Pakistani Urdu literature: moods, movements and milieu
PAKISTANI Urdu literature has come a long way and today it has its own peculiar mood and milieu that set it apart from what we inherited as a shared body of Urdu literature from the pre-independence era.
Just after the independence in 1947, the question of what Pakistani literature was and what it ought to be had arisen. In fact, it was M. D. Taseer (1903-1953) who in June 1947 initiated the debate in literary magazines, asking how Pakistani literature was going to be different from Urdu literature created till then. In November 1948, Intizar Hussain raised this question in his weekly Nizam. This debate took a new turn when renowned critic Muhammad Hasan Askari (1919-1978) took up the question in his columns in monthly Saqi and added the notion of “Islamic literature” to the question of what kind of literature was to be created in the nascent country. Thus began the Pakistani literature movement and Islamic literature movement. The progressive literary movement, which was already there with Halqa-i-Arbaab-i-Zauq, considered it a sort of its rival, or at least an organisation that had no leftist leanings.
In the later era, Pakistan’s Urdu literature was influenced by a number of social, political and cultural stimuli. But before analysing the concept of Pakistani Urdu literature, its history and its peculiarities, one must take into account what Shahzad Manzar (1933-Nov 19, 1997) has written on the subject since he was one of those few ones who academically traced and recorded the history of Pakistan’s Urdu literature. Shahzad Manzar died in the year Pakistan was celebrating 50 years of independence and by then many had realised the importance of recording the history of Pakistani literature’s 50 years. But as Shahzad Manzar had been following it since long and was quite a well-read critic, his articles succinctly got the crux of the matter.
Luckily, Dr Asad Faiz has compiled a book consisting of Shahzad Manzar’s articles that deliberated on the history of Pakistani Urdu literature. Just published by Islamabad’s Poorab Academy, the book is titled ‘Pakistan Mein Urdu Adab ki Soorat-e-Haal’ and gives, in a way, an outline history of Pakistani Urdu literature. It has five invaluable articles that deal with Pakistani Urdu literature and discuss important literary issues such as Urdu short story after independence, Urdu novel in Pakistan, 50 years of Pakistani Urdu ghazal and Urdu criticism in Pakistan.
The first article included in the book discusses Urdu short stories written in the first 50 years of Pakistan. Beginning with the riots that took place in the wake of independence, Shahzad Manzar quotes Mumtaz Shireen who says that Urdu short stories written just after independence had a formula, which consisted of first blaming the creation of Pakistan and then blaming everyone equally for the massacre that took place during the mass migration after independence in August 1947. Mumtaz Shireen had particularly criticised Krishan Chandr for his “intentionally created balance” between Hindus and Muslims. Mumtaz Shireen has pointed out Krishan Chandr’s short story ‘Peshawar Express’ as a glaring example of a thoughtfully carved out plot to prove that the massacre took place on both sides of the border in the equal measures. According to Shahzad Manzar, Krishan’s humanistic approach and his empathy were beyond any shadow of doubt but he intentionally tried to create the “balance”. He says collection of Krishan’s Chandr’s short stories ‘Ham Vahshi Hain’ (we all are savages) that depicted the savagery during the riots had sparked a debate in the literary circle. In this article Shahzad here also discusses the political events of 50 years that influenced Urdu short story and new trends that short story writers tried their hand at. He rightly concludes that with the passing away of the veteran short story writers and setting in of the new trends, such as pseudo-symbolism and abstract expressionism, Urdu short story suffered a lot.
In the second article, Shahzad beautifully sums up the topic of Urdu novel in Pakistan, though the vastness of the topic demands a doctoral dissertation. He thinks that in the 1980s, we saw a sort of revival of Urdu novel and he sounds very optimistic about the future.
The third article, a brief one, just touches on the subject of Pakistani Urdu ghazal and one feels that the article is rather lacking in many ways. But the fourth one thrashes the Urdu criticism written in Pakistan between 1947 and 1997. It shows how well-read Shahzad Manzar was. Aside from other aspects, the most interesting is the portion that discusses “a new kind of criticism” and that refers to the speeches made at the book launchings. Shahzad derides such launchings and terms it “Taqreebaati Tanqeed”. He says this kind of criticism does not conform to any critical theory nor does it care for anything else except for public relations. The last article deliberates on what criticism and literary theory is.
Shahzad Manzar was a progressive critic, research scholar and a fiction writer who wrote a novella and short stories depicting the tragic fall of Dhaka in 1971. But above all, he was a critic and had a profound interest in modern Urdu fiction, especially short stories. Urdu criticism was his other favourite haunt. Though recently some of Shahzad Manzar’s works have appeared posthumously, a book on Hasan Askari being more notable among them, most of his critical essays are buried in literary magazines though some of them have lasting value. Dr Asad Faiz has done a wonderful job by compiling some of Shahzad Manzar’s articles in book form.