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LITERARY NOTES: Commemorating the centennial of a literary colossus

Pakistan Press Foundation

IT was nice to see, during the last few years, literary circles celebrating the centennials of Shibli No’mani, Altaf Hussain Hali, N.M. Rashid, Sa’adat Hasan Manto, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Miraji and many other towering figures of Urdu literature. Mir Taqi Mir’s bicentenary was commemorated in 2010. But it was just as painful to note that some towering figures such as Moulvi Nazeer Ahmed Dehlvi were totally ignored and his 100th death anniversary quietly passed in 2012. Similarly, Ismat Chughtai’s 100th birth anniversary would have passed almost unnoticed had it not been for a couple of pieces that appeared in Books & Authors, Dawn’s magazine, and a session that took place at Karachi Arts Council’s annual conference. Next year, we must commemorate the 200th birth anniversary of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan and 200th death anniversary of Insha Allah Khan Insha. Remembering the departed authors is not only a way of paying homage to them but it also invokes a renewed interest in their writings and literary legacies. The year 2016 marks the 100th birth anniversary of a literary giant and it seems that not many people have noticed: Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi was born in 1916. Incidentally, July 10 this year marks his 10th death anniversary, too. It is strange that the first half of Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi’s centennial year is over without much fanfare, though Qasmi sahib was a literary icon whose writings had pervaded the subcontinent’s literary scene for decades.

Luckily, Mah-i-nau has brought out a special issue on Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi to pay tribute to the literary giant on his 100th birth anniversary. Mah-i-nau is a literary magazine published by the ministry of information, broadcasting and national heritage, government of Pakistan. It has a long history. Launched in 1948 from Karachi by the government of Pakistan, Mah-i-nau is known for its literary and intellectual perspective. It is hard to imagine how a government publication can be so firmly grounded in reality, depicting the current literary scene and yet balance its contents with a minimum of pro-government propagandist platitude. It was in fact Syed Vaqar Azeem, the first editor of Mah-i-nau, who helped shape its policy that reflected national demeanour as well as literary vision. The latter-day editors who followed suit included Muhammad Hasan Askari, Rafiq Khawar and Zafar Qureshi. Later, Fazl Qadeer edited it with the same zest. But then the magazine was relocated to Islamabad. The conditions at Islamabad may be lovely but they were not conducive to a literary magazine. When Mah-i-nau, the new moon, literally, began to wane, though it had become a full moon, it was asked to reappear on Lahore horizon, the cultural capital of Pakistan. It also got a new editor, Kishwer Naheed, who infused a new life into it and Mah-i-nau began to shine again.

Fortunately, Mah-i-nau had had a number of editors who were poets and writers first and foremost and they turned it into a sort of literary movement that not only reflected Pakistani writers’ creativity and their sentiments, but it also tried to portray a picture of Pakistan’s cultural colours amalgamated into one. Secondly, Mah-i-nau has been an advocate of fine arts and, as put by Dr Anwer Sadeed, whether it was Gandhara culture or Mohenjo Daro, be it calligraphy or pottery, painting or sculpture, Mah-i-nau was the Urdu magazine that covered these topics most widely and regularly. Mah-i-nau has the honour of first publishing some of the most moving and landmark literary pieces, both in prose and poem, by celebrated authors. Authors like Manto, Rasheed Ahmed Siddiqi, Ghulam Abbas, Hafeez Jallundhri, Ashfaq Ahmed, Soofi Tabassum, Firaq Gorakhpuri, Josh Maleehabadi, Salahuddin Ahmed, Intizar Hussain, Gian Chand and Mumtaz Shirin used to contribute to Mah-i-nau. As it happens with many things in this land of the pure, Mah-i-nau, too, was eclipsed and it became a shadow of its former self. But it seems that now things are looking up, as the publication of a special issue on Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi, to coincide with his 100th birth anniversary, suggests.

The issue includes a biographical sketch of Qasmi, selections from his prose and poetry and articles by well-known writers, evaluating Qasmi’s works and paying tribute to his personality. Some celebrated contemporaries of Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi, such as, Josh Maleehabadi, Raees Amrohvi, Ehsan Danish, Ibn-i-Insha, Ibrahim Jalees, Ashfaq Ahmed, Jameeluddin Aali, Jameel Jalibi, Ahmed Faraz, Zafar Iqbal, Qateel Shifai, Khadeeja Mastoor and some others, had paid tribute to Qasmi in their verses or articles. These, too, have been included in the issue. Muhammad Saleem, the chief editor, in his editorial says that the issue is intended to pay tribute to Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi’s patriotism and his views that supported ‘arts for life’s sake’ theory. The large-sized, 372-page issue is priced at Rs400, which looks nominal, considering that it is printed on art paper and is adorned by colour photographs.