An association of more than 50 years

February 14, 2016

TNS talks to three of Intizar Husain's closest friends -- Masood Ashar, Zahid Dar and Ikramullah -- about their perceptions and memories of the literary legend

An association of more than 50 years

"I consider Intizar Husain ‘Nayi nasl mai aik hazaron saal purana admi.’" -- Masood Ashar

My friendship with Intizar Husain dates back to late 1950s. I met him for the first time when he was working at Afaq. Famous critic Muhammad Hasan Askari was also present in his office during our first meeting. Later, we would often meet at Pak Tea House, the meeting point for intellectuals, authors and free-thinkers. However, after I moved to Multan to work at Daily Imroze, the interaction with Intizar Husain was limited to reading his novels and short stories.

During Ziaul Haq’s era, when I was ousted from Daily Imroze because of my differing views and criticism of martial law regime, I moved back to Lahore. I began meeting Intizar Husain every day at the Pak Tea House. On Thursday evenings, we would gather at Kishwar Naheed’s place at Krishan Nagar.

Since the past few years, we had made Nairang Art Gallery our meeting point. Every Sunday, I would get together with Intizar, Eruj Mubarak, Shahid Hameed, Ikramullah, and Zahid Dar. Also, we would spend Thursday evenings at Eruj Mubarak’s residence.

I have had several disagreements with Intizar Husain because I was associated with the Progressive Writers Association while he was opposed to it. Despite the differences and disagreements, we shared a good bond. I have always been captivated by his literary works, be it ‘Qaiyuma ki Dukan’, ‘Zard Kutta’ or any other piece of writing. It is interesting to note that in all his short stories and novels, apart from the human and non-human characters, the narration itself takes the form of a character.

I was in Karachi to read an essay on modern writings, where I said that the progressive writers always wanted to establish a modern/developed society. Writers like Intizar Husain have also played their role by trying to divert us towards tradition, hence, turning us reactionary as they were.

(Isme Intizar sb jese logon ka bhi kasur hai ke inho ne humey riwait ki taraf raghib karke aik kisam ki ruja’at pasandi ki taraf raghib kardiya hai)

People reacted to my remark but I told them that, despite our friendship, we do have disagreements.

After the partition of India, non-progressive writers would criticise the progressive writers’ literature depicting the human cost of partition. At that time, Mumtaz Shireen had published a book titled, Zulmat-e-Neem Roz comprising writings by Muhammad Hasan Askari, Intizar Husain and several others. In that book, Intizar Husain had rebuked Krishan Chander and other progressive writers. He had labelled Krishan Chandar as maha sabayi (Hindu fanatic).

However, over the past few years, there was a huge change in his way of thinking. Once prejudiced towards Krishan Chander, he started admiring him. He acknowledged the contribution of progressive authors in literature.

Earlier, he strongly believed that commitment to any particular ideology or idea is dangerous. However, looking at how he presented contemporary social, political, and cultural issues in his novels and stories, I am not sure if it was a commitment to a cause or not. His novels Basti and Agey Samundar Hai both come across as political statements.

I consider Intizar Husain ‘Nayi nasl mai aik hazaron saal purana admi.’

He was deeply engrossed in the ancient Indian civilisation as well as Islamic history. I believe he was the last man in Pakistan who had an in-depth knowledge of our composite culture which is also known as ganga jamani/hind Islami culture. There is no one left behind to take this culture forward.

Read also: A man called Intizar Husain by Shamsur Rahman Faruqi

In an interview, Intizar Husain had once exclaimed, "I am made up of three layers: Ancient Indian, Islamic, and Western. I have inculcated the knowledge of these three layers to become what I am." His best works include the translations of Chekov’s writings. He would narrate tales from Mahabharata and Ramayana. He would also tell stories of the Islamic era, particularly the incident of Karbala. He was a mythological man who had the ability to speak to 2000 years old characters.

He once said about his nostalgia: "While residing in our home we don’t realise what it means to be separated. It’s only after the separation that the memories keep enticing us."

Very few people know about this incident. When Intizar Husain migrated to Lahore after partition, Manto and Askari launched a magazine. After its first edition was published, Askari asked Intizar Husain to write a short story for them. Intizar Husain was initially scared but he sent his short story to Manto who was the editor. Manto called Intizar and said: "what have you written?" On his explanation, Manto said, "yeh tum khud to samjh sakte ho parhne waley nahi samjhenge." Intizar brought his story back and edited it accordingly.

He again went to meet Manto to deliver his story. Manto liked the story but this time he reacted to the title which was, ‘Woh.’ "What does this title mean? It’s doesn’t look good," Manto commented. Manto changed the title to ‘Woh Phir Ayegi.’ The story was about a girl whom a character meets at a majlis and is intensely infatuated by her. The proceedings at the majlis continue while he keeps looking at her. Eventually, the majlis culminates and she leaves. He stands there thinking when would she return?"

 On the next page: "I will not talk about him" -- Zahid Dar, life-long companion

"I will not talk about him" -- Zahid Darlife-long companion

The close circle of friends gathered at Nairang Gallery the following Sunday. This is how Intizar Husain would have liked it. Zahid Dar was still sitting with some young people at the gallery when I went to meet him. "I will not talk about Intizar Husain," he said.

"He didn’t say a word even yesterday at the meeting at Cosmopolitan Club," one of his younger friends quipped.

I sat and we began talking. About Intizar. "I first met him in 1956". In an earlier interview, Dar had told me how Safdar Mir introduced him to Husain by telling him "Yeh larka tumhari kitabain khareed ker parhta hai" (This boy buys your books and reads them).

"Intizar Husain had a lot of intellectual discussions with Safdar Mir who was a communist and thought Intizar was a qadamat pasand (conservative). Intizar Husain enjoyed what he called ‘literary exchanges’ with Safdar Mir and they were great friends too."

"We used to sit in the Tea House till it closed. Myself, Intizar and Enver Sajjad were the first ones to go and sit in the morning. After some time, Enver would go to his clinic, Intizar to Mashriq and I would keep sitting."

This must be 1960s. I wanted to know Intizar Sahib’s political inclinations at the time. "In Ayub Khan’s time, Qudratullah Shahab set up the Pakistan Writers Guild which was in a way an endorsement of Ayub Khan. I think Intizar Husain joined, on the insistence of Jamiluddin Aali."

Who were Intizar’s friends? "His friends even before I was introduced to him were Nasir Kazmi, Muzaffar Ali Syed, and Ahmed Mushtaq. Among those who sat in the Tea House was Ijaz Batalvi, too. But Intizar was very close to Nasir Kazmi; they were like brothers." They both used to live in Krishan Nagar initially. Then Intizar Husain moved to a house on Ferozepur Road.

"We used to roam around the Mall Road, sometimes in a tonga. When Intizar left for home, me and Nasir Kazmi would walk back to Krishan Nagar."

The volume of Intizar Husain’s work is stupendous. "There wasn’t a day in his life when he did not read or write. I used to have financial problems and Intizar would tell me: "Why don’t you write? Don’t I write for money?" He had a great sense of discipline when it came to writing, Dar says.

It is said there aren’t many women in his fiction. "Yes, his critics say that. In one story ‘Akhri Mom Batti’ there is a woman at the imambargah. There are women in his early stories but not in a physical sense. He doesn’t talk of sex. He talks about thandi aag (cold fire) only (one of his stories is called ‘Thandi Aag’). He had friendship with women but it was thandi aag, as they say. He did fall in love once when he was editor of Adab-e-Lateef. The girl was a short story writer. They both liked each other and he wanted to marry her. But the girl’s family did not accept the proposal because they said the writers can’t feed their families. Later, he got married and lived a happy life with his wife."

After his wife died of cancer, Zahid Dar came more close to Intizar Husain. "After the chehlum, when all the people had left, he asked me to stay on because he felt scared. I started going to his place more frequently because he felt so lonely. Because the Tea House had closed, it became a chai ka adda. Soon others, including Masood Ashar and Ikramullah started coming, almost daily. Other than his last week in the hospital, I had never missed a day. If he was going somewhere, he would call me and inform. If I couldn’t make it some day, he would call me and ask. It was a daily routine."

Husain would bring a chair for Dar and call Haroon, the help at home, to bring tea.

"The last days were too painful for me; seeing him unconscious was unbearable. His mind was alert till the end."

Zahid Dar would often sit at Intizar Husain’s place for hours without the two of them uttering a word. "When Ikramullah, Mehmood-ul-Hassan and others came, there were heated discussions on politics and cricket. If we were alone, he would either read or call these people and ask them to come and make some noise."


On the next page: "He never renounced friends because of difference of opinion" -- Ikramullah, short story writer and peer

"He never renounced friends because of difference of opinion" -- Ikramullah, short story writer and peer

"I knew Intizar Husain since 1962. He was then the editor of Adab-e-Latif. I had sent him my short story, ‘Utam Chand’, for publication. He made several changes according to what he deemed appropriate. That was my first interaction with Intizar sahib.

In those days, I was living in Multan. He often used to visit to narrate his short stories in literary circles. A society named Bazm-e-Saqafat was formed in Multan that would invite authors and intellectuals from East Pakistan, India and sometimes Britain as well for a literary dialogue. Intizar Husain would also visit Multan to attend those sessions.

After I moved to Lahore in 1986, we used to meet every day at Pak Tea House. Unfortunately, when the Tea House was closed down, we had to search for an alternative place to get together. We got a new our abode in Nairang Art Gallery but here we would meet only weekly. We would gather every Sunday for a good exchange of ideas. Our conversation could be on any topic but mainly we discussed world politics, classical literature and the state of world literature."

Talking about his novels, Ikramullah says, works produced by great writers are not subject to stagnation; they are ever evolving and developing with time.  Similarly, the writings also adopt various styles. Intizar Husain’s writings also reflect the same progression and elaboration.

His opinion on Intizar Husain’s nostalgia? "Our roots lie in the soil we belong to. The civilisation, the culture, the society of where we belong, becomes an implicit part of our being. When India was partitioned on the basis of religion, Intizar Husain left his homeland and came to Lahore but those memories never left him. That’s the reason nostalgia is evident in his writings," he says.

"Intizar Husain was aware of the fact that everyone has their weaknesses. Zahid Dar was his companion till his last days and he had an unconditional love for him. Intizar sahib tried hard to correct Dar’s ways. He would often advise him to break his silence and start writing again.

"He never renounced his friends just because of difference of views or disagreement. There was a time when Intizar sahib wouldn’t tolerate progressive writers. However, during the last phase of his life, he was of the view that without the contribution of progressive writers, Urdu literature could have seen a period of downfall."

Ikramullah also mention that Intizar Sahib admitted that the varied opinions about socialism and capitalism had brought a change in his way of thinking.

"Safdar Mir and Intizar Husain continued to disagree with each other’s views in their writings. Interestingly, in the last part of his life, Intizar Husain would express that he somehow feels closer to the ideas of Safdar Mir. At the same time, we all know that in his last days, Safdar Mir began associating himself with ideas that you may want to consider Islamic, capitalist, or non-progressive," says Ikramullah.

An association of more than 50 years