Invasion of e-publishing and future of Urdu’s literary journalism
PUBLISHING one’s poetry electronically has gathered so much currency that many of today’s poets of Urdu do not bother to get their poetry ‘printed’ in any magazine once it is ‘published’ online, mostly on Facebook. If they can get 200 likes or more by the midnight, they go to bed content and can afford to smile in dreams.
Despite the rise of electronic media, when Mumtaz Ahmed Sheikh launched Lauh, a literary magazine published from Rawalpindi, many — including this writer — thought it was a fine effort, but might not last longer and would quietly disappear just like many other literary journals of Urdu. The reason for this pessimistic inference was an ever decreasing number of readers of literary magazines.
About half a decade down the road, those factors still exist and have rather accentuated the imminent death of print media. In the west, numerous newspapers and magazines have either gone out of business or have stopped publishing their print edition, shifting completely to the electronic version. Some Urdu magazines have either closed down for good or been struggling. Monthly digests for women, too, that enjoyed a vast circulation, have suffered a decrease in sales. This is a gloomy scene when compared to some two decade ago when these women’s digests used to sell like hot cakes. Mystery or detective magazines too did well back then. Sub Rang Digest, for instance, owned and edited by Shakeel Aadilzada, had broken all sales records and at a point in time, in mid-1970s, its circulation had crossed 150,000 mark — a wondrous achievement for a country where literacy rate has always been dismal. Now Sub Rang is gone, forever. Some Urdu journals have either ceased publication or are a mere shadow of their glorious past.
Some of Urdu’s quasi-literary monthlies published from India, the names of Sham’a and some other magazines come immediately to one’s mind, did roaring business. Nuqoosh and Adab-i-Lateef were among the most popular and prestigious literary periodicals. Afkaar was a monthly published from Karachi and it maintained its regularity for over 50 years. Nigar, launched in 1922, kept on publishing for some 85 years. It all vanished before our eyes. An era has ended.
The conditions for Urdu magazines, especially literary ones, are not conducive at all now. They are beyond their haydays. Neither are there any big hopes of their revival, at least the print version cannot go on for more than a decade, perhaps. But, thank God, the pessimism of many, including this writer, has been proved awry. The tenacity with which Urdu’s magazines, especially the literary magazines, are fighting it out is amazing. Though some literary journals of Urdu have gone and it is very unlikely that they would ever come back, some new magazines have taken the centre stage. Also, some older ones are surviving and doing quite well, for example, Qaumi Zaban, Karachi, and Al-Hamra, Lahore, though both are monthlies and, mind you, publishing a monthly magazine is not as easy as it sounds. These two monthlies are being published regularly for the last 70 years or so, albeit most literary journals have very small circulations.
The exorbitant prices of magazines and free online availability of literary pieces has apparently sealed the fate of Urdu’s literary journals, but some are doing amazingly well. In these days of hyperinflation when very old and reputed magazines can hardly keep afloat, not only have some Urdu magazines survived the invasion of the e-publishing, but have also become more stylish in get-up, more choosy in contents and thicker, too.
Lauh too has survived and is still published. Its new issue (Jan-June, 2019) is as usual elegantly printed and the bulky issue is full of valuable writings, both in prose and poetry. Some of the most prominent names of today’s Urdu literature, both from India and Pakistan, have contributed and some of the pieces are remarkable. For example, an old piece by Dr Muhammad Ajmal (1919-1994) has been reproduced and is worth it. Introduced by Amjad Tufail, Dr Ajmal’s article discusses Muslim contribution to psychotherapy. Quoting from Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi (1863-1943), Dr Ajmal has shed light on how mystics help psychopaths. Dr Ajmal was a brilliant intellectual and writer, equally at home talking or writing about philosophy, psychology, mysticism and metaphysics.
Published by Rawalpindi-Islamabad’s Old Ravians Association, the current issue of Lauh, a 672-page large-sized hardbound volume, has more than the literary pieces to offer: a hope for Urdu’s literary journalism in printed form in the wake of cyber world’s breakneck speed.
One wonders how the editor and publishers manage the finances because the bulky magazine must cost a small fortune to get published but without advertisements and apparently no big support from the general readers, it is a big sacrifice for the sake of literature on the part of those who manage it. But is that how the literary journalism of Urdu going to survive in the next decade? Definitely not, because not every editor can do wonders without financial support. Hats off to Mumtaz Sheikh!