Literary Notes: Urdu Literature in 2021: ‘Creative’ Use of Time During Containment – Journal

We know that writers and poets are very restless, at least intellectually if not physically. They just can’t stop their inner creative process and come up with something new every now and then. The pandemic that has forced people to stay indoors for the past two years or so may also have been a chance for many to catch up on their writing.

During the confinements, writers and poets had ample time to put on paper their thoughts and the creative or critical work they had planned from the start, at least that’s what we deduce when we look at the production. During the year 2021: A large number of Urdu literary books and magazines started pouring in as soon as the coronavirus subsided and restrictions were relaxed.

The number of books published in the past year is so high that it is simply not possible to list them all here. So what we can do is mention here some important or impressive works and regret that the limited space does not allow us to dig deep.

Prose first: as with fiction, still the most popular genre in Urdu, a large number of new novels and short stories have appeared. Among the veterans, Asgher Nadeem Syed’s new novel Dasht-e-Imkaan was well received. Sang-e-Meel has published Muhammad Hameed Shahid’s Hairat Ka Baagh, a collection of his short stories. Ander Ka Aadmi is a collection of short stories selected by Hameed Shahid compiled by Irfan Javed. Kitni Barsaaton Ke Ba’ad is a novel by Shehnaz Parveen and is written in the context of ancient East Pakistan. Muhammad Hafeez Khan writes novels with perseverance and last year his novel Mantaara appeared.

When it comes to criticism and research, we’ve had some good headlines this year as well. Fateh Muhammad Malik is a seasoned scholar and critic. His latest is Pakistani Adab Aur Vardaat-e-Ishq-o-Junoon, who sheds light on the mystical background of Pakistani literature as well as politics. Nasir Abbas Nayyar has written on postmodern and postcolonial issues and his new book Jadeediyet Aur Nau Abadiyaat has been published by Oxford.

Humorous writing in Urdu has suffered a tangible decline since seasoned comedians, such as Mushtaq Ahmed Yousufi, left for their heavenly abode. Ashfaq Ahmed Virk, however, is among the new comedians who have now made their mark. Her new book Khaka Zani is a collection of humorous sketches of some of the well-known literary figures. A selection of humorous essays by Mirza Azeem Baig Chughtai has been compiled by Dr Muhammad Tahir Qureshi. Published by Oxford, this is a fine selection, representative of Chughtai’s playful humor.

Memoirs and autobiographies are all the rage these days and a large number of autobiographies have appeared in recent years. This year was also no exception and many new books hit the shelves. When Kishwer Naheed’s Buri Aurat Ki Katha appeared about 28 years ago, it made waves. Now she has released a sort of sequel: Buri Aurat Ki Doosri Katha and it is, as expected, a vehement protest against our male dominated society.

The Pakistan Academy of Letters has published a series on prominent writers and poets who have helped shape Pakistani literature. The last in the series is Dr. Tehseen Firaqi: Shakhsiyet-o-Fan. It is written by Tariq Hashmi and succinctly captures the intellectual and creative aspects of Dr Firaqi’s literary works while giving him the tributes he so deserves.

Let’s take a quick look at the poetry. It is heartwarming that poetry still strikes a chord among scholars. A number of kulliyaat or collected works of popular poets were published in 2021: Mohsin Kakorvi’s collection of na’at poetry was compiled by Riaz Nadeem Niazi. The collected poetic works of Firaq Gorakhpuri were compiled by Taqi A’abedi. Kulliyaat-e-Habib Jalib (by Amar Shahid), Collected Works of Qamar Jalalvi (by Shaer Ali Shaer), Collected Works of Akber Ma’asoom and Collected Works of Qamar Raza Shehzad have been published. Hameed Shahid has published a selection of poems by Mir Taqi Mir. A glossary at the end makes it more attractive to the new generation. A collection of qit’aat by popular comedian Anwar Masood has also been published.

Dr Mehboob Kashmiri has come up with a surprising work: an Urdu translation of the famous Masnavi Mantiq-ut-Tair by Fareeduddin Attar. Composed of over 4,000 couplets, adorned with illustrations and the original Persian text, it is simply a labor of love. Arifa Sameen Mateen’s Nazm Kahani is a valuable effort to bring Urdu children’s poetry to life.

Veteran poet Iftikhar Arif’s new collection of poetry, Baagh-e-Gul-e-Surkh, has appeared and reminded readers of its peculiar sensitivity and vocabulary, beautifully blending the inner world with the harsh realities around us.

The creative and critical works published in 2021 by our writers, scholars and poets are so plentiful that only a few glimpses can be presented here. But the message is loud and clear: in 2021, Urdu literature was alive and well!

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Posted in Dawn, le 3 January 2022

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