Karachi remembered as literary hub in Pakistan’s initial years

By Our Correspondent
December 02, 2023

A session on Karachi titled ‘Kya Shehr Tha, Kya Log Thay (What a city it was, what people they were!)’ was organised on the second day of the 16th Aalmi Urdu Conference at the Arts Council of Pakistan (ACP) on Friday, with Sahar Ansari, Pirzada Qasim, Zehra Nigah, Anwar Shaoor, Shakil Adilzada and Anwar Sen Roy as speakers and Firasat Rizvi as moderator on the panel.

Opening the discussion, Rizvi said that the PIB Colony area of Karachi was Pakistan’s centre of literature and knowledge in the initial years of the country. He said that Qurratulain Hyder has mentioned the then aura of the city in her novel ‘Aag Ka Darya (The River of Fire)’.

A session on Karachi titled ‘Kya Shehr Tha, Kya Log Thay (What a city it was, what people they were!)’ is seen underway on the second day of the 16th Aalmi Urdu Conference at the Arts Council of Pakistan (ACP) on Dec 1, 2023.—Facebook/acpkhiauc

He quoted Professor Karrar Hussain as saying that Karachi was Pakistan’s Chelsea, the area of London where literary figures reside. He added that in the later years, the city witnessed a downfall and crime, and terrorism and fear marred its face.

Qasim said that it was the first time in the history of the ACP and Urdu Conference that Karachi has been discussed at this scale. He said whoever comes to the city gets embroiled in its fabric in a manner that whether there is unrest or riots, they will feel comfortable.

He said that even in the past there were different groups in the city but there was no conflict among them. He said that he grew up learning from the philosophical and ideological debates that happened between the dissenting groups publicly, with respect for each other intact.

Shaoor said that it is wrong to say that Karachi is or was a city of Urdu speakers only. He said that if the correct population census is conducted then non-Urdu speakers would emerge in more numbers than Urdu speakers. He lamented that the ACP brochure for the event did not carry names of non-Urdu speaker literary figures who lived in the city.

Sharing a story about a gathering which made fun of Jaun Elia, he said that it caused him displeasure, compelling him to ask people who were laughing if they can present another man at par with Elia, to which everyone replied in the negative.

Qouting Hisamuddin Rashdi, Zehra Nigah said that Karachi emerged when several civilized cities had been destroyed. She said that after the creation of Pakistan, people from different parts of India brought their cultures to this city, turning it into a hub of literature.

She said that in the past 15 to 20 years, a terminology ‘Urdu speaker’ has been coined, which is a racist and wrong term. She said that the city has hosted numerous poetry symposium and other literary events since the beginning, providing learning opportunities for its residents.

Speaking about Josh Malihabadi, Ansari said that one day they were coming home back from an event together in a taxi. He said that when the driver took a different way, Josh asked Ansari if he or he himself (Josh) was drunk. Ansari said, “I told him that he was drunk, to which he said if I am, then why did not you ask the driver to take the other way.”

Roy said that Karachi has exceptional growth potential as the establishment has tried several times to destroy this city but instead it has continued to evolve. He said that during the 1992 and 1996 military and law enforcement agencies’ operations in Karachi, there was serious unrest. He said that being an editor of a newspaper, he asked a reporter to check the trains arriving at the railway station if the influx of people in the city had reduced, but it had not. Trains were coming with the same number of passengers as the other day.

Adilzada said that such discussions about Karachi should continue. He shared his memories about Rais Amrohvi. He said Amrohvi had a strong command on poetic expression and could generated poetry within minutes. He commented that he could not find any literary figure bigger than people like Amrohvi and Raghib Muradabadi.