A fresh perspective

September 11, 2022

This collection of essays is a riveting account of those who influenced intellectual discourse at local and global levels

A fresh perspective


reamers, Thinkers, and Doers: People, Places and Ideas of our Time is a collection of essays by Dr Arif Azad, published in various newspapers and journals during the last two decades.

The book seeks to uncover various aspects of the current political, social and literary issues and is a riveting account of some of the people who influenced intellectual discourse at local and global levels. With a vivid understanding of the issues, modern sensibility and a rational approach, Arif weaves facts and analyses them in a way that creates curiosity in the readers and adds value to their understanding of the contemporary world. Without using clichéd jargon, the author explains the issues with a realistic approach. He takes the readers on a journey to explore the issues rather than contend with the glib answers. The breezy language, fresh perspectives and the delightful style of the author remind one of Khalid Hassan’s prose.

Part One of the book discusses contemporary discourse in world literature. Some of the articles, like The Treatment of Night in Literature and The Nations and National Literature give new insights into symbolism and the politics of literature. He has picked up Naipaul’s colonial heritage and discussed the debate between anglophiles and post-colonial authors about his artistic credentials and political ideas. His article on Shakespeare after 400 years beautifully depicts the bard’s relevance, influence on people’s thoughts and the theatre in Pakistan and worldwide.

The second part deals with film, TV serials and filmmakers. A detailed comment on their movies, political ideas and art introduces these great artists to the readers. Here, Arif illuminates the subtle beauty of the art. For instance, while discussing a film on Anna Karenina, Arif explains how the themes of belief, love and fidelity, morals and individual freedom are inventively dealt with in the movie.

Part Three reviews some notable books. The appraisal of a book on Jeremy Corbyn, who is personally known to Arif, gives a detailed account of the man and his political environment. This section also discusses Stoner – a forgotten but recently rediscovered great novel on campus life and its discontent. In Part Four, Arif presents an in-depth analysis of various political movements and how those impacted life in different parts of the globe. This includes the impact of radical anti-racism, national liberation and socialist movements of 1968 on world politics, the rise and fall of the Russian revolution after a hundred years, the right-wing rise in Europe, Bernie Sanders and the contemporary political landscape of Pakistan.

Arif Azad interweaves facts and analyses them in a way that creates curiosity in the readers and adds value to their understanding of the contemporary world.

A section in the book is dedicated to some extraordinary progressive journals like Lotus, Viewpoint and The South. The Lotus, published from Beirut, was edited by Faiz Ahmad Faiz and represented progressive voices from across the world, particularly from the Middle East. Viewpoint, a weekly magazine published from Lahore, under the editorship of Mazhar Ali Khan and his team of illustrious journalists like Prof Amin Mughal, IA Rehman and Zafar Iqbal Mirza, courageously resisted the overwhelming fear of the Zia regime in Pakistan. Another section consisting of Arif’s sojourns across Warsaw and Zagreb-Belgrade road presents an in-depth analysis of changing societies in the Balkans.

Part Seven sheds light on some great Pakistani personalities like ZA Bhutto, Suhrawardis, SM Burke, Alys Faiz, Patras Bokhari, Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan and Malik Meraj Khalid. Amongst the left-leaning political leaders and intellectuals, this section refers to the lives of Alys Faiz, Sheikh Mohammad Rashid aka Baba-i-Socialism, the journalist Abdullah Malik, the academician Hamza Alvi, and Zafaryab Ahmed. Hamza Alvi introduced a path-breaking analysis of the over-developed state of Pakistan. Zafaryab Ahmed once represented the soul of the left-leaning youth of Lahore. Those who knew Zafaryab would love to read this write-up about that loving, jovial, witty, and uncompromising activist of the socialist camp in Pakistan. Arif also pays tribute to the radical and highly talented Trotskyite leader, always simmering with the passion for painting the world red – Dr Lal Khan. Finally, the colourful narration of the nightingale of Pakistan, a multitalented artist Noor Jehan, adds charm to this great hall of fame.

The last section is about people who influenced political and literary discourse globally. While Naipaul, in this section, represents the viewpoint of white supremacy, Sivanandan, an anti-racist campaigner, highlights anti-colonial sentiment across the globe. This section also includes some other great literary giants like Philip Roth, Norman Mailer, the brilliant Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm, the Marxist scholar and translator of Faiz’s poetry Victor Kiernan, the journalist Joan Didion, and great political theorist and Polish thinker Kolakowski. This section becomes more engaging with the lively portrayal of the lives of political theorists and practitioners like Fidel Castro, Nelson Mandela, Tony Benn, Edward Kennedy, Helmut Kohl, Joyti Basu and Christopher Hitchens.

Arif has a rational approach towards life, influenced by a modern sensibility – enlightened and inspired by local and global human rights movements. The work shows Arif’s deep understanding of and diverse exposure to various academic institutions and practical involvement in contemporary social and political movements. I first met Arif when he was a young medical student in Lahore, an avid reader of English literature – always engaged in literary and political debates. Then he moved to the UK, where he got involved in human rights campaigns against racism and for immigrants’ rights and defending the political rights of marginalised groups. Later, he studied public policy at Birkbeck College, where Eric Hobsbawm also taught. After that, he landed at Umea University, Sweden, to get his masters’ degree in public health. He has worked in Pakistan and Middle East with Doctors without Borders as a public policy consultant and health expert.

The book shows the intellectual journey of a man who has a keen interest in literature and vast experience working as a social scientist and a human rights campaigner, both nationally and internationally.

Book: Dreamers, Thinkers, and Doers: People, Places and Ideas of our Time

Author: Dr Arif Azad

Publisher: IRD- IIU, 2022

Pages: 285

Price: Rs 750

The reviewer is a novelist and a translator

A fresh perspective