Karachi Literature Festival: The relevance of the greats
By Peerzada Salman
The KLF had at least three sessions on Manto, two of which were performances. While all of these were well attended and well received, the one that garnered the most interest was ‘Dastangoi: Mantoiyat’ presented by Danish Husain and Darain Shahidi from India.
The tradition of dastangoi seems to have lost its battle to new modes of communication. This was pointed out by Intizar Husain in his keynote address on the opening day of the festival. He talked about the dastango Mir Baqar Ali in Delhi, who made a living by selling chhalia. Danish Husain and Shahidi’s dastangoi was very impressive. They told the story of Saadat Hasan Manto as thoughtfully penned by Mahmood Farooqui.
Their rendition was moving, sensitive and at the same time had all those mischievous elements that one associates with Manto. The tale began with his birth and moved on to the time when Partition sharpened his pen and Manto became the best chronicler and storyteller of the subcontinent’s division. Both the performers spoke in lucid and fluid Urdu, a trait essential for dastangoi. The script was also crisp and did justice to Manto’s stature. The ambience, created by the dastangos’ attire, the takht they sat on and candles and silver cups went well with the whole concept.
Dancer and actor Sheema Kermani’s Tehreek-i-Niswan also put up a performance that paid tribute not just to Manto but to another literary giant as well, Ismat Chughtai, in a piece called ‘Manto: Mera Dost’. It too was well received.
Then the launch of the book Poora Manto brought together two eloquent personalities, critic Shamim Hanfi and educationist Arfa Syeda Zehra. Both shed light on different aspects of the master writer and discussed a few aspects of his professional life which are less known. In response to a question put to him by Zehra, Hanfi said that Manto’s publishers were not kind to him. He also said that Manto had written 237 stories but only those about Partition or which have strong sexual content are usually focused upon. Manto had written on many other important subjects as well, he argued, and those stories are also of high literary merit. Mentioning Miraji, Hanfi said that the first half of the 20th century saw two miracles: Manto and Miraji.
Hanfi also participated in a discussion on Ghalib’s relevance to modern times in a session called ‘Aaj ka Ghalib’. Poet Iftikhar Arif and Wajid Jawad joined him. Hanfi spoke on the myriad virtues of Ghalib’s poetry. He quoted profusely from a manqabat which the audience thoroughly enjoyed and said that language was a part of Ghalib’s personality; it was not something that he donned to impress his readers.
Arif too raised a pertinent point when someone inquired about obscure elements in Ghalib’s ghazals. He said these days people cannot even read a couplet with correct enunciation and pronunciation which is why the issue of understanding Ghalib’s poetry has become all the more difficult.
A conversation on the works of Intizar Husain was equally intellectually stimulating. Critic Mehr Afshan Farooqi observed that Husain’s stories have a pan-Indian perspective. The back and forth movement in his writings makes reality intriguing, leading to different connotations. When Intizar Sahib was asked to comment he took the discussion on a different tangent. He grieved over the present state of Pakistani society and mentioned Urdu critic Muhammad Hasan Askari. He said that if Askari were alive today he would have asked him if this is the Pakistan he had dreamt about.
In addition, a mushaira captivated many poetry buffs. Poets Iftikhar Arif, Amjad Islam, Anwar Masood, Ataul Haq Qasmi, Fahmida Riaz, Kishwar Naheed, Aqeel Abbas Jaffri, Fatima Hassan, Afzal Syed, Attiya Dawood, Shahida Hasan, Anwar Shaoor, Shaukat Abid and Imdad Husaini took part in it. The audience enjoyed the poetry presented by all the participants, particularly the following couplet by Jaffri:
Uss bazm mein jata hun main jis shakhs se milne
Uss bazm mein ja ker main ussi se nahin milta
(I join in the gathering to meet that person
But once there, I meet everyone except him) n
The writer is a Dawn staffer