The memories of three grand literary critics of Urdu from India who passed away in a short time of around one-and-a-half years from December 2020 till June 2022 dominated the session of ‘Yaad-e-Raftgaan’ on the second day of the 15th International Urdu Conference on Friday.
Shamsur Rahman Faruqi (born 1935) passed away on December 25, 2020, due to complications of Covid-19. After a few months, the pandemic claimed the life of Shamim Hanafi (born 1939) on May 6, 2021. After a year, Gopi Chand Narang (born 1931) died on June 15, 2022.
Besides these three giants from India, the session also eulogised major Sindhi poet Imdad Hussaini who passed away on August 27, 2022, journalist and poet Farhad Zaidi who left for his heavenly abode on March 11 this year, and Farooq Qaiser, the creator of the most famous puppet in Pakistan, Uncle Sargam, who died on May 14, 2021 The session was moderated by Rizwan Zaidi.
Sahar Imdad, widow of the late Sindhi poet, was the first speaker at the event. She briefly described the life and works of Hussaini, stating that he had started composing verses at the age of 12, due to which his literary career spanned over 70 years.
She explained that Hussaini had also composed verses in Urdu and his Urdu poetry collection titled ‘Dhoop Kiran’ had also received praise from readers and critics. Sahar said that besides regular poetry in Sindhi, Imdad had also penned over 100 songs in Sindhi that were sung in Sindhi films and presented on radio.
Major literary figures and critics who had written on Hussaini’s poems included Intizar Hussain, Ibrahim Joyo, Ghulam Rabbani Agro, Ilyas Ishqi and Mazhar Jamil, Sahar said, adding that many Sindhi poems by Imdad had also been translated into other languages. She also recited some Urdu poems of her late husband.
Considered to be a legend of the Pakistani journalism, Farhad, who also served as the Pakistan Television head, was paid tribute by his son Hasan Zaidi, also a journalist by profession.
Hasan said that he was attending the session on the request of the Arts Council and was initially reluctant to speak at the session because his late father, who was a man of principles, would not have liked a man praising his own father in public.
The speaker said that in all his capacities, a common trait that Farhad showed was his adherence to ethics. He recalled that once his younger brother worked in the same media group in which Farhad was on a senior post. The father did nothing to raise the salary of his son that was less than that of a peon’s lest he was charged with nepotism.
Farhad had also penned some poems but he never got a collection of his poetry published because he thought his poems were too few to be compiled in the form of a book, Hasan said, adding that one of his poems, Shareef Log, was widely read and praised. The speaker added that Farhad always insisted on writing in a simple language for a journalistic piece as he considered laymen to be the audience of journalism.
Literary critic Nasir Abbas Nayyar said that speaking on Hanafi at the Urdu Conference was a saddening experience for him as the late critic regularly came to Karachi from India to participate in the event and often he would be the keynote speaker at inaugural ceremonies.
According to the speaker, Hanafi had ties with both the younger and older generations of Pakistani writers. He added that although his claim to fame was his criticism, his radio plays also deserved our attention.
Nayyar made good use of the brief time he had by explaining how Hanafi stood apart from Faruqi and Narang in his critical approach. Hanafi was a modern critic, the speaker said, adding that the modernism exhibited in Hanafi’s critical works was, however, different from the modernism of Faruqi or Narang.
The speaker said that Hanafi’s criticism was centred around ‘experience’. Whereas Faruqi would like to interpret or explain a literary work, Hanafi would tend to grasp the experience felt by the writer that prompted him or her to produce a literary work, Nayyar said, adding that it was a difficult task as the late critic tried to convey the experience in his words without explaining or interpreting it.
Music director and actor Arshad Mahmud, who had started his career at the Pakistan Television along with Qaiser in a children’s show Akkar Bakkar, termed the puppeteer a great humanist.
He said that Akkar Bakkar would teach Urdu alphabets to children and he and Qaiser joined the show when the programme was to teach the fourth Urdu alphabet ‘Tay’. Qaiser was tasked with penning a nursery rhyme involving the sound of ‘Tay’ and Mahmud would compose a tune for it.
Mahmud also revealed that it was him on whom the puppet of Uncle Sargam was modelled by Qaiser. Qaiser had told him that both Mahmud and Uncle Sargam were bald, had a moustache and composed music.
The speakers also recited some verses for children penned by Qaiser that reflected his humanism. One of the poems that he shared had the lyrics: “Mere Pyare Allah Mian/ Dil Mera Hairan Hai/ Mere Ghar Mein Faqa Hai/ Us Ke Ghar Mein Naan Hai/ Main Bhi Pakistan Hoon/ Woh Bhi Pakistan Hai”. Another poem was “Ameer Ne Jo Pakri Hai/ Khoobsurat Lakri Hai/ Lakri Peh Naqqashi Hai/ Ghareeb Ne Tarashi Hai”.
Shamsur Rahman Faruqi
Critic and publisher Mubin Mirza said that after Muhammad Hasan Askari, Faruqi was the only critic of the Urdu literature who would deal with the Western critical thought on the terms of the Eastern paradigm of literature.
The late critic would only accept those Western ideas, which he found to be acceptable within the Eastern literary system, Mirza said, explaining that due to this, Faruqi considered poetry as a superior literary genre in Urdu in comparison to fiction because the role of poetry in our tradition was wider than the role of poetry in the European literature.
The speaker remarked that Faruqi saw literature in a vast perspective and likewise he widened the literary perspective of his readers. He said the superlative phrases of praise befitted Faruqi’s works.
Mirza, however, pointed out that not every opinion by Faruqi was worthy of acceptance. He said the critic did have prejudices which reflected in his erroneous judgments such as calling Firaq Gorakhpuri an inferior poet than Ahmed Mushtaq.
Gopi Chand Narang
Fiction writer and critic Muhammad Hameed Shahid was the last speaker at the session who highlighted the contributions of Narang to the Urdu criticism. He pointed out that Narang wrote about many new ideas of Western criticism, but at the same time he did not cut off his links with the Eastern tradition.
He specifically mentioned a book by Narang on the metaphor of Karbala in Urdu poetry, which showed the late critic’s deep insights into the literary tradition of Urdu.
Shahid particularly praised Narang’s criticism of Urdu fiction. He said it was Narang who interpreted Manto’s works to be a reflection of his desolation rather than creations of his urge to expose society.
The speaker said the critic was highly fond of short stories of Rajendra Singh Bedi and he had pointed out that Bedi accurately depicted the Indian women in his short stories as his female characters’ utterances and desires were in opposition to each other. The short story writers whom Narang wrote about would become a centre of attention of literary circles, the speaker remarked.
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