Digging into a vanishing culture
Karachi: As the saying goes, “The past is a beautiful country”. Yes, the past has a charm all its own and aspects which must not have been very savoury to people of the generation that inhabited that past, seem to have an intriguing charm when it transits into the past. It makes real “cannon fodder” for novelists, historians, and biographers. Besides, it also presents insights into matters which make us all the wiser and we learn from it.
It was exactly one such venture which featured at the T2F Sunday evening. The occasion was the launch of Musharraf Farooqui’s book, “Between clay and dust”.
It is supposed to be amid the setting of a South Asian city in the nineteenth century which has not been identified by the author but the dialogues and the poetic and romantic structures of the names all point to Oudh.
The launch was unusual and original in that there was no chief guest and no keynote speeches (read sermonisations and exhortations). Two young ladies, Shazaf Fatima and Afia Aslam, interviewed the author about various aspects of the work, how it originated, what inspired the author to undertake it, and others.
Farooqui explained the aspects about the work which pivots around two characters, a wrestler, Ustad Ramzi, and a courtesan Gohar Jan. It gives a glimpse of the relationship between the two amid the overall cultural milieu. The story pivots around the wrestler’s “Akhaara” (arena) and Gohar Jan’s “Kotha” (bordello).
Later, noted artiste Sheema Kirmani read a passage from the book and another gentleman read the Urdu translation of another passage. However, the two passages were in interlinked.
After this, questions were invited from the floor.
Farooqui agreed with a questioner that Urdu and Japanese literature were quite a bit akin which he attributed to the fact that both were oriental countries and as such were sure to have some sort of commonality with each other. He cited the Samurai and the Geisha girls in Japanese literature and drew a parallel between these and the Pehlwans (wrestlers)and courtesans.
Farooqui said that one of the things that could be concluded from the book was that even when we have a selfish relationship with others, we just don’t have the freedom to destroy their lives.
Since the author also went to India, he was asked by one of the lady interviewers as to what differences he found between India and Pakistan, to which he replied, “While in Karachi you are constantly watching for people who may mug you, while you are always scared that you may be waylaid, in Dehli you feel that you are in a normal society. Women go about without fear of harassment”. Strange notions about Pakistan persist in India just as people in Pakistan had about India.
Farooqui is the author of five novels and a large number of short stories and articles. He translated the Urdu classic, “The adventures of Amir Hamza”, and the first book of a 24-volume magical fantasy epic, “Hoshruba”. His first novel, “The story of a widow”, was shortlisted for the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature, 2010. He has also written novels for children, one of these being, “Why ants don’t wear shoes”.