasim (Yak Jaan) were the latest additions to the collected works of senior poets and Ali Akber Abbas’s collection of songs, Gun Gian, merits special mention.

RESEARCH AND CRITICISM

A good number of books of research and critique by senior and not-so-senior scholars made the year bountiful. Nasir Abbas Nayyar’sUssKoAikShakhsSamajhna To Munasib Hi Nahin evaluated poet Miraji’s critical acumen. Khalid Nadeem’s ShibliShikni Ki Rivayat traced the history of what can be termed ‘Shibli bashing’, or the trend of severely criticising ShibliNomani that continues till today. QasimYaqoob, a young researcher and critic who has profoundly studied modern poetics and critical theories, compiled and published two books: Urdu Mein UsloobiyatAurUsloobiyatKeMabahis looked at stylistics, while Adabi Theory discussed literary theory. AftabMuztar published AamArooziMughalte that cleared some misconceptions and fallacies about Urdu prosody, while Qamar Abbas’s AdabKeChaandTaare was a collection of articles on prominent Urdu authors. KhurramSohail, yet another young chap, penned Novel KaNayaJanam on the history and technique of writing a novel, while Muhammad Naeem’s Urdu Novel Mein Istemaariyet was a postcolonial study of 19th century Urdu novels.

Some critical and research works published recently give one hope and assurance that our new generation of scholars is ready to take on issues related to our language and literature. Dr SumairaIjaz, a young researcher teaching at the University of Sargodha, collected the scattered and unpublished prose writings of the late poet in Kulliyat-i-Nasr-i-MuneerNiazi. Yasmeen Sultana Farooqi compiled Aslam Farrukhi’s articles on the rare books at AnjumanTaraqqi-i-Urdu’s library in Navadir-i-Anjuman. Sikandar Hayat Maiken evaluated the research carried out in Pakistan on Urdu fiction in Afsanvi Nasr Par Tehqeeq. His other work, JamiaatiTehqeeq, examined research done on Urdu literature at our universities. Syed Sikandar Abbas Zaidi translated MaulanaJalaluddin Rumi’s Persian letters into Urdu, with a glossary and explanatory notes at the end of every letter, making the book all the more useful.

 

BaghiMarwat from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa published SarsharKeNovelon Mein MizahKeHarbe, his doctoral dissertation evaluating humour in novels by RatanNathDharSarshar. From ZubaidaJabeen in Lahore came her dissertation, Doctor Ibn-i-Fareed: Ilmi-o-AdabiKhidmaat.

Allama Muhammad Iqbal and Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib are two towering literary figures on whom new books are written every year. 2017 was no exception. Renowned scholar Rafiuddin Hashmi’s Allama Muhammad Iqbal: Mohsin-i-Zaban-o-Adab-i-Urdu was a succinct study of Iqbal’s life and works, whereas Khalid Nadeem rearranged and compiled Abdul JabbarShakir’s MPhil dissertation on Iqbal’s prose in Allama Iqbal Ki Urdu Nasr.

Rang-i-Adab, a literary magazine published from Karachi, brought out a special issue on Ghalib. Dr Muhammad Baqar’s commentary Bayan-i-Ghalib was reprinted. Abdul Aziz Sahir compiled and annotated veteran poet and scholar Abdul Aziz Khalid’s letters and Arshad Mahmood Nashad came out with Ashlok, a versified Urdu translation of Baba Fareed’s poetry.

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