COLUMN: Travelling in India and talking about books
By Intizar Husain
Last month I was in Delhi for Sahitya Akademi’s three-day seminar called “Literary Theory and Poetics with Special Focus on Urdu and Manto.” Manto was influenced by theories borrowed from the West, structuralism, post-structuralism, post-modernism and deconstruction. Dr Gopi Chand Narang, the former chairman of Sahitya Akademi, was the main spirit behind this seminar, particularly in discussions on these theories. On crucial moments during the discussion he appeared more than once on stage and explained, as he had understood, these abstruse concepts.
Manto’s stories were discusses in the light of these theories. A group of critics had come from Aligarh, including Abul Kalam Qasmi and Shafey Kidwai. They were more involved in this discussion while the young critic from Delhi, Maula Bakhsh, talked heatedly about structuralism.
Pakistani critics too took part in the discussion. Nasir Abbas Nayyar was well-equipped with his knowledge of new theories and presented a paper on Manto. In another session he participated in an animated talk about literary theory. He was also more communicative with the audience in this session which is exactly what is expected from a sensible critic. After his examination of a theory he should say good-bye to the theorist and to the text and should speak independently, relying on what he has understood. In addition, he should convert what he has borrowed into his own idiom.
Then there were others who spoke about Manto and his stories without any reference to literary theory or any ideology. Asghar Nadeem Syed spoke in his usual emanated manner and touchingly talked about the unhappy last years of Manto: “Now should be the end of this wretched life,” Manto had said, according to Asghar, in his last moments.
Kishwar Naheed discussed Manto’s concern for subjugated women in society and referred to the wretched conditions they faced.
In addition to this seminar, Sahitya Akademi also organised a gathering to honour Dr Narang in light of the award the government of Pakistan had conferred on him in acknowledgement of his contribution to Urdu literature and Jamia Millya Islamia’s fellowship. Glowing tributes were paid to him on this occasion.
Next we flew to Bangalore at the invitation of All India Urdu Manch, which is active in that region under the patronage of Khalil Mamoon, a dynamic personality who, apart from his contribution to Urdu poetry, plays a leading role in the promotion of literary activities. It was under his guidance that All India Urdu Munch organised a one day conference. The subject discussed in this conference was communal harmony in the writings of Manto.
The conference was inaugurated by the governor of Karnataka Shri Hans Raj Bhardwaj and the key-note address was delivered by Dr Narang. The governor spoke about the valuable contribution of the Muslims to the mixed culture aptly called Ganga Jamni culture. He in particular referred to the poem by Allama Iqbal in which he pleads for peace and amity between groups belonging to different faiths.
Urdu Manch also arranged a meeting between the delegates from Pakistan and Bangladesh and writers from Bangalore. Playwright Girish Karnad was the chief guest on this occasion.
We then travelled to Mysore and from there to Srirangapatan. Reaching the mausoleum of Tipu Sultan Shaheed we paid our homage to the great freedom fighter. While returning we paid a visit to MysoreUniversity where we were warmly welcomed. But the gathering there was brief as we were in a hurry to return to Delhi and from there to proceed to Lahore.
It was a pleasant journey and a meaningful experience.