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Literary Notes: PAL’s three new books on Pakistani writers

Literary Notes: PAL’s three new books on Pakistani writers

Tariq Naeem, poet and the then PRO of National Book Foundation [NBF], once did not turn up at the office for two days. Ahmed Faraz (1931-2008) was the director of NBF at the time. When Tariq Naeem resumed his duty, Faraz asked where he had been. “I had sore eyes”, said Mr Naeem. Faraz retorted: “You should have come as in this office eyes are not required”. This and many other exhilarating remarks, quoted in Mehboob Zafar’s book on Ahmed Faraz, prove that Ahmed Faraz was not only a great and popular poet, but he was a great wit, too.

Faraz was a patriotic Pakistani and a sensitive soul. He loved and respected the common people but he shunned those who held high posts. These are a few impressions that one gets after reading Ahmed Faraz: shakhsiyet aur funn. The book quotes many anecdotes and offers some authentic glimpses of a candid Faraz as Zafar, the author of the book, had been very close to him.

Published by the Pakistan Academy of Letters [PAL], the book is a part of the series ‘Pakistani adab ke me’maar’. The book was first published during Ahmed Faraz’s lifetime and additions have been made in this second edition.

The book includes chapters on Faraz’s life, career, literary works, his plays, translations and certain aspects of his poetry, such as resistance against dictators and patriotism. A selection of Faraz’s poetry as well as tributes paid to him by his contemporaries, both in prose and poetry, form parts of the book. It is indeed a befitting tribute to the great Pakistani poet.

PAL has been doing a good job and has especially done well by publishing books on Pakistani writers and poets under the series ‘Pakistani adab ke me’maar’. Though inspired by a series on similar lines being published in India under the title ‘Hindustani adab ke me’maar’, the series on Pakistani authors was badly needed and initiated some 25 years ago. Luckily, the different chairmen and the director generals that PAL has had during this period continued the work and this writer was informed by PAL staff that so far over 120 books have been published and more titles are on the way. The commendable aspect of the series is the fact that the titles made part of the series cover different Pakistani languages and books on the writers of many Pakistani languages such as Sindhi, Balochi, Pashto, Seraiki, Punjabi as well as Urdu have been published.

Another book published recently in the series is Ahmed Basheer: shakhsiyet aur funn. Ahmed Basheer (1923-2004) was a multi-talented person. He was a writer, moviemaker, journalist, columnist, novelist and, above all, an idealist. Proud of his talented daughters, he allowed them to pursue their own careers. One of her daughters, Neelam Ahmed Basheer, is a fine fiction writer while Bushra Ansari is a TV celebrity. His idealism was one of the reasons why his movie Neela parbat flopped and he was left penniless. But then he was penniless on many occasions in his life and had to do odd jobs. However, his fortunes would swing and from being a labourer he would land a lucrative job or some creative work at Radio, only to quit it.

From journalism to government jobs and from being jobless to zigzagging different careers, Ahmed Basheer along the way became information officer in a ministry and was sent for training in film making to the United States, only to resign a short while after his return and start a movie. Fast forward to the government of Z.A. Bhutto and Ahmed Basheer is now the director general of the State Film Authority; needless to say that he was sacked in Zia’s era. He returned to journalism, wrote in Urdu and English for various newspapers and later started his own magazine Naya zamana. Ahmed Basheer lived a life that reads like plot of a novel or script of a movie. He did write his life in the shape of an autobiographical novel named Dil bhatke ga (the heart will go astray). This book succinctly captures Ahmed Basheer’s life, his personality and literary works.

The recently published books in the series include Syed Naseer Shah: shakhsiyet aur funn. Syed Naseer Shah (1932-2012) was a poet, short story writer, critic and journalist. He belonged to Mianwali area and wrote in Urdu and Seraiki. The book, penned by Dr Asad Mustafa, tells about the family background, education and writings of Naseer Shah.

The series is indeed a nice way of paying tribute to Pakistani writers and poets, but PAL should be careful about the standard of the work and should set a minimum threshold for the manuscripts as some of the books published in the series lack depth and sound more adulatory than critical.

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Published in Dawn, July 3rd, 2017

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