Bin Laden notwithstanding

Terrorism concerns notwithstanding, life goes on. We come together celebrate art, culture and each other.

Intezar Hussain May 05, 2011
How does one relate the three days of discussions on novels, short stories, poetry, music and paintings at the Art Council with the context? It has been open season for terrorism for a while now but Osama bin Laden’s killing was a bolt from the blue. The Lahore Arts Council, however, went ahead with a literary and cultural conference to the delight of many and surprise of many others.

I was reminded of the good old days, and some bad old days. There was a time when Justice SA Rehman used to be the chairman and somebody from the art and literature fraternity served as the director – for quite some time Naeem Tahir served in the position. Then there were the days of bureaucracy – the collector was the chairman, the rest of the offices went accordingly.

The leadership has finally been restored to the writers. Ataul Haq Qasmi is now the chairman, supported by a governing council. The new management has sought to bring the fine arts and literature together and is holding literary and cultural seminars.

In a way, the event amounted to an international conference where literature and the fine arts mingled. The delegates came from far and wide: from Delhi, from Bangalore, from Allahabad, from Karachi, from Islamabad, from Multan.

Then there were awards. Abdullah Hussain was recognised for a lifetime of distinguished service to literature, Khalid Iqbal, who has been a recluse for quite sometime, for painting, Ustad Ghulam Hussain Shaggan for music and Qavi Khan for theatre.

Look at the themes they discussed: classical Urdu poetry, one hundred years of Urdu novels, the future of ghazal singing in Pakistan, new dimensions in Pakistani paintings, the rise and fall of drama, the woman’s voice in Urdu short stories and the modern Urdu ghazal in the Indian context.

Imagine the noises on the street over where Osama was finally tracked down to and how he had met his end and the discussions at the Arts Council on the past, present and future of literature and fine arts. Is this the time, somebody asked, for such debates? Of course, I said, and probably the best time too. Terrorism concerns notwithstanding, life goes on. The idiom we are capable of may be inaccessible to the terrorists but should we therefore fall silent?

The relevance of the delegates from India, too, needs to be appreciated. Partition split the world of Urdu into two zones. What’s the harm if the two come together once in a while? Of the prominent literary critics from India only Shamim Hanfi was attending. And yet his participation in the debate gave it a fresh relevance. He was also the president of a session on folk music where he announced: “Poetry aspires to the quality of music; music aspires to the quality of Reshma.” Reshma, frail from ailment, thoroughly enjoyed the compliment.

One of the musicians that graced the concert was Muneer Khatoon from Allahabad. Khatoon had first wowed Lahoris as a performer at one of the annual Music Conferences the late Hayat Ahmed Khan used to organise. Guest performers at one of these conferences included Rasoolan Bai and Begum Akhtar, who both came from India. They were accompanied by a rising vocalist who won over Lahoris with her mastery of thumri and dadra. After a lifetime dedicated to the art, Muneer Khatoon, the young girl then, is a maestro today. At Alhamra she once again captivated the audience.

Then there was the session at which music and literature actually came together. Once the discussion sessions on Urdu novel and the future of ghazal singing in Pakistan were merged, the panellists interacted with remarkable ease. The audience too gave them equal attention. The Art Council appears to have accomplished its purpose.

*Translated from Urdu

Published in The Express Tribune.
Intezar Hussain An eminent Urdu fiction writer who writes short stories and novels, and also columns for newspapers in English.
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