PABLO Neruda’s protégé, the Chilean poet Nicanor Parra, once told the younger poets of his region not to write poems if they’re not able to “improve the blank page”. Unfortunately, the present literary scene in Pakistan is not encouraging. A lot is been written these days, but it pains me to say, it is not interesting. Neither have the senior writers produced anything extraordinary in fiction or poetry which could be called noticeable or even different from their already available pieces of writing, nor are there any hopeful voices coming from the new generation. One sees a spark here and there, but generally the situation is alarming. Compared to Urdu, some over-projected voices of those are heard who write in English, but they don’t make any difference in the overall scenario of the world of English writings. Praise for them is mere tokenism.
Nobody expects that every year poets would create Naqsh-i Faryadi or Zindan Nama (Faiz), Guman Ka Mumkin (Rashed), Shabe Rafta (Majeed Amjad), Nayaft (Faraz), Shayed (Jaun Elia), Badan Dareeda (Fahmida Riaz), Khushboo (Parveen Shakir), Chiryon Ka Shor (Zeeshan Sahil) or that Awaz-i Dost (Mukhtar Masood), Zarguzasht and Aab-i-Gum (Yousufi), Labbaik (Mumtaz Mufti), Chakiwarha Mein Visaal (Khalid Akhtar), Khuda ki Basti (Shaukat Siddiqui), Udas Naslain (Abdullah Husain), Basti and Aagey Samundar Hai (Intizar Husain), Raja Gidh (Bano Qudsia), Dhain Baksh Ke Betay (Hasan Manzar), and Buri Aurat ki Katha (Kishwar Naheed) would be produced by prose writers. But nothing noticeable from the new generation is coming up, despite the fact that there is a fairly very rich variety of styles, issues and forms that their seniors have produced and worked on. There could be many reasons for this bleak picture.
That being said, one can expect that poets like Azra Abbas, Yasmeen Hameed, Abbas Tabish, Raza Shehzad, Afzal Syed, Abrar Ahmed, Harris Khalique and fiction writers like Farhat Parveen, Mubin Mirza, Hameed Shahid, Asif Farrukhi, Nilofer Iqbal, and Ali Akbar Natiq will give us some worthwhile creations to improve the above-mentioned bleak situation. They have all the potential to do so, so let’s hope they will do it.
DURING 2015, a large number of novels were based around the sad picture of terrorism and the APS Peshawar school incident. One of these was Mustansar Hussain Tarar’s story, ‘Aye meray tarkhaan’, of a man making small coffins of the children who died in the incident. The same concept was artistically presented by Hameed Shahid in his collection of short stories titled Iss Dehshat mein Mohabbat.
The history of our country and times gone by is a source of inspiration for writers, too. There are so many various facets of the past that can be revisited.
The subject of the War of 1971 has been dwelt upon in Masud Mufti’s Waqt Ki Qash, and Aqeela Ismail’s novel Of Martyrs and Marigold. On a different subject, Dr Shah Mohammad Marri has educated us on the movement against colonialism in Balochistan and also the women’s movement at the grassroots level in his book published this year. Two writers published novels this year based on the days of the British Raj; these are Mustansar Hussain Tarar with his Aey Ghazale Shab and Ali Akbar Natiq with his Nau Lakhi Kothi.
Many poetry collections have also been published this year, but the one I most enjoyed reading was the collection of US-based writer Ahmad Mushtaq Auraq-i-Khizani.
In a completely different style, Dr Aslam Farrukhi’s writing in his book Saat Aasman gives us a reflection of the classic style of Urdu. And ultimately, I must say that the one work published during 2015 that stands out is the biography of artist Ali Imam penned by Sheen Farrukh. This is something to read for those interested in art, as well as beautiful writing.
Some critics feel that the Urdu novel has been going through a revival during the last couple of decades after a brief lean patch. The perception is not totally baseless as a number of new and accomplished novelists, such as Bano Qudsia, Mustansar Hussain Tarar, Shamsur Rahman Farooqi, Ubaidullah Baig, Muhammad Ilyas, Mirza Athar Baig and some others, had come up with some novels that gave a fillip to the genre. Though the momentum, it seems, has sustained much of its steam in the last few years, there have not been any truly remarkable novels among the ones published lately. But then, great novels in Urdu have always been scarce. On the other hand, the afsana, or short story, a more popular genre in Urdu, has produced some remarkably fine pieces quite often, though the Urdu short story is younger than the Urdu novel by at least 30 years. During the last year, too, the trend continued and the new collections of short stories outnumbered novels.
Another trend that began in the late 1980s is the publication of collected works of fiction, both short and long. This, too, was in vogue during the year 2015 and the works of popular fiction writers, both from India and Pakistan – such as Balwant Singh, Hajra Masroor and Naiyer Masud – reappeared as collected works. Selected works, yet another trend, not only continued but seemed to gain more popularity. Oxford University Press, for instance, published selected short stories of Masud and Syed Rafiq Hussain, both compiled by Asif Farrukhi. Dehshat Mein Mohabbat, a selection of Mohammad Hameed Shahid’s short stories, was compiled by Mohammad Ghalib Nishtar.
Pandrah Kahaniyan by Maustansar Hussain Tarar: Travel writer, novelist, playwright, short story writer and columnist Tarar has a huge following. But it is not without reason, as he shows us again in Pandrah Kahaniyan, his collection of short stories published by Sang-e-Meel Publications. With his usual imagery and fascinating prose, Tarar has taken up some issues faced by the nation, such as terrorism and mob justice.
Madaar by Sheen Farrukh: Farrukh is a veteran journalist, advice columnist, travelogue writer and art critic. Her biographical novel Madaar, published by Lahore’s Sang-e-Meel Publications, narrates the life story of Ali Imam, a well-known Pakistani artist. She has painted the life of a painter compassionately and meticulously. One can meet many artists, learn about art and see Imam struggling through it.
Aaeene Main Gum Aks by Mohammad Ilyas: Muhammad Ilyas has been very prolific and has published five novels and six collections of short stories. Though much underrated and generally neglected by the critics, Ilyas is the new, convincing voice in Urdu fiction. Aaeene Main Gum Aks is a collection of Ilyas’s 26 short stories and a novella. Some of these short stories are very short and span just a few pages, some even just one page. His economy of words and shockingly revealing climaxes remind one of some of the Western masters of the craft of storytelling: Guy de Maupassant, O. Henry and Somerset Maugham. Ilyas casts an ironical look at modern-day life and its complexities.
Some other works: Another novel that has been much appreciated by some critics is Akhtar Raza Saleemi’s Jaage Hain Khwab Mein. Some of the noteworthy collections of short stories that appeared during the year are: Taar-e-Hareer-e Do Rang by Tahir Masood and Model Town by Bilal Hassan Minto; also, titled Ali Hyder Malik ke Afsaane and edited by A. Khayyaam, Ali Hyder Malik’s short stories were published posthumously.