Zia Mohyeddin reads excerpts from his new books
KARACHI: There is never a dull moment when Zia Mohyeddin is in his element. Despite the age factor, when it comes to reading out passages, that too from his own book, he can make the audience enjoy the finer points of prose without sounding stilted. This is exactly what he did on Sunday prior to the signing of his book A Carrot is a Carrot at the Arts Council Karachi.
Zia Mohyeddin began the session by reading out a few paragraphs from the chapter ‘A Carrot is a Carrot’, which is the title of the book. Going through it in a measured and somewhat calculating way, he distinguished the difference between the joys of yesteryear and the future. “I believe in the past,” he uttered with certitude, asserting “I’m a classicist.” This led him to claim, in a roundabout way and gently teasing the modernists, that he liked out-of-date things and that he had inherited instinctive love for the past. The segment ended explaining the title of the book. (It involves Chekhov when he responds to his wife’s question about what life is and says it’s like asking, what is a carrot. A carrot is a carrot.)
The second piece was called ‘The Deal Partner’. It was a smart little work of storytelling on the game of bridge. Once he was asked to be the fourth player in a game and he said yes despite not knowing much about it. This led him to experience interesting things, including the language that bridge players employ during the game, “the invectives being bandied about” to be precise.
The third extract that Zia Mohyeddin presented was from the recollection headlined ‘The Hero Must Be Well-Fed’. The marked feature of the segment was that in spite of sounding like an oft-told story, it had newness to it. He also reasoned that that the piece would explain to the audience why he hadn’t worked in many Pakistani films. It was about a director who signed him as the lead character in a film and set up a meeting with the lady who was supposed to do the female lead in the movie. The meeting was at her Karachi flat where she was accompanied by her bulky mother. The crux of the tale was that while the hero suggested to the director that the heroine should shed a pound or two, he replied that it was the hero who needed to look hefty enough in order to pair up with the lady. The audience thoroughly enjoyed ‘The Hero Must Be Well-Fed’.
Then he read out an excerpt from an essay which is going to be included in his next book. It was called ‘The Bridal Suite’ and was about how he was made to stay in one such suite in New York during an event that he was requested to be a part of. It too had the audience in stitches.
But the funniest part came in the end when he read out an email sent to him by his nephew. It was a delightful take on how English is (ab) used to convey long-distance messages.
Before Zia Mohyeddin’s arrival on stage, noted writer Asif Farrukhi briefly spoke on the book. He said Zia sahib had mastered the craft of making his sentences elegant without being cumbersome. He told the gathering that the very first piece in the book was ‘Kasur’; if its title was not inviting the opening sentence was: “It is uncanny: the swirl of dead leaves pulled along by the wind in the heat of the day reminds me of Kasur, a small provincial town that I have not visited since I was a School boy.” Afterwards, he said, the author moved on to London and had a ‘tantalizing’ encounter with poet Dylan Thomas.
However, he claimed that the chapter that stood out for him was on Leela Lean, the great Indian beauty who married director David Lean.
In the end Zia Mohyeddin signed copies of the book for his admirers.