The current state of Pakistani novel was the main theme of the talk that was held on Sunday at the first session of the Karachi Literary Circle, a body comprising writers and book lovers formed by...
The current state of Pakistani novel was the main theme of the talk that was held on Sunday at the first session of the Karachi Literary Circle, a body comprising writers and book lovers formed by Karachi Commissioner Iftikhar Shallwani on December 2 last year to broaden the literary horizon of the city.
The event was held on the first floor of the Frere Hall under Sadequain’s incomplete ceiling mural, an artwork that the legendary artist could not complete because of his untimely death.
In the introduction, veteran journalist Ghazi Salahuddin remarked that holding the circle’s first meeting under an incomplete work by Sadequain had gained a symbolic meaning, as the literary circle was an effort to achieve the vision of such great artists who wanted a society where a good number of people appreciated art and literature.
Before the talk, actor and voice artist Talat Hussain was invited to read some poems by Noon Meem Rashid. Hussain started the event on a pessimistic note, saying that he had recently been reading a book that was about the death of the arts worldwide.
He lamented the general decline of many forms of art, including the novel and poetry, in the digital age, and chose to read some poems of Rashid that dealt with the same theme.
One of the poems recited by Hussain was ‘Izhar aur Rasai’ (Expression and Communication). It starts with the following poignant lines: “Moo-qalam, saaz, gil-e-taaza, thirakte paaon / baat kehne ke bahaane hain bohat / aadmi kis se magar baat kare?”
(A paintbrush, a musical instrument, some lump of clay, dancing feet / a thought can be expressed in a multitude of forms / but is there anyone to whom the thought merits to be communicated?)
The talk that followed, however, offered much hope, as moderator Asif Farrukhi and panellists Muneeza Shamsie, Kashif Raza and Bakhshan Maheranvi had lots of positive words to say about the state of novel currently being written by Pakistani writers in the English, Urdu and Sindhi languages respectively.
Farrukhi started the talk with quoting Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk, a Turkish novelist, who once said that in the 20th century, one needed to look at the fiction produced in a particular area, not its economic analysis and indicators, for the explanation of the lives, problems and aspirations of its people.
Commenting on the evolution of fiction in Sindhi in the post-independence era, Sindhi writer Maheranvi said the forming of One Unit was a major event that stirred the imagination of fiction writers, who authored some major works in the language.
He was of the view that during a certain phase, the Sindhi novel had taken a back seat in fiction, and short stories (Afsana) had flourished. However, after Tariq Alam Abro, a new era of novel began in the Sindhi language, said Maheranvi.
Urdu novelist Raza, who also recently translated Mohammad Hanif’s ‘A Case of Exploding Mangoes’ into Urdu, made an interesting remark that the Urdu novel had gained strength with the decline in short stories due to many factors, which included the fading away of literary magazines.
He said that such magazines published many Urdu short stories, which overshadowed the novel. He added that there was also a trend of literary gatherings in which an author would read out their complete short stories, which could not be done with novels.
According to Raza, people at that time unfortunately started having the same expectations from short stories that they had from poetry, which made the writers use flowery prose in short stories and epigrammatic sentences that could garner applause in such literary gatherings.
Such a trend, he said, resulted in the creation of short stories that had many good individual sentences but a weak overall theme. This trend, he added, led to the evolution of abstract short stories (Tajreedi Afsana) in which there was little focus on the main theme.
He said that as this style of fiction writing declined, many writers again focused on the novel, adding that the publication of Mirza Athar Baig’s ‘Ghulam Bagh’ was a turning point for the Urdu novel in the 2000’s, as Baig avoided flowery prose altogether and used the vernacular.
Raza also remarked that some contemporary Urdu novels had their setting in those areas that had never been the subject of Urdu fiction before, like the rural Sindh, Balochistan and the mountainous regions of the country.
As Muneeza was asked to comment on English novels written in Pakistan, she said that when she talked about Pakistani English novels, she included in it the works by those writers as well who were of Pakistani origin, as they could not do away with their background of Pakistan.
Commenting on Abdullah Hussain, she highlighted that he was rightly lauded for his Urdu fiction, but his English novel that was as good as his Urdu works was generally not discussed.
She said that it was not right to think that Pakistani writers wrote in English because they wanted international attention.
Writers, if they are multilingual, have to decide themselves what the best language is for them to channel their imagination into, she added.
However, said Muneeza, it was astounding for her that Hanif’s ‘A Case of Exploding Mangoes’ was not a problem for anyone as long as it was in English, but when it was translated into Urdu, some quarters could not bear it.
As the talk was about to end, Shallwani joined the panel and stressed the need for making efforts to impart education in Urdu. He said that one could not clear CSS examinations without good English, and all his childhood and college and university life was spent under the impression that English was a superior language.
However, he added, the myth busted when he went to Japan and found out that no one could understand English there and yet it was a developed country far ahead of us.
At the end, journalist Peerzada Salman announced that the next session of the literary circle would be held in February in connection with Ghalib’s death anniversary that falls on February 15.
On this the commissioner remarked that the session should best be organised in the last days of the next month because the city administration would be busy before due to the Pakistan Super League.
The idea of postponing an event regarding Ghalib’s death anniversary due to a cricketing event is a reflection of how frivolous our society has become of late, and it is surely not the best thing to end an interesting session with.