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Change of guard

Change of guard

NOTWITHSTANDING the administrative issues that have been part and parcel of the event since its inception, the ninth edition of the International Urdu Conference at the Arts Council in Karachi was pretty much a success story. The crowds were there in decent numbers — though the same cannot be said about the literary elite they had come to see, hear, or if possible, have a word with.

The regular contingent from India, led by Shamim Hanafi, was absent owing to the current political and military tensions between the two countries. They were missed. But seriously missed was our own Intizar Husain, who had been the leading light of the event till last year before crossing over the threshold of eternity. However, audiences could live with these deficiencies given that there were valid reasons on both counts. What they actually missed was the presence of those who were scheduled to be there, but were not. Iftikhar Arif, for instance, was sorely missed and so were Mustansar Hussain Tarar and Masood Ashar, to name but a few.

The four-day, 28-session conference did have its staple discussions on fiction, poetry, critique, linguistics and other such issues, but the ninth edition will go down in the annals of national literary history as the landmark event where the baton was passed on from one generation to the next.

The generation which handed it over is the one that has given — and continues to give — Urdu literature not just its substance and affluence, but also its shine and glory. The generation to which it was handed is yet to make its mark in any of the literary segments. It is surely doing well, but making one’s mark is an entirely different proposition. And this made many in the audience wonder if it was a baton handed or a baton snatched.

A common point of discussion after the inaugural session on the first day was a possible linkage between this passing of the baton and the absence of at least some of the big names. Also, opinion stood divided over the legitimacy of the organisers’ choice in having the keynote address delivered by Asif Farrukhi in the presence of the likes of, say, Zehrah Nigah and Pirzada Qasim on the stage itself.

Away from all such rather misplaced nitpicking, the fact remains that the baton did pass hands, and that will be the lingering memory of the event. The process started last year when Nasir Abbas Nayyar, Akhlaq Ahmed and Wusatullah Khan shone through, but Farrukhi left everyone behind in being the keynote speaker. To his credit he didn’t do a bad job of it at all, talking of people who sit in judgement over the literary output of the younger lot without actually having even a cursory look at what is on offer.

While the contents of his speech were fair enough, the decorum was somewhat compromised as Farrukhi, aware of the debate surrounding his nomination as the keynote speaker, kept addressing by name his peers sitting in the audience and his seniors on the stage. But the man he named the most was the chairman of the organising committee. It was something he could have avoided without much effort — it added nothing to his address and subtracted a lot.

A much better effort was delivered by Nomanul Haq, whose paper on the similarities and contrasts between Ghalib and Iqbal was arguably one of the best sessions of the entire conference. Though it was a highly technical discourse dealing with rhyming metres and the innovations achieved in this regard by the two masters, Haq made it fun by quoting the masters and delivering their lines in a performance that was almost dramatic. His assertions about what he called our misplaced zeal to draw some sort of message from Iqbal’s poetry rather than poetic pleasure were worth serious consideration.

At the end of the paper, Asghar Nadeem Syed, seated in the audience, asked Haq if he wanted everyone to believe that the two poets had more technical finesse than imagination and philosophy. The tone of the question was rather challenging, but Haq didn’t flinch. His reply, revolving around the difference between versification and poetry, had many takers.

The energy of Haq’s session was matched by few others simply because more often than not there were way too many speakers on the panel who tended to deliver lengthy monologues that were not meant to be delivered as the spoken word. A little focus on this aspect of the conference will help it go places in the years ahead.

The writer is a Dawn staff member.

Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, December 11th, 2016

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