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Literary Notes: Perfectionism and Urdu literary magazines

Literary Notes: Perfectionism and Urdu literary magazines

GONE are the days when Urdu books, newspapers and magazines had to be written by hand before they were sent to the press. A good kaatib, or calligrapher, who would not make hilarious mistakes, was hard to come by and if at all, he would be prone to be tardy or overworked, or both.

Perfectionists such as Mushtaq Ahmed Yousufi and Mushfiq Khwaja kept on postponing the publishing of their book or literary journal just because good and efficient calligraphers were very few.




Yousufi sahib has described in his preface to his Zarguzasht the calligrapher’s usual dilly-dallying in his peculiarly humorous way. Yousufi sahib had sent his manuscript to Lahore for calligraphy, but the writing speed of calligrapher was, according t him, “two lines a day”. Upon which he said to the calligrapher “at this speed the book’s calligraphy would finish within five or six years. What would you do after that?”

A number of letters written by Mushfiq Khwaja, published a few years ago, reveal that he kept on postponing the publication of an issue of his much esteemed literary journal Takhleeqi adab just because he was not satisfied with the standard of calligraphy in Karachi and finally had to send the entire edited matter to Muhammad Alam Mukhtar-i-Haq, a scholar living in Lahore, to get it hand-written by a calligrapher there.

Colonel Muhammad Khan was so conscious about the aesthetic value of calligraphy that in the preface to his book Basalamat ravi he wrote that “maybe, you would be bored with my book at some point, but the beautiful calligraphy would entice you till the very end”.

Aside from aesthetic value, what these perfectionists abhorred were calligraphers’ careless mistakes, which were very common in those days. While good calligraphers were scarce and calligraphy used to be time-consuming, the perfectionist attitude of some of our writers and editors further delayed the publishing of a book or journal.

No more so. In fact with the introduction of Urdu software some 25 years ago, Urdu printing and publishing increasingly shifted to computerised composing and now hardly any book or periodical is hand-written by calligraphers.

Rows of kaatibs in Urdu newspaper, a common sight in the past, are gone, replaced by composers.

But this time-saving switchover has not helped Urdu literature and journalism much. On the contrary, it has worsened the situation. Now the writers, poets and editors generally seem to be in a great hurry, ignoring the standard of their work and trying to get it published in a matter of few weeks, if not days.

In fact, while reading some slim collections of poetry by young Urdu poets, one feels that they must have been written in a few days and self-published in the next few days.

Computerised calligraphy and latest printing machinery is a boon indeed, but like most boons it has a downside too: every Tom, Dick and Harry can now become a ‘writer’ or ‘editor’ — that is if he or she has a deep pocket.

But not every writer or editor is in a hurry. Some perfectionists still persist in their old ways and do not send the matter to press until they are fully satisfied with the standard of the contents, layout and design.

Mubeen Mirza is one such perfectionist. A poet, critic and editor of Urdu literary magazine Mukalma, Mubeen Mirza sometimes delays the publication of his journal so much that it becomes exasperating for the readers and especially the contributors.

But he has got a rare way of silencing those who criticise the tardiness in the publication of Mukalma: he maintains the standard and usually publishes two thick issues simultaneously, though two simultaneous issues are often jokingly dubbed as ‘the birth of twins yet again’ by some friends of his.

The two new issues of Mukalma, issue numbers 20 and 21, have just been published after a long wait of about two years. Looking at the contents, one can say that the wait was worth it, as between the covers glitter some big names of today’s Urdu literature, both from India and Pakistan.

The contributors include Intezar Hussain, Razia Faseeh Ahmed, Fateh Muhammad Malik, Anwer Sadeed, Asad Muhammad Khan, Amjad Islam Amjad, Kishwar Naheed, Anwer Shaoor, Syed Mazhar Jameel, Saqi Farooqi, Abul Kalam Qasmi, Qazi Afzaal Hussain, Ali Ahmed Fatemi, Muhammad Hamza Farooqi, Rasheed Amjad, Masood Ash’ar, Khursheed Rizvi, Ihfaazur Rahman, Tehseen Firaqi, Sahar Ansari, Aslam Ansari, Muhammad Hameed Shahid, Baqar Naqvi, Najmul Hasan Rizvi, Asgher Nadeem Syed, Khalida Hussain, Haseena Moin, Razi Mujtaba, Amjad Tufail, Yasmeen Hameed, Salma Awaan, Ghulam Hussain Sajid, Saba Ikraam, A. Khayyaam, Irfan Javed, Mubeen Mirza, Saleem Yazdani, Shahid Hinai, Khwaja Razi Hyder and Ajmal Siraj.

But one disadvantage of delaying going to the press is that some writers get tired of waiting and send their pieces to other journals. As a result, Mubeen Mirza has to discard that material and readjust the entire contents as he is not in favour of publishing anything that has already been published elsewhere, though it further delays the publication of the journal.

Another disadvantage of delayed publishing, sorrowfully, is that some writers might depart this world without seeing their writings in print. One such example is the interesting piece on Jigar Muradabadi by Shafi Aqeel.

The veteran journalist and critic Shafi Aqeel had penned this piece about two years ago but died almost immediately after submitting it. Also, Ali Hyder Malik passed away last year and his piece on Mahmood Wajid has now appeared in ‘Mukalma’.

Once, this writer asked Mubeen Mirza to get some fast composers who would not compose, in Yousufi’s words, “two lines a day”. He replied “it’s not the calligraphy, it’s the standard”. But he must remember what Voltaire has said: “perfect is the enemy of good”.

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Published in Dawn, October 19th, 2015

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